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Rare Buddhist Temple Step Discovered in English Garden

By Alice Bailey Created: February 2, 2013 Last Updated: February 4, 2013
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The three-quarters of a ton stone measures 8 feet by 4 feet and is 6 inches thick. The unique foot path stone turns out to be 1,000 years old. (Courtesy of Bonhams)

The three-quarters of a ton stone measures 8 feet by 4 feet and is 6 inches thick. The unique foot path stone turns out to be 1,000 years old. (Courtesy of Bonhams)

A carved granite temple step (Sandakada pahana) similar to those found in the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, will be sold in Bonhams Indian and Islamic sale in London on April 23.

This magnificent work of art featuring a cow and other animals has come to light in the garden of a Devon bungalow. It is estimated to attract bids in excess of £30,000 (US$47,280).

The beautiful 1,000-year-old pre-Hindu stone step is one of only seven examples known to date from this period, with this discovery being the seventh. The temple step is a feature unique to Sinhalese architecture in Sri Lanka.

The 1,000-year-old Buddhist temple step. (Courtesy of Bonhams)

The 1,000-year-old Buddhist temple step. (Courtesy of Bonhams)

The massively heavy, three-quarter ton stone measures 8 feet by 4 feet and is 6 inches thick.

“I met the client when she was collecting an item from our office,” Sam Tuke of Bonhams in Exeter said.
“She mentioned in passing that she had a large slab of carved granite that had come from her mother’s house in Sussex, and that she had known and loved it since she was 4 years old. She loved running her fingers around the animals carved into the stone.

“I said that it sounded an interesting object and she arranged to drop a photograph in to me the next day. When I saw the photographs and she explained the full story, I knew that it could be of great historical interest and importance.

“The house in Sussex had been bought from a tea planter in the 1950s and the stone had been moved six times. Her brother had seen similar stones in Sri Lanka whilst on holiday. She explained that she could not bear to leave the stone behind after her father died and the house was sold. It has been known affectionately in the family as ‘The Pebble’ and was currently lying outside the front of their bungalow at the end of a concrete path.”

The beautifully carved stone features a curved procession of animals including lions, horses, elephants, birds, and Brahmin cows.

Identical temple steps can be seen in situ in early 19th-century photographs of the monuments of Sri Lanka, and the condition and quality of the carving are superb.

Anuradhapura and the city of Polonnaruwa are vitally important attractions in the Sri Lankan cultural triangle. Anuradhapura, the greatest monastic city of the ancient world, dates from the middle of the fifth century B.C. and remained the proud seat of the kingdom of Sri Lanka until the 11th century A.D.

Today Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is replete with renovated monuments, restored edifices, preserved ruins, and historical sites where archeological excavations are still being continued.

Anuradhapura was the cradle of the glorious Sinhalese Buddhist civilization. The pride of place in Anuradhapura was taken by the ancient stupas and ancient reservoirs. The towering stupas (dagobas) of the stunning domes are marvels of ancient civil engineering.

Among the other attractions at Anuradhapura are magnificent rock carvings of richness and grace, colossal stone pillars, Buddhist monasteries and temples, and magnificent stone-cut swimming pools of sophisticated hydrology.

Alice Bailey is the head of Indian and Islamic art at Bonhams.

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