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Bronze reliquary and Kushan coins from a Buddhist relic deposit


Height: 17.800 cm (vase)

Excavated by Charles Masson (1835)
Transferred from the India Museum

OA 1880-93;CM 1979-2-15-21 to 41

Room 68: Money

    Bronze reliquary and Kushan coins from a Buddhist relic deposit

    Wardak stupa deposit, south-east Afghanistan
    Gandhara period, late 2nd century AD

    A reliquary which enlightens our view of Kushan history

    In 1836, Charles Masson, an Englishman who was employed, among other things, as a spy by the East India Company in Kabul, uncovered this highly polished bronze vase in one of the stupas at Wardak, in Afghanistan. These primary cult monuments of Buddhism originated from the funerary mound containing the Buddha's remains, and in fact the long inscription on the vase claims that this particular stupa contained a relic of the Buddha. Although this is highly unlikely, the inscription (written in the local Kharoshthi script) is important in other respects. It is dated the year 51 of the Kushan king Kanishka I, but cites his successor Huvishka (reigned around AD 146-83); thus this is one of the key pieces of evidence in reconstructing the chronology of the Kushan kings. It also mentions that the monastery was established by the Mahasanghikas, one of the earliest sects, who greatly influenced the development of Buddhist doctrine. They appear to have been powerful in Mathura, near Delhi, but this vase is the only record of their existence in Afghanistan. Their presence so far north is a reflection of the great expansion of Buddhism at this time.

    The coins are a portion of the original votive deposit of sixty-six bronze coins of the Kushan kings Vima Kadphises (reigned around AD 110-20), Kanishka I and Huvishka. Coins commonly form part of the relic deposit in Buddhist stupas. They appear to be included purely as metal objects, not for their monetary value.

    E. Errington and J. Cribb (eds), The Crossroads of Asia: transf (Cambridge, Ancient India and Iran Trust, 1992)


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