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The Bimaran Reliquary.

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Bimaran Reliquary.
  • Description

    Reliquary casket, cylindrical in shape; made of gold and inset with garnets.
    The casket tapers slightly towards the rim and lacks a lid. The arcading round the side consists of eight pointed caitya-arches resting on pilasters. Each arch has a plain recessed face and the pilaster capitals consist of a plain fillet above a torus and a fillet. The pilaster shafts have each a recessed oblong panel with an outlined border curved at the top and the base mouldings repeat those of the capitals in a contrary sequence. The compartments form two groups (A and B) of three at opposite sides to each other, each group having an almost identical central Buddha flanked by closely similar, worshipping deities in profile, and the three are separated at both ends by a single similar compartment containing the same frontal worshipping figure.
    The Buddha stands frontally in slight 'dehanchement', but his left leg is flexed and its foot raised, while his right leg points sideways as if he is walking. His right hand is raised, palm outwards, to the centre of his breast in a less usual, perhaps archaic abhayamudra, while the left hand rests somewhat indistinguishably at the hip, not very clearly holding the robe which seems also to be wrapped round the wrist and falling from it; a length of the robe also appears to hang from the right arm. The neckline on Buddha A is coherently in relief, while on Buddha B it is more diffused and linear; Buddha A is generally more finely executed, a thinner and taller figure with a long oval face and a more pronounced peak of the undulating hair where the face of the other is rounder, more youthful and with a less clear moustache. On both the robe hangs with some effect of wet drapery. Both Buddhas are haloed, but on Buddha A the halo has a raised border and the uṣṇīṣa is much larger and, with the open eyes and moustache, recalls an early Buddha type in stone.
    On each Buddha's left stands a haloed turbaned figure of Indra in profile, his head somewhat inclined, the left leg flexed a little backwards, the left arm, with a bracelet and armlet, raised and hand(s) joined. He wears a paridhāna, and unusually the uttarīya hangs front and back over his right shoulder and loops round the left waist; on figure A a short length also hangs over the left shoulder. Other differences are in the position and relief of the lower left leg and in the more abundant drapery of the uttarīya on figure B.
    On each Buddha's right a haloed and bearded figure of Brahmā, with a large chignon and a water pot held in his left hand, walks towards the Buddha and raises his right hand no higher than the Buddha's; it is seen from the back with the fingers curved forwards. He wears a paridhāna, and the uttarīya over his left shoulder, with a long fluttering fall at his back, appears on the left arm and loops in the narrow mode round the right of the body. Differences between the two are the finer tooling and relief of the taller and erect figure of group A, while that of B seems more squat and has a more bowed posture; both make a distinctly classicising impression.
    The haloed dividing figure is youthful and stands frontally, his flexed left leg and his right foot recalling the Buddha's stance; his hands are brought together before his breast and he wears a paridhāna and uttarīya with two long ends falling on each side; the uttarīya crosses the body in the narrow mode from the left shoulder where it also forms a horizontal semiloop. Both arms wear an armlet and bracelets. The hair is in a chignon drawn in at its base; below it falls from a parting to form pronounced 'bouffant' locks at the sides, especially on the figure behind the Indra of group B, whose expression is much more of a beatific smile. Like that of Buddha A, his halo shows a raised border. Figure A, standing behind Indra A, also appears taller and in greater and clearer relief and his expression seems more austere. Huntington holds these figures to be a Bodhisattva (1985, p.115), while Cribb has discussed them as perhaps Maitreya (1985, pp.82-3).~Above and below the arcade is a row of garnets in gypsy settings separated by a motif of four petals or lobes, some more like pairs of linked heart shapes. In the spandrels are distinct and well-articulated eagles soaring with outspread wings and heads turned to each other to form pairs, their feathers carefully indicated by shallow grooves and punched dots. At the bottom of the casket are mouldings as of a pillar base with a plinth and a rather small torus under a large cavetto. On the underside is a blown lotus of eight double-outlined and centrally grooved petals narrowing towards the gynoecium, which is punched with large dots; between the petals and the border is a field densely punched with smaller dots, and between the points of the petals are small, standing, opening lotuses in the fashion seen on 1899,0609.39 (Zwalf 1996).


