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Time Traveller: Sanchi Stupa, 1902

Time Traveller: Sanchi Stupa, 1902

We might have lost one of India's oldest monuments forever

Bibek Bhattacharya
December 26 , 2016
01 Min Read

Sometimes, it's a good thing if ancient monuments are left undisturbed, perhaps even undiscovered. Why, you would ask, would anyone want a monument of great beauty and historical worth to be left undiscovered? Well, as you can see in this photo of the Great Stupa from the turn of the 20th century, vandalism is a big reason why.

Since the last vestiges of a local Buddhist community melted away sometime around the 12th century CE, the Sanchi complex was forgotten for over 600 years, until it was was re-discovered by a General Taylor in 1818. According to his accounts, although overrun by vegetation in certain places, the monuments were fairly intact. This find lead to a sensation and for over half a century, the Sanchi monuments suffered grave indignities at the hands of amateur archaeologists, vandals and the local zamindar.

The Great Stupa at Sanchi, from c. 1900

The Great Stupa was restored in 1881, but it wasn't until the pioneering restoration work done by Sir John Marshall, the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India between 1912 and 1917, that these beautiful monuments were revealed in their full glory. This photograph, taken sometime around the turn of the century and featured in T.W. Rhys Davis' 1902 book Buddhist India, shows the grand old Great Stupa looking battered and woebegone. It seems unbelievable now, but had it not been for a little bit of luck, we might have lost the Sanchi complex forever within a century of its discovery.  


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