chapter  1
9 Pages

Introduction

The archaeology of Buddhism has generally been the study of stupas, monasteries, sculpture and epigraphy. The primary geographical focus of interest has been the Gangetic valley, where places such as Sarnath, Bodhgaya, Sravasti, Rajgir or Vaisali were closely connected to events relating to the life and teachings of the historical Buddha (Figure 1.1). Some of the best-preserved monastic sites, however, are situated beyond the cradle of Buddhism in central India and the Deccan. The establishment of Buddhism at sites such as Sanchi and Bharhut coincided in part with the westward expansion of the Mauryan empire in c. third century BC, with major building programmes taking place slightly later between the second century BC and early centuries AD. Some of the early rock-cut caityas and monasteries in the Deccan, such as Karle, Bhaja, Bedsa, and Pitalkhora, seem also to have been part of this ‘second propagation’ of Buddhism. All of these sites have generated a significant body of scholarship, largely because of their art-historical appeal. Sanchi has been of particular interest because of its continuous history of Buddhist occupation from c. third century BC to twelfth century AD. Its remarkably well-preserved monuments and sculptures have provided a kind of blueprint for the history of art and architecture over this period.