Sanchi – Buddham Dhammam Sangham

9. Temples

Temple No 18 – Though nothing much is remained of this temple however it would have been a very interesting structure in its pristine glory. This temple was designed with an apsidal end at one point similar to many Buddhist chaitya caves. A nave was formed by usage of pillar, and at present only these pillars are the only survivors of this glorious monument. The pillars are monolithic, 17 feet high, square in section but tapering towards the top.

Temple No 18


These pillars are not sunken into ground but resting on a foundation of stones.  Marshall suggests that the architects would have relied upon wooden roof timbers to keep pillars together. So there is no doubt that till the roof survived the pillars were intact but as soon as it fell, the pillars started leaning and few were fallen. There was once a stupa inside the apse, remains of which were found by General Maisey in 1851. He also found a broken steatite relic box among the debris in the apse. Marshall suggests that the apse was enclosed by a outer wall which probably had windows to allow light inside.

Pillars of Temple No 18


Among the other antiquities found from site, mention should be made of 56 terracotta tablets of 7th and 8th century CE, as dated by Marshall. All these tablets are of similar sizes and has two impressions stamped. Lower impression has a figure of Buddha seated on a lotus throne in bhumisparsha mudra. There are two miniature stupas on either side of his head and Buddhist creed on either side of his body. In the upper impression, Buddha creed is repeated.

The Buddhist creed on these tablets reads, ‘Ye dharma hetu-prabhava hetum tesham Tathagato-hy-avadatu tesham cha yo nirodha evamvadi maha-sramanah’. It translates, ‘Of these things (conditions) which spring from a cause, the cause has been told by Tathagata; and their suppression likewise the great Sramana has revealed’. The characters of creed are of 7th-8th century alphabets.

Pillar Details


Marshall found during his excavations that the present structure was built upon an old structure. There were three different layers underneath the present structure and the oldest layer he dated to the Maurya-Shunga era depending on the similarity with the layers found under Ashoka pillar and the Great Stupa. A stone bowl made of typical Chunar sandstone, of which the Ashokan pillar was also made, was also found among debris. Another stone bowl discovered here bears an inscription, bhagya pasado (the gift of Bhaga), in Brahmi characters of 3rd century BCE.

Temple No 17


Temple No 17 (The Gupta Temple) – In words of John Marshall, this little shrine, dated to early Gupta period of fourth century CE, is one of the most important monument in understanding the evolving architecture and style during the epoch of Indian architecture era. He mentions that this shrine does not show influence of its western counterparts but on the contrary it is the result of the genius of the people of that period. He writes, ‘This little shrine, in fact, reflects in its every stone and temperament of the people and of the epoch which produced it, an epoch which was primarily creative and imitative’.

Pilaster of the temple


This temple consists a small sanctum and a mandapa (portico) in front. It is built on a low basement and the sanctum is almost a square measuring 3.85 m X 3.72 m and 3.9 m high. Dhavalikar writes that this plan bears a striking similarity with the protostyle type of early Greek temples i.e. the Temple of Wingless Victory. However I do not agree with the scholar and Marshall also does agree either. The sanctum has a flat roof which is a characteristic of early Hindu shrine. The mandapa, 3 m X 1.8 m, is supported on four pillars. These pillars have a square shaft in lower part, changing into eight and sixteen sides in middle. The shaft has a bell-shaped capital on top, crowned with a lion abacus. The lions are placed on each corner, two lions sharing single head.


Temple No 9 – This is situated opposite to the entrance of Temple 18. It is contemporary to Temple 18 but slightly larger in dimensions. Nothing much is remained of this temple except the rough core of its plinth. Marshall found some pilasters in its debris and based upon it he dated the temple of the Gupta period but later than Temple 17 hence can be put to fifth century CE.

Temple No 31


Temple No 31 – This temple is located behind Stupa 5. The temple is constructed over a high rising plinth. Over the plinth is a pillared chamber supporting a flat roof. Marshall mentions that the plinth belongs to an earlier temple that stood here in 6th century CE. The present temple was built in the 10th-11th century CE. There is a Buddha statue inside the shrine.

Buddha Image inside Sanctum


Nagi Statue


During the excavation of the plinth, a beautiful Nagi statue came into light. It was executed in 4th or 5th century CE and was standing on one side of the steps leading to plinth as Marshall suggests. He also suggests that in that case there would have been a second statue, probably of Naga, standing on the other side of steps. However this second statue cannot be traced now.

Temple No 40


Temple No 40 – This apsidal temple is the earliest surviving example of this style and design. However nothing much is remained of this structure except a rectangular plinth approached by a flight of steps on from its western and eastern sides. The plinth measures 26.52 m X 14 m and 3.35 m in height. Marshall suggests that the original super structure was of timber which burnt down at a relatively early age as evident from charred remains of timber found on the original pounded clay floor of the temple.

Two entrance on the lateral side of the apse is rather unusual as it is not found in Buddhist chaitya caves. The remains of pillars found at the site bear inscriptions in Brahmi script of the Shunga period. Hence it can be said that the original wooden structure would have been constructed during the Maurya period. Marshall suggests that it is probable that this timber structure was burnt down when Pushyamitra destroyed the Ashoka stupa. The reconstruction would have started soon after the death of Pushyamitra.

The plinth has five rows of ten columns each. Marshall suggests that the temple probably had more than fifty columns, as few columns might be put on sides however he also said that this surmise can be objected. The present shrine was constructed in 7th-8th century CE. It has a portico and faces west.

Temple No 45


Temple  No 45 – It is among the latest buildings at Sanchi hill and was constructed in 10th century CE. It is constructed over the remains of a monastery which was quadrangle in design. It had cells on all sides with open area containing stupas. The later builders did not utilize the material from the old structure but instead covered up the plinth raising it by 2.5 feet.

Sanctum Door


The present temple has a square sanctum with a small vestibule in front. There is a hallow shikhara over the sanctum. There seems to be another storey above the sanctum. The temple is approached via steps from its west. It has a processional path around the sanctum but it runs on three sides only enclosed within walls. It is not certain if this arrangement was  have a processional path. Sanctum door jambs have river goddesses, Ganga and Yamuna, riding on their respective vehicles. The bands above river goddesses have amorous couples.

Buddha in sanctum


Buddha in niche



There are two niches, one on west and one on east wall. Marshall reports an image of Mayura-vidyaraja in the western niche however at present this niche is empty. Dhavalikar rejects Marshall’s identification as there is no such deity Mayura-vidyaraja in the Buddhist pantheon, instead he identifies this image with Vajradharma Bodhisattva whose mount is carved below the lotus. An image of Buddha in bhumisparsha mudra is in the eastern niche. To the north and south are two wings of three cells each.


Back to Main Page

Posted in: Uncategorized