Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Reliquary

  • Place of origin:

    Madhya Pradesh (Stupa 2, Sonari near Sanchi, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 200 BC (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Lathe-turned and carved in shallow relief mottled steatite of a predominantly beige colour with some patches and lines of purple pigmentation.

  • Museum number:

    IM.219-1921

  • Gallery location:

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

This relic container was excavated at Stupa 2 at Sonari, a Buddhist monastery six miles south-west of Sanchi, by Alexander Cunningham and F. C. Maisey in 1851. It was found to contain three miniature reliquaries – two in steatite and one in rock crystal - as well as a quantity of powdered bone-ash and a piece of wood. It is shaped to resemble a lotus bud, with incised petals decorating the lower half of the reliquary. It was turned on the lathe and then carved in low relief with bands of lotus-petals on the shoulder and lower part of the body, whilst on the upper body there is a broad zone divided into eight rectangular compartments in each of which is an elephant, horse, deer or winged lion, typical motifs of the Mauryan period. It was first published by A Cunningham in The Bhilsa Topes in 1854.
It was customary from the time of the Buddha’s death to preserve and venerate his relics. Under the great Mauryan emperor Asoka (circa 268-233 BC), a convert to Buddhism and an energetic patron of the faith, a series of stupas, relic mounds, were erected across the empire, marking sites of significance in the Buddha’s life. This practice continued, and this relic container is believed to have been interned around 200 BC. Relic deposits of this period usually represented re-deposits of original Buddha corporal relics.

Physical description

The container has a bulbous shape on a ridged foot with a domed lid. The main body of the vase is divided into two registers with the lower one decorated with an engraved design of lotus petals, also found as a smaller band on its shoulder. The upper part of the body has a wide band of eight rectangular compartments separated by broad vertical incised uprights with upper and lower framing incised bands. The compartments depict various animals comprising elephants, bridled horses, a winged beast and spotted deer set among abstract floral motifs.

Place of Origin

Madhya Pradesh (Stupa 2, Sonari near Sanchi, made)

Date

ca. 200 BC (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Lathe-turned and carved in shallow relief mottled steatite of a predominantly beige colour with some patches and lines of purple pigmentation.

Dimensions

Diameter: 7.125 in, Height: 16.8 cm

Object history note

Recovered from the relic chamber of Stupa 2 at Sonari by Alexander Cunningham and F.C. Maisey during their excavations in 1851. When excavated it contained five small relic caskets, (including IM.220-1921, IM.221-1921 and IM.222-1921 in the V&A's collection and one reliquary in the British Museum) together with beads, a small quantity of bone ash and a piece of wood (possibly sandalwood). The ash and the piece of wood were handed over to Professor M.S. Sundaram, representing the government of India in 1958.

Descriptive line

Reliquary from Stupa No 2, Sonari, central India, steatite, ca. 200 BC

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

Willis, Michael, Buddhist Reliquaries from Ancient India, London, British Museum Press, 2000, p.85, No.14, figs 91 & 92

Guy, John, Indian Temple Sculpture, London, V &A Publications, 2007, p 30. pl. 29.
ISBN 971851775095
Guy, John (ed.), La Escultura en los Templos Indios: El Arte de la Devoción, Barcelona, Fundación La Caixa, 2007, p.158, No.116ISBN: 978-84-7664-945-9

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]
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 importantearly 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

1.Probably before 100 BC
Steatite
From Sonari stupa no.2
Museum no.IM.219-1921
[06/06/2011]

Materials

Steatite

Techniques

Technique

Subjects depicted

Buddhism

Categories

IndScp_load; Containers; Buddhism

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.