Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nagas of Sanchi

Dr. Yoichi Yamagata has now published a new collection of his illustrations (Sketches from India, Vol.3). This time the focus is on "The Nagas of Sanchi".

I have been to Sanchi a few times but my visits had always been touristy in a shallow sort of way. I loved the sense of mystery, timelessness and serenity that surrounds the ancient Stupas and empty monastries; I remember watching trains snaking silently through the plains while resting under a tree, wondering about the rich ivory merchants from Vidisha who had 'sponsored' the intricately carved gateways, and about the thousands of monks who walked to nearby towns to beg for food.

It is only when you talk to people like Dr. Yamagata that you catch a glimpse of the big picture. For the past three years he has been spending many weekends exploring the area around the Great Stupa's. Until he told me about it, I did not know that river Betwa flowed just a mile away, or that this river was once an important tributary of the Ganga-Jamuna system, and a route for those who wanted to cut across peninsular India.

Apparently, the whole region was once dominated by the Naga's who are often depicted in a half-human, half-serpent form. Nagouri hill has life-size statue which is worshiped these days as "Nag-Baba" and down the river, you still have places like Tarachand Baba Rock whose original significance has been lost in the mists of time.

Wonder how many Indian historians have investigated the socio-economic significance of Sanchi at the turn of the previous millennium (200 BC-100AD)...
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