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Relief from Bharhut.
|Year consecrated||2300 B.C.|
|Ecclesiastical or organizational status||Stupa ruins present|
Bharhut (Hindi: भरहुत) is located in Satna district in Madhya Pradesh, Central India. Known for its famous relics from a Buddhist stupa, the Bharhut sculptures represent some of the earliest examples of Indian and Buddhist art.
The Bharhut stupa may have been established by the Maurya king Asoka in the 3rd century BCE, but many works of art were apparently added during the Sunga period, with many friezes from the 2nd century BCE. An epigraph on the gateway mentions its erection "during the supremacy of the Sungas" by Vatsiputra Dhanabhuti.
The ruined stupa is still in Bharhut; however, the gateways and railings were dismantled and reassembled at the Indian Museum, Kolkata. They contain numerous birth stories of the Buddha's previous lives, or Jataka tales. Many of them are in the shape of large, round medallions. Two of the panels are at the Smithsonian.
In conformity with the early aniconic phase of Buddhist art, the Buddha is only represented through symbols, such as the Dharma wheel, the Bodhi tree, an empty seat, footprints, or the triratana symbol.
The style represents the earliest phase of Indian art, and all characters are depicted wearing the Indian dhoti, except for one foreigner thought to be an Indo-Greek soldier, with Buddhist symbolism. The Bharhut carvings are slightly earlier than the Sanchi carvings and the earlier Ajanta frescos.
An unusual feature of Bharhut panels is the inclusion of text in the narrative panels, often identifying the individuals.
In 1873, Alexander Cunningham visited Bharhut. The next year, he excavated the site. J. D. Beglar, Cunningham's assistant, continued the excavation and recorded the work through numerous photographs.
The complex in Bharhut included a medieval temple (plate II), containing a colossal figure of Buddha, along with fragments of sculptures showing Buddha with images of Brahma, Indra etc. Beglar also photographed a 10th-century Buddhist Sanskrit inscription, about which now nothing is known. All the archaeological objects from the stupa have been moved to Calcutta's Indian Museum. No antiquities exist at Bharhut now.
The inscriptions found at Bharhut are of considerable significance on tracing the history of early Indian Buddhism and Buddhist art. 136 inscriptions mention the donors. These include individuals from Vidisha, Purika (a town somewhere in the Vindhya mountains), Patliputra (Bihar), Karhad (Maharashtra), Bhojakata (Vidarbha), Maharashtra, Kosambi (UP), Nasik (Maharashtra). 82 inscriptions serve as labels for panels depicting the Jatakas, life of Buddha, former Manushi Buddhas, other stories and Yakshas and Yakshinis.
Yakshi reliefs. Bharhut, 2nd century BCE.
The Yaksha relief at Bharhut is being worshipped as Hanuman by local villagers
- John Marshall, "An Historical and Artistic Description of Sanchi", from A Guide to Sanchi, citing p. 11. Calcutta: Superintendent, Government Printing (1918). Pp. 7-29 on line, Project South Asia.
- BHARHUT GALLERY, Indian National Committee of the International Council of Museums
- The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, Buddhist art of India
- CORPUS INSCRIPTION INDICARUM, VOL. II, PART II, BHARHUT INSCRIPTIONS EDITED BY H. Luders, REVISED BY E. Waldschmidt and M. A. Mehendale GOVERNMENT EPIGRAPHIST FOR INDIA OOTACAMUND, 1963 ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA
- Sir Alexander Cunningham The Stûpa of Bharhut: a Buddhist monument ornamented with numerous sculptures illustrative of Buddhist legend and history in the third century B.C. London: W. H. Allen, 1879.
- General view of remains of Buddhist temple of later date than the Stupa, Bharhut, British Library
- Photograph of a slab with a Buddhist sanskrit inscription
- D.N. Jha,"Early India: A Concise History"p.150, plate 17
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