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Asokan Stupa Found October 4, 2000
by M. Kumar

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has discovered a rich Buddhist site at Sanati in the Bhima River Valley of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Excavations directed by K.P. Poonacha have revealed a stupa (temple) complex, constructed of richly decorated limestone slabs and brick, that was built between the second century B.C. and the second or third century A.D.

The stupa is divided into two tiers and adorned with beautifully carved slabs depicting various events in the Buddha's life. The sculptured panels also show 152 representations of people from as far as the Himalayas bearing gifts for the Buddha: traders, dancers, kings, monks, rich and poor alike.

There are entrances in each of the cardinal directions, incorporating ornate chandrasila, crescent-shaped moonstones typically found at the entrances to temples. At the western and southern entrances platforms called ayaka support standing statues of Buddha more than three feet high. Many padas, or seated statues of Buddha, have also been unearthed.

Patronized by the Satavahana rulers who held sway over south-central India between third century B.C. and the A.D. second century, the stupa's first phase of construction took place when the Hinayana school of Buddhism held sway, while later phases were built under the influence of the Mahayana sect. The sculptured panels reveal the Satavahana rulers in procession and the Mauryan ruler Asoka's conquests in the second century B.C. The diffusion of Buddhism throughout India is attributed to Asoka's conquests; he was later overthrown by rulers of the Satavahana dynasty. These panels lend support to the view that Buddhism and Buddhist art flourished in Karnataka even during Asoka's regime.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America