Southern Gateway

Buddhist Monument in Sanchi

The back-to-back lions on the pillars of the monuments compound's Southern Gateway (the oldest) were a favourite Ashokan motif and now form the state emblem of India, which can be seen on every banknote. The gateway narrates Ashoka’s life as a Buddhist, with a representation of the Great Departure (rear of top architrave, east end).

Also featured, on the back of the middle architrave, is the Chhaddanta Jataka, a story in which the Bodhisattva (the Buddha before he reached enlightenment) took on the form of a six-tusked elephant king, Chhaddanta. The less favoured of his two wives was so jealous that she starved herself to death, vowing to return as queen of Varanasi and avenge Chhaddanta's favouritism. Her wish came true, and as queen she ordered hunters to kill the elephant king. A hunter found the great elephant but before he could kill it, the elephant handed over his tusks, an act so noble that the queen died of remorse.