The Kulu vase

From Gondla, northern Himachal Pradesh, India, 1st century BC

Probably intended for early Buddhist ritual use

Although commonly thought of as coming from Kulu, this vase was actually found considerably further to the north, in the Lahul and Spiti region of Himachal Pradesh at a place called Gondla, about 8 kilometres south of Keylong. A great landslide in 1857 revealed a ruined Buddhist monastery where, in a vaulted chamber lay a horde of metal goods. Local people had already taken the precious gold and other pieces when Major Hay, the British political agent for the district arrived at the site. He recovered this vase, which was deposited in the India Museum in London from where it was transferred to The British Museum in 1880.

Buddhist stupas and monasteries contained objects like this probably uniquely surviving example. It is now useful in reconstructing how the early Buddhist faith was practised in India, as early Buddhist scriptures concentrate on more philosophical questions.

The frieze on the central panel shows a procession. The protagonist is seen riding a chariot drawn by four horses, flanked by two female attendants, one carrying a chauri or fly-whisk. He stands under a parasol. The parasols and fly-whisks and the other auspicious symbols that surround this vase usually signify either a great monarch or a holy personage. The procession also has two warriors carrying spears and riding horses, female musicians playing a flute and bow-harp and another regal figure on an elephant. Scenes like this show us what contemporary legends and rituals might have incorporated.

This fragile piece is evidence to India's long-standing and sophisticated tradition of metalworking and is the earliest known example of metalwork decorated in this fashion from the Indian Subcontinent.

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Height: 15.200 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1880-22


Transferred from the India Museum


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