  • School/style

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1stC (circa)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 6.5 centimetres
    • Diameter: 6 centimetres (at rim)
    • Diameter: 6.6 centimetres (at base)
  • Curator's comments

    This reliquary was found inside the inscribed steatite reliquary 1880.27. For other finds from BImaran Stupa 2 relic deposit, see also 1880.3690, 1880.3691, 1880.3695, 1880.3696, 1880.3699, 1880.3851, 1880.3855, 1880.3893, 1880.3982; IOC 201-IOC.204.
    E. Errington: Masson's manuscript record shows that the reliquary was found without a lid at the time of excavation (Uncat. MSS Bundle 1b, f.1; MSS Eur. E161/VII, f.68). He also records that the reliquary contained a 'small metallic plate, apparently belonging to a seal, engraved with a seated figure [1880.3851.b], 30 small circular ornaments of gold [1880.3691, 1880.3695, 1880.3696, 1880.3982], sundry beads of coral &c., pearls &c.' and beads of 'nilam [sapphire, specifically purple sapphire, i.e. amethyst], agate, crystal &c.' (1880.3699.g, 1880.3855.c, 1880.3884.g, 1880.3893), a heart-shaped turquoise inlay (1880.3893.k), and 10 small cross-shaped turquoise (?) inlays of the right size and shape to fit into the repoussé quatrefoils that alternate with the inlaid garnets around the rim and the base of the casket (1880.3851.c, 1880.3855.b). The relic deposit also contained four posthumously issued coins in the name of Azes which according to research done in 2012-13 are now dated c. late 1st century (IOC 201-IOC.204).
    Zwalf 1985: This famous object was found in a 'stūpa' inside an inscribed stone box, now also in the British Museum. Framed by arcades formed with the Indian pointed arch are the Buddha and the gods Indra and Brahmā shown twice and separated by a worshipper whose head-dress, ear-rings and armlets suggest a Bodhisattva. Between the arches are eagles and, above and below, garnets. The inscription refers to relics of the Buddha dedicated by one Śivarakṣita; if the coins found near by were contemporary, the reliquary would be of the 1st century AD and its Buddha image perhaps earlier than Kaniṣka I's reign. The resemblance of the Buddhas on this casket and Kaniṣka I's gold coin (no.121) appears close.


  • Bibliography

    • von Schroeder 1981 2D/E bibliographic details
    • Masson Uncat. MSS Bundle 1b, f.1. bibliographic details
    • Masson MSS Eur. E161/VII ff.1-2, 16(v). bibliographic details
    • Errington & Cribb 1992 no.191, pp.189-92. bibliographic details
    • Zwalf 1996 no.659, pp.348-50. bibliographic details
    • Zwalf 1985 no.9, pp.15, 29. bibliographic details
    • Nara 1991 p.61, no.33. bibliographic details
    • Errington 1998 p.80, fig.48. bibliographic details
    • Huntington 1985 pp.113-15, fig.7.4, pl.4. bibliographic details
    • Birdwood 1880 pp.143-7, pl.19. bibliographic details
    • Jongeward, Errington, Salomon & Baums 2012 pp.145-8, 288-9, figs.4.24, 4.26, no.353. bibliographic details
    • Errington 1999 pp.212-13, 231-2. bibliographic details
    • Wilson 1841 pp.70-1, p.53, figs.1-3, Antiquities pl.IV.1-3. bibliographic details
    • Carter 1997 pp.71-93. bibliographic details
    • Cribb 1985 pp.82-3. bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history


    1990 20 Oct-9 Dec, Japan, Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.125
    1991 5 Jan-20 Feb, Japan, Yamaguchi, Prefectural Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.125
    1991 9 Mar-7 May, Japan, Osaka, National Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.125

  • Condition

    1. Gold, apparently from a single sheet, repoussé and set with almandine garnets. 2. Small holes appear in wall of casket; three garnets missing on lower row leaving an opening, but with projecting walls of gypsy settings intact. 3. Attached in places to inner wall of casket, while other pieces are lying loose in it, is a hardened substance. 4. Rim slightly irregular in places.

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Excavated between November 1833 and April 1834 (Masson MSS Eur. E161/VII, ff.1-2).Formerly in the India Museum and, after its dispersal, retained at the Victoria and Albert Museum until transferred to the BM by the Secretary of State for India.

  • Department


  • Registration number


COMPASS Title: Bimaran Reliquary


COMPASS Title: Bimaran Reliquary

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