Western Gateway,
Interior View


This shows the inside of the western gateway.  On the pillars between the toranas one can see three stupas and a wheel, which are all symbols for the Buddha, who was not portrayed in figural form.  The topmost central arch shows XXX, the middle the so-called War of the Relics, and the bottom one Mara's temptation of the Buddha, which happened just before enlightenment. 



Here's a closer look at the top archway, which shows the Buddha's relics being brought back to Kushinagara.  According to tradition, after the Buddha's body had been cremated, the his relics (teeth and bits of bone) were collected by the King of the Mallas, who brought them back to their capital, Kushinagara (Since for modern Hindus a piece of a dead body is about the most impure thing possible, this desire to hoard the Buddha's relics clearly shows something special about him).  Here several jars are visible, at least one being carried in state on the back of an elephant.


This closer shot of the central arch show the Siege of Kushinagara, part of the so-called War of the Relics.  According to tradition, seven other clans (who all lived in places frequented by the Buddha) contested the Mallas right to keep the relics, and demanded a share for themselves.  The Mallas were at first were reluctant to do this, and so the other kings massed their armies to attack the Mallas and take the relics by force.  Fortunately, good sense prevailed in the end, and the relics were divided equally between the eight kings.  This panel shows the kings on the right side (indicated by the umbrellas at the top of the panel) with their armies (and elephants and chariots) massed in preparation for the battle which never took place.


This detail from the lowest torana shows the Buddha's temptation by Mara.  In the Buddhist tradition, Mara represents all of the world's desires and attachments--physical, mental, and psychic.  In Ashvaghosha's Life of the Buddha (Buddhacarita) Mara perceives that the Buddha is about to attain enlightenment, and grows distressed that his control over all beings is about to end.  Mara dispatches his armies--sensuality, discontent, hunger and thirst, craving, sloth and torpor, fear, doubt, hypocrisy, self-exaltation, and the desire for fame--to try to divert the Future Buddha from his goal, but the Future Buddha easily vanquished them all by the strength of his past good deeds, to which the Earth herself gave witness.  This panel shows the Buddha in the center, with a crowd of anxiously watching gods on the left, and Mara's fleeing army on the right.


The detail in Sanchi is always delightful, if not always true to scale.  These panels were shot from the two ends of the middle archway (depicting the "war of the relics"), and show combatants from the two sides advancing on each other.


Here is (I believe) an allusion to the Buddha's birth, with the celestial elephants (who bring rain) bathing his mother after the birth.  This is also a very small detail, carved in one of the panels between the archways.

November 2005

On to Next Page (Northern Gateway, Exterior)


Introduction East Gate:  Exterior / Interior West Gate: Exterior / Interior Final Shots
South Gate: Exterior / Interior North Gate: Exterior / Interior


Buddhism Picture Index

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Page maintained by James G. Lochtefeld.
Last modified 27 December 2005