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Carlton Rochell Asian Art

Reliquary Stupa
Gandhara
2nd Century
Schist with traces of gilding
Height: 34 in. (86.3 cm.)

The stupa was originally a funeral mound, constructed either to commemorate a great person or to house his relics. When the Buddha was at the point of attaining parinirvana, he instructed his disciples to erect a great stupa for his remains, which were later disbursed. Stupas are ubiquitous in Buddhist art. Large structures are intended as places of worship and are circumambulated by pilgrims, while smaller version can be used as reliquaries or as votive offerings. Symbolically, however, they are all the same. The different geometric forms with which the stupa is constructed represent the five elements, now transformed from being a random universe into a realm of potential nirvana.

The square platform on which the present stupa is placed is decorated on each side with pairs of crouching support figures flanking four lotus flowers. On top of the base, a square parapet decorated with quatrefoil rosettes leads to a series of steps from which the round drum, finely carved with scenes of Brahmins and acolytes encountering ascetics in a forest, is approached. A flared molding separates the drum from the hemispherical dome, which is decorated at its base with scrolling foliate vine. Above, a band of checkerboard design is interspersed by four gateways in which seated images of Buddha flanked by attendants appear. At the top of the dome, the stepped harmika supports six parasols of diminishing size.

This reliquary is one of the largest examples of its kind and can be compared with another votive stupa in the Indian Museum, Calcutta. [1] Unlike the earlier bell-shaped mounds such as the one at Sanchi, Gandharan stupas tend to be more elongated and vertical in shape and demonstrate a greater emphasis on architectural details, such as can be seen in both the present example and the one now in Calcutta.

1. Huntington (1999), p. 133, fig. 8.8.

all text, images Carlton Rochell Asian Art

 

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