At the 15th Conference of the European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, Leiden, Juli 1999, the then director general of the Archaeological Survey of India Ajay Shankar introduced the stūpa of Kanaganahalli among other sensational finds. It was obvious that this is an extremely important site for Buddhist studies. Ajay Shankar’s short presentation not only made the quality of the art found at this site apparent, but also mentioned the considerable amount of inscriptions that were discovered. It is this combination of text and image, both in abundance, that make the site the most important find of a Buddhist monument in the last decades.

Not directly working on any related material it was less the sensational scientific value of the find as such that was decisive for my subsequent visit to the site half a year later, but the fact that this was an opportunity for me to see a major Buddhist site during an excavation and the hope to see the archaeologists at work. Since Ajay Shankar had a much more open policy towards the accessibility of unpublished sites, as his presentation of new sites at Leiden also expressed, and since he knew me from my work in the Western Himalayas and discussions about conservation issues there, I took the opportunity to ask him for permission to visit and photograph the site for research purposes. The permission was granted and travel plans quickly made to visit the place in the first days of the new millennium, that is early January 2000. The resulting documentation of the site is now available in a picture gallery (◊ Kanaganahalli).

Many Names

The excavation site has become known under a number of name variants, ranging from Kaganhalli (the name originally used), via Kanganhalli (previously used on this website) to Kanaganahalli, all reflecting different pronunciations and transcriptions of the name of the village closest to the site.

Great Association

In more recent literature on the site, its name is connected to the Buddha Kanakamuni, one of the Seven Buddhas of the past. It is probably this association, that makes Kanaganahalli the preferred designation for the site in the excavation report.

Given my primary interests and the restriction of photography for research purposes only, I did not have the intention of documenting the site in its entirety, even less so as the excavation of the site had proceeded to a stage at which the entire stūpa was already excavated and its reliefs and inscriptions not only exposed in their entirety but already in a process of reconstruction, albeit with rather simple means and thus in a fairly coarse manner. At my visit none of the excavators of the site was present and besides a group of guards and an archaeologist leading a small excavation in the so called fort of Sannati the site was abandoned.

Fairly unprepared to find such a complete and complex site and with almost no information about it beforehand and on spot, I photographed some 400 slides during the two days of my visit, essentially covering all aspects I then thought would be important to understand the site as a whole and get a good idea about its art. Obviously, as art historian I focused on the best preserved reliefs and sculptures and only rarely photographed one of the many inscriptions in their own right. The documentation is thus far from complete, but for more than a decade it provided a much more comprehensive picture of the site and its importance, than has been presented by the excavators until the publication of the excavation report in 2013.


Today’s political divisions make Sannati a part of Gulbarga district, the northernmost district of Karnataka. The wider area around the site was already known for its historical importance, as in 1989 a major rock edict of king Asoka’s time was found in the nearby temple dedicated to the goddess Candrālambā. Earlier stray finds of stone reliefs, some of which are now housed in the Gulbarga Museum, also identified the area of Sannati as relevant for Buddhist history.

At fist glance the location of the site is rather unexpected, being far off the major early stūpas in the north, such as Bharhut and Sanchi, and considerably off the cluster of Buddhist monuments in Andhra, of which Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda are the main sites. However, the whole area between the famous early and later caves sites in the Western Ghats immediately east of Mumbai and the valleys of the Godavari and Krishna rivers down to Amaravati has been united under Sātavāhana rule for at least two periods between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD, the same time frame in which Kanaganahalli was actively worked on.


With a dome diameter of more than nineteen meters, the stūpa is of substantial size. The 1,20 meters high drum, the āyaka platforms measuring approximately 3,60 x 1,25 meters, have been covered with stone slabs. Long slabs of the same width as those of the drum also covered the lower section of the dome itself. The stūpa is then surrounded by a 2,5 meter high railing forming an outer circle of a diameter of 26 meters and opening up to four entrances in the cardinal directions where also the āyaka platforms are located.

