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The Archaeological Museum, Sanchi

In 1818 General Taylor of the Bengal Cavalry chanced upon a discovery that brought to light the stupas, temples and monasteries of Sanchi hill, 68 km from Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. The collection of broken and damaged sculptures found around this site needed to be stored and preserved. This is why the site museum at Sanchi was established and now stands at the base of the hill. The collection can be divided broadly into : excavated tools, implements, pottery and coins; caskets and containers which were once enshrined in the stupas; and sculpture of the Hinayana.

Mahayana and Hindu periods

It is believed that Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty first constructed a brick stupa here which was renovated later with stone. Throughout his kingdom Ashoka erected pillars with sculpted animal capitals. On these columns were engraved Ashoka's celebrated edicts, directing citizens to the way of the Buddha and enunciating the laws of the empire. In the museum is a Lion capital of an Ashokan pillar, with four lions facing in the four cardinal directions. The celebrated Lion capital found at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh is similar to this one, with only some minor variations in design, and the later now serves as the emblem of the Indian Republic.

There are other early sculptures : parts of the railings and gateways of the stupas. The Yakashi figures, of young women with one raised arm that holds on to a branch of a tree, must be Sanchi's most beautiful and sensuous sculpture. The softy swelling contours of the female body, the graceful relaxed stance, the suggestive clothing and jewellery make these statues memorable.

Further, in the galleries are figures of the Buddha seated in meditation, in the dhyana mudra (pose). The deep folds of his garments have an almost decorative quality. The artist, struggling to find the appropriate facial expression for the Buddha, has given him a happy little smile. There are other figures of the Buddhist pantheon, too : Padmapani and Vajrapani, both Bodhisattava or 'Buddhas-in-the-making', one holding a lotus and the order the vajra or thunderbolt.

Among the early medieval Hindu sculpture there are figures of deities like Vishnu, Ganesh, Mahishasuramardini, Gajalakshmi (Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity, being bathed by two elephants) and many others.

The museum issues publications, including a guide to the museum collection.

Archaeological Museum, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh.
Hours: 10 am-5 pm everyday except on Fridays.
Admission : Rs 5 (Same ticket for the site visit and the museum), free for childern.
Suggested viewing time: Half an hour.

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