Ring Stone thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
South Asian Sculpture, Room 47b

Ring Stone

3rd century BC-2nd century BC (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Ring stones of this type are an enigma and their intended function remains unknown. Their form and decoration suggest links to female fertility symbolism. The inner face of this stone is finely carved in low relief with female figures alternating with tripartite flowering stems, evoking the Buddhist ‘triratna’ symbol. The quatrefoil lozenge pattern is also seen on the Buddha’s ‘vajrasana’ throne seat at Bodhgaya. There it suggests a textile-inspired design.

It has been suggested that ring stones may have served as moulds. Goldsmiths might have used them to produce ear ornaments, such as those seen on ‘yaksha’ (nature-spirits) figures of this period and of a type which continued into the Kushan period (1st-3rd century AD).

Ring stones have been recorded across northern India, from Taxila in the north-west, the Punjab, to Patna in the east. They share a uniformity of materials and of design and a consistently high quality of carving. This, together with their portability, raises the possibility that they were produced in one centre and circulated as a form of luxury good along the early northern trade routes. A strong candidate as a production centre must be Pataliputra (modern Patna), the capital of the Mauryan kingdom of Magadha.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Polished sandstone
Brief description
Ring stone, polished sandstone, Taxila, Pakistan, 3rd-2nd century BC
Physical description
Ring stone (or ringstone) carved on the convex interior surface with female figures alternating with tripartite flowering stems, evoking the Buddhist triratna symbol. Above this on the upper surface are two concentric carved bands with a quatrefoil lozenge design between three borders of diagonal hatchings in alternate directions.
Dimensions
  • Diameter: 8cm
Style
Gallery label
  • 2. Ring-Stone with Female Figures and Flowering Stems 300–100 BC Mauryan or Shunga period Polished sandstone Pakistan (Taxila region, Punjab Province) Museum no. IS.82-1948(06/06/2011)
Object history
Ring-stones of this type have been recorded across northern India from Taxila, now in Pakistan, in the north-west, across the Punjab through to Patna in the East. The uniformity of the material and the designs, together with the portable nature of the objects, has led scholars to suggest the possibility of one centre of production from which they would be sold as luxury merchandise along the major trade routes of northern India. A probable centre for this production was Pataliputra (modern-day Patna), the capital of the Mauryan state of Magadha. Their purpose remains an enigma. The female figures may be symbolic of a fertility goddess. The tri-partite flowering plant may evoke the tri-ratna Buddhist symbol, while the square patterning bears a resemblance to the motifs on Buddha's throne pedestal at Bodhgaya.
Summary
Ring stones of this type are an enigma and their intended function remains unknown. Their form and decoration suggest links to female fertility symbolism. The inner face of this stone is finely carved in low relief with female figures alternating with tripartite flowering stems, evoking the Buddhist ‘triratna’ symbol. The quatrefoil lozenge pattern is also seen on the Buddha’s ‘vajrasana’ throne seat at Bodhgaya. There it suggests a textile-inspired design.



It has been suggested that ring stones may have served as moulds. Goldsmiths might have used them to produce ear ornaments, such as those seen on ‘yaksha’ (nature-spirits) figures of this period and of a type which continued into the Kushan period (1st-3rd century AD).



Ring stones have been recorded across northern India, from Taxila in the north-west, the Punjab, to Patna in the east. They share a uniformity of materials and of design and a consistently high quality of carving. This, together with their portability, raises the possibility that they were produced in one centre and circulated as a form of luxury good along the early northern trade routes. A strong candidate as a production centre must be Pataliputra (modern Patna), the capital of the Mauryan kingdom of Magadha.
Bibliographic references
  • Irwin, J., 'Late Mauryan or early Sunga ring-stones', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, April 1951, pp.1-3
  • Guy, John. Indian Temple Sculpture. London : V&A Publications, 2007. p.25. pl.19. ISBN 9781851775095
  • Willis, Michael. Buddhist Reliquaries from Ancient India. London : British Museum Press, 2000. ISBN 0 7141 1492 8. pp.71-2, fn.1.
  • Guy, John (ed.). L’Escultura en els Temples Indis: L’Art de la Devocio. Barcelona : Fundacio ‘La Caixa’, 2007. ISBN 9788476649466. p.52, cat. 9.
Collection
Accession number
IS.82-1948

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

Record createdFebruary 13, 2000
Record URL
Download as: JSONIIIF Manifest