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Reliquary

  • Place of origin:

    Pakistan (The reliquary is reported to have come from Takht-i Bahi, formerly in the North West Frontier Province of India., made)

  • Date:

    3rd century-4th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Schist

  • Museum number:

    IS.299-1951

  • Gallery location:

    Buddhism, Room 20, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art, case PL4

A reliquary is a container for holy relics. This one is designed as an independent small-scale monument. It is one of the most complete replica models of the classic Gandharan monumental stupa (dome-shaped shrine), none of which have survived in a complete state.

Containers for sacred relics were often concealed within stupas, and contemporary inscriptions confirm that devotees believed they contained authentic Buddha relics. Model stupas were also commissioned as reliquaries for the remains of eminent monks or Buddhist devotees. This example contained a small gold-leaf casket (Museum no. IS.299B-1951) which held bone fragments and stone beads.

It is constructed in three parts, comprising a square base, with a dome, surrounded by three umbrellas. Each of the four sides of the base depicts a seated Buddha being venerated. Each scene is flanked by pilasters with Hellenistic Corinthian capitals and an acanthus-leaf design border above.

The drum has two friezes. One has a stepped square design, the other a lattice-work pattern. The dome of the drum is decorated with an overlapping lotus-leaf pattern. A spectacular triple-umbrella, compete with a square section railing with crenelation detailing, completes the ensemble.

Physical description

The Reliquary is in three parts: a square base; a dome surrounded by three umbrellas; and a gold-leaf relic casket, surmounted by miniature umbrella and containing bone fragments and two small beads. The stupa is carved in relief with seated Buddhas depicted on the sides of the base, and a lotus pattern on the dome.

Place of Origin

Pakistan (The reliquary is reported to have come from Takht-i Bahi, formerly in the North West Frontier Province of India., made)

Date

3rd century-4th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Schist

Dimensions

Height: 119 cm, Width: 58 cm, Depth: 30 cm, Weight: 290 kg

Object history note

Formerly part of the Haughton Collection which was purchased from Major General H.L. Haughton

Historical context note

Containers for sacred relics were often concealed in Buddhist monuments, particularly stupas, and contemporary inscriptions reveal that they were believed to contain the Buddha's remains. Model stupas were also used as reliquaries, commissioned to contain some mortal remains of a Buddhist devotee or eminent monk. Within this reliquary was found a small gold-leaf casket (IS 2998-1951) which contained bone fragments and stone beads.

Descriptive line

Reliquary, schist, Gandharan, Takht-i Bahi, Pakistan, 3rd-4th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Guy, John (ed.). ‘L’Escultura en els Temples Indis: L’Art de la Devocio’, Barcelona : Fundacio ‘La Caixa’, 2007. p.166, cat.132.
ISBN 9788476649466
pp.98-99, pls. XXXIII and XXXIV
Ackermann, Hans Christoph. Narrative Stone Reliefs from Gandhara in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Catalogue and Attempt at a Stylistic History. Reports and Memoirs. Director of the Series Giuseppe Tucci. Volume XVII. IsMEO, Rome, 1975.
Fig. 3.30, p.79; Table 1 No. 221, pp. 272-3
Gandharan Buddhist reliquaries / David Jongeward, Elizabeth Errington, Richard Salomon, Stefan Baums. Seattle: Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project, [2012], ©2012 Number: 9780295992365 (hardback), 0295992360 (hardback)
No. 9
Haworth-Booth, Mark; Indian Sculpture: A Travelling Exhibition, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1971

Materials

Schist

Techniques

Hand carved

Subjects depicted

Buddhism

Categories

Containers; Buddhism; Architecture

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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