Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The pillar of Ashoka at Sarnath is famous for its edict. It bears one of the edicts of Ashoka. The edict has an inscription that is said to target schism within the Buddhist community. It reads, "No one shall cause division in the order of monks". The Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath is actually a column surmounted by a capital. Among others, it consists of a canopy representing an inverted bell-shaped lotus flower. A short cylindrical abacus assists it where four 24-spoked Dharma wheels with four animals (an elephant, a bull, a horse, a lion in this order), and four lions face the four cardinal directions. The four animals are believed to symbolize different steps of the Gautam Buddha's life.

Buddhas of Bamyan: The main bodies were hewn directly from the sandstone cliffs, but details were modeled in mud mixed with straw, coated with stucco. This coating, practically all of which was worn away long ago, was painted to enhance the expressions of the faces, hands and folds of the robes; the larger one was painted carmine red and the smaller one was painted multiple colors. The lower parts of the statues' arms were constructed from the same mud-straw mix while supported on wooden armatures. It is believed that the upper parts of their faces were made from great wooden masks or casts. The rows of holes that can be seen in photographs were spaces that held wooden pegs which served to stabilize the outer stucco.
They were intentionally destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban.

The monastic complex of Ajanta consists of several viharas (monastic halls of residence) and chaitya-grihas (stupa monument halls) cut into the mountain scarp in two phases. The first phase is mistakenly called the Hinayana phase (referring to the Lesser Vehicle tradition of Buddhism, when the Buddha was revered symbolically). Actually, Hinayana – a derogative term for Sthaviravada – does not object to Buddha statues. At Ajanta, cave numbers 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15A (the last one was re-discovered in 1956, and is still not officially numbered) were excavated during this phase. These excavations have enshrined the Buddha in the form of the stupa, or mound.
The second phase of excavation at the site began after a lull of over three centuries. This phase is often inappropriately called the Mahayana phase (referring to the Greater Vehicle tradition of Buddhism, which is less strict and encourages direct cow depiction of the Buddha through paintings and carvings). Some prefer to call this phase the Vakataka phase after the ruling dynasty of the house of the Vakatakas of the Vatsagulma branch. The dating of the second phase has been debated among scholars. In recent years a consensus seems to be converging on 5th-century dates for all the Mahayana or Vakataka phase caves. According to Walter M. Spink, a leading Ajantologist, all the Mahayana excavations were carried out from 462 to 480 CE. The caves created during the Mahayana phase are the ones numbered 1-8, 11, and 14-29. Cave 8 was long thought to be a Hinayāna cave, however current research shows that it is in fact a Mahayana cave.
There were two chaitya-grihas excavated in the Hinayana phase that are caves 9 and 10. Caves 12, 13, and 15A of this phase are vihāras. There were three chaitya-grihas excavated in the Vakataka or Mahayana phase that are caves 19, 26, and 29. The last cave was abandoned soon after its beginning. The rest of the excavations are viharas: caves 1-3, 5-8, 11, 14-18, 20-25, and 27-28.

The porosity in the rock terrain achieved for the monks at the Ajanta.

The rough horse-shoe profile in terrain forms the Ajanta arc.

The Kushan Empire (c. 1st–3rd centuries) of Ancient India originally formed in Bactria on either side of the middle course of the Oxus River or Syr Darya in what is now northern Afghanistan, Pakistan, southern Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
At its cultural zenith, circa 105–250 CE, it extended from what is now Afghanistan to Pakistan and down into the Ganges river valley in northern India. The empire was created by the Kushan branch of the Yuezhi confederation, believed to have been an Indo-European people from the eastern Tarim Basin, China, possibly related to the Tocharians. They had diplomatic contacts with Rome, Persia and China, and for several centuries were at the center of exchange between the East and the West.
Kanishka worshipped many Gods before he embraced Buddhism. Ashvagosha, the Buddhist scholar, probably influenced Kanishka to become a Buddhist. Like Asoka Kanishka also worked for the spread of Buddhism. He took steps to repair many old monasteries. New ones were also built. During his time Buddhism spread to China, Japan, Central Asia and Tibet. Kanishka had convened the Fourth Buddhist Council at Kundalvana in Kashmir. Many Buddhist monks like Vasumitra, Nagarjuna and Parsva attended it. Ashwagosha presided over the council. He wrote Buddha Charita. Vasumitra wrote the great Mahavibhasha. Nagarjuna wrote the book titled, Madhyamika Sutra. Kanishka patronized most of them. He took every step to spread Buddhism. Because of this, he is considered as the Second Asoka.

The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka, as well as boulders and cave walls, made by the Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty during his reign from 272 to 231 BC. These inscriptions are dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Pakistan and India, and represent the first tangible evidence of Buddhism. The edicts describe in detail the first wide expansion of Buddhism through the sponsorship of one of the most powerful kings of Indian history. According to the edicts, the extent of Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean, and many Buddhist monuments were created.

These caves date from 1st century BCE to 9th century CE The earliest are 109 tiny rock-cut cells, carved into the side of a hill. Unlike the elegant splendor of Elephanta Caves nearby, these are spartan and unadorned. Each cave has a stone plinth for a bed. A congregation hall with huge stone pillars contains the stupa, a Buddhist shrine. Farther up the hill are the remains of an ancient water system, canals and cisterns that collected and channeled the rainwater into huge tanks. Once the caves became permanent monasteries, they began to be carved out of the rock with intricate reliefs of Buddha and the Bodhisattvas carved into the walls. Kanheri had become an important Buddhist settlement on the Konkan coast by the 3rd century.

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