Friday, June 27, 2014

The Buddha's golden reliquary urn of Bimaran

Dhr. Seven, CC Liu, Amber Larson (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly; British Museum; Wiki edit 
Greco-Buddhist gold art of Afghanistan, the Bimaran Reliquary (
The Golden Bimaran Urn; edited by Wisdom Quarterly
The soapstone casket containing the urn
This golden urn and these items were found buried in a stone casket found in Stupa No. 2 at Bimaran, Gandhara, near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.

When it was found by the archaeologist Charles Masson during his work in Afghanistan between 1833 and 1838, the stone casket contained coins.

The piece was dated as having been created or buried in the 1st century AD, which is when the coins are thought to date from, on the assumption that those coins were interred in it in the first place, when they were almost certainly added later when it was re-interred after its precious relics were looted. 

Rare Buddha pose, light dress (