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Grey schist relief panel of figures venerating a stupa

 

Height: 15.000 cm
Width: 19.300 cm
Depth: 5.000 cm

Gift of Capt. B.C. Waterfield

Asia OA 1902.10-2.29

Room 33: Asia

    Grey schist relief panel of figures venerating a stupa

    From Buner / Swat, ancient Gandhara (north-west Pakistan), late 1st-2nd century AD

    This relief from Gandhara allows a fascinating insight into the nature of early Buddhist worship. The procession of figures are performing the rite of pradakshina, or the circumambulation of a stupa in a clockwise direction. All the figures wear typically heavy pleated Gandharan drapery. They are led by a figure carrying a lamp. Since his head is not shaved and he wears ornaments, he is probably not a monk. It has been suggested that he might be the donor of the relief, in which case the woman following him with her hands clasped together and her head covered may be his wife. On the other side of the stupa, following the procession are two monks with tonsured heads and hands held together, worshipping the stupa. Various bodhisattva or haloed deities holding lotuses look on from the back.

    The cult of the relics of the Buddha in a stupa was evidently a fundamental part of early Buddhism. The Buddha had indicated in his lifetime that his cremated remains should be interred in a stupa. Recent studies have shown that they were venerated as the living presence of the Buddha after his physical departure from this world (mahaparinirvana).

    The lighting of a lamp, walking round the structure, decorating it with garlands and holding one's hands together in anjalimudra (the gesture of worship) remain an integral part of Indian worship to the present day.

    W. Zwalf, A catalogue of the Gandhara sc, 2 vols. (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)

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