Earlier Decoration

Most impressive about the stūpa is the amount of decoration that has been preserved despite the fact that there is almost no stone slab that has not been broken. The stone used is more or less of the same type of finely grained lime stone for all the decoration. All features observable in the documentation belong to the second phase of the stūpa, the decoration of which I summarize from the outside in.

The railing consists of long slim uprights with three full and two half medallions on the outer side. Between these pillars were four crossbars not much wider than the medallions covering them on the outer side only. The stone copings of the railing are slightly curved and equally only decorated on the outer sides. Here an endless row of realistic and mythical animals surround the stūpa in virtual circumambulation (pradakṣiṇa), as appears to have been common on many early railings (vedika). The entrances opening up in the cardinal direction are slightly more narrow than the āyaka platforms are wide, had corner pillars and stone thresholds with large moonstones (candraśila) placed in front of them, just as they are depicted on stūpa reliefs from Amaravati. The fragmented yakṣa found at the site stood besides the entrances and held a bowl for donations.

The face of the drum and the āyaka platforms are covered with a succession of stone slabs with a decorated surface of 1,20 x 1,20 meters which have a pilaster on one side and an extension on the other side. This overlap was covered by the pilaster of the next slab. On drum level, undecorated slabs were alternating with slabs containing carvings. A tentative reconstruction of the stūpa reveals that there must have been six carved slabs in each quarter. Together with the slabs used to decorate the āyaka platforms approximately 40 carved slabs were once decorating this lower section.

Dome Slabs

The lower section of the dome was decorated by panels of the same width as those on the drum but with the enormous height of the 3,30 meter each. These panels are constructed and joined in a similar manner as the lower slabs but were reportedly curved in adaption to the dome. They have two scenes above each other separated by a row of flying geese, and their lower section is carved with a railing pattern. Often the coping of this railing motive bears inscriptions identifying the scenes depicted above. Sometimes the inscription specifically refers to the upper panel. The inscriptions on top of these panels, if there are any at all, are dedicatory.

According to my tentative reconstruction, there are 13 panels per quarter. The upper decoration thus consists of altogether 52 panels containing 104 scenes. The majority of these panels is dedicated to scenes of the life of the Buddha, as well as to a number of different Birth Stories (jātaka), such as the Ṣaḍdantajātaka. From the few panels containing both narrative panels it appears that the stories where not arranged in horizontal rows, but that the two panels above each other may well belong to the same story, as in this panel showing a disappointed Māra in the upper scene and part of his attacking host in the lower. Further, the same event may be distributed over a number of panels, such as the distribution and transport of the relics, that possibly covered more than six panels, its composition closely resembling the one used on the Amaravati railing.

Later Additions

Besides the phase with its fascinating array of the large relief panels the stūpa also preserves later additions, especially at the āyaka platforms and the drum ring. At some stage all four āyaka platforms were furnished by massive stone beams carved on the front and the sides. Given their size these were presumably placed on the āyaka platforms facing the entering visitor, their front face displaying scenes from the life of the Buddha. The representations of these events are still pre-iconic and scenes are arranged in a chronological succession from the left two right, each scene separated by a pillar. It is unclear when the panels with the footprints of the Buddha were added. The beautiful carvings around them may in future allow an attribution on stylistic grounds.

The latest phase of the stūpa is certainly represented by a number of Buddha sculptures which are identified by inscription. Of these, the group of the seven Buddhas of the past are shown life size and seated. They are joined by Maitreya, called Ajita in the inscription, who is also recognizable as a Bodhisattva by his dress. Two larger than life standing Buddhas once faced the approaching visitor from the southern and western āyaka platforms, their pedestals still in situ a the time of my documentation. The seated Buddhas were largely placed in the immediately around the stūpa.


It is clear from all stones in situ that the stūpa was destroyed by a powerful movement from its center. Even the wall behind the āyaka platform was moved. Consequently, all decoration was pushed outwards, broke at some point and fell on the carved face, protecting the carving from further deterioration. It remains a matter of speculation, what may have triggered this sudden movement, but some sections of the site make it clear that it was the weight of the dome itself that pushed its walls towards the outside and made the building collapse in a sudden movement.


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