Bimaran Reliquary

From stupa 2 at Bimaran, Gandhara (in modern Afghanistan), 1st century AD

Cylindrical relic container of gold set with almandine garnets

The frieze on this reliquary bears one of the earliest depictions of the Buddha from the north-west region of Gandhara. The reliquary was found in an inscribed steatite casket. The inscription records that the reliquary contained some of the actual bones of the Buddha. However, when found in the nineteenth century the lid of the reliquary and the bones were missing. The relic was deposited with small burnt pearls, beads of precious and semi-precious stones, and four coins. The coins, and thus the reliquary, can be dated to about AD 50.

The arcading round the side consists of eight pointed arches, known as caitya arches, that rest on pilasters. The compartments are divided principally into two sets of three niches. Each has a Buddha in the centre flanked by two similar deities in profile who face the Buddha. The remaining two compartments show a figure frontally with his hands held together in a prayerful gesture of reverence, anjali-mudra. In the spandrels between the arches are eagles with outspread wings and heads turned so that they face each other. The entire frieze is sandwiched between registers of garnets that alternate with a four-lobed floral motif.

This reliquary is the best preserved example of goldsmithing to survive from early India. it is also a crucial object for the history of Buddhism and the development of the Buddha image on Buddhist art.

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More information

Bibliography

W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

Dimensions

Height: 6.700 cm
Diameter: 6.600 cm (at base)

Museum number

Asia OA 1900.2-9.1

RRI5724

Location

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