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Reliquary

  • Place of origin:

    Madhya Pradesh (The object was discovered by Alexander Cunningham and F.C. Maisey in 1851 in the excavated relic chamber (<i>dhatugarbha</i>) of Stupa 2 at Bhojpur some 12 kilometers south-east of Sanchi near the villages of Pipalia and Murel Khurd (the latter having given its name to the site by the Archaeological Survey to prevent confusion with another place called Bhojpur on the banks of the river Betwa).)

  • Date:

    1st century BC

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved rock crystal

  • Museum number:

    IM.223-1921

  • Gallery location:

    Buddhism, Room 20, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art, case 1

This miniature rock crystal reliquary is in the form of a Buddhist stupa. Rock crystal, a material of extreme purity, was often used for making containers for sacred relics. This reliquary was found the relic chamber of Stupa 2 during excavations in 1851 by Alexaner Cunningham and F.C. Maisey at Bhojpur, near Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, in central India. The barrel of the stupa is hollow to accommodate small relics (present when excsavated, but now lost), and it would have been capped by an umbrella, a symbol of high rank. It probably dates from the 1st century BC.

Physical description

Rock crystal reliquary in six parts in the form of a small stupa. The stupa consists of a flanged-wheel like plinth, sunk in the middle to accommodate the dowel of the hemispherical dome which fits into it. On top of the dome is a square harmika from which rises the double chattra or umbrella. The middle of the dome is pierced with a small perpendicular cylindrical shaft or relic- holder in which were found some minute pieces of bone. The umbrella-pinnacle forms the stopper to this shaft.

Place of Origin

Madhya Pradesh (The object was discovered by Alexander Cunningham and F.C. Maisey in 1851 in the excavated relic chamber (dhatugarbha) of Stupa 2 at Bhojpur some 12 kilometers south-east of Sanchi near the villages of Pipalia and Murel Khurd (the latter having given its name to the site by the Archaeological Survey to prevent confusion with another place called Bhojpur on the banks of the river Betwa).)

Date

1st century BC

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved rock crystal

Dimensions

Height: 9 cm, Width: 11 cm, Depth: 8.5 cm

Object history note

The object was discovered by Alexander Cunningham and F.C. Maisey in 1851 in the excavated relic chamber (dhatugarbha) of Stupa 2 at Bhojpur some 12 kilometers south-east of Sanchi near the villages of Pipalia and Murel Khurd (the latter having given its name to the site by the Archaeological Survey to prevent confusion with another place called Bhojpur on the banks of the river Betwa). The reliquary was found in a whitewashed earthenware vessel that carried an inscription which was unfortunately illegible so the identity of the remains within remains unknown. The vessel contained several small pieces of bone, four thin round pieces of gold, a garnet bead, a Badakshani ruby, a crystal bead, two beads of a pale greenish crystal and some minute fragments of pearl, all of which have now been lost. The vessel was discovered under an earthenware hemisphere. F.C. Maisey drew measured drawings of all these parts now in the British Library, OIOC WD 546 folio 5a.

Bought from Miss. D.Saiward, 1921.

Descriptive line

Rock crystal reliquary in six parts, Stupa No. 2, Bhojpur near Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, ca.1st century BC

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

Cunningham, Alexander, Bhilsa Topes, London, 1854, p.331

p. 90 and figs 103 and 104
Buddhist reliquaries from ancient India / Michael Willis with contributions by Joe Cribb and Julia Shaw. London: British Museum, 2000 Number: 0714114928
Fig. 3.38, pp. 88-90
Gandharan Buddhist reliquaries / David Jongeward, Elizabeth Errington, Richard Salomon, Stefan Baums. Seattle: Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project, [2012], ©2012 Number: 9780295992365 (hardback), 0295992360 (hardback)
Guy, John, Indian Temple Sculpture,London, V&A Publications, 2007, p.31, pl. 31.
ISBN 971851775095
Orientations; vol. 40. no. 4; May 2009; The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum.
John Guy; Adoring the Stupa, Adoring the Buddha: Kushan Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, p. 44
Orientations, vol. 48 no 2017, John Clarke; The New Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art at the Victoria & ALbert Museum, p. 65.

Labels and date

1-3. Buddhist Reliquaries

Buddhists deposited the remains of venerated teachers in reliquaries and then enshrined them in large hemispherical mounds called stupas.

These reliquaries were all excavated in 1851 from stupas near Sanchi, one of the most important early Buddhist sites in India. The large container (1) held beads and five smaller reliquaries (including 2). The crystal reliquary (3) contained minute bone fragments. Its shape, including the umbrella finial, resembles that of a full-size stupa.

Central India
All found near Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh
From the collection of General F.C. Maisey

1. Probably before 100 BC
Steatite
From Sonari stupa no. 2
Museum no. IM.219-1921

2. Probably 1-100 BC
Steatite
From Sonari stupa no. 2
Inscribed in Brahmi as having held the relics of Majhima Kodiniputa, a Buddhist missionary to the Himalayas
Museum no. IM.221-1921

3. 1-100 BC
Rock crystal
From Bhojpur stupa no. 2
Museum no. IM.223-1921
[14/06/2014]
3.1–100 BC
Rock crysta
lFrom Bhojpur stupa no.2
Museum no.IM.223-1921 [06/06/2011]

Production Note

Bhojpur (Sanchi), Madhya Pradesh, India

Subjects depicted

Buddhism

Categories

Containers; Buddhism

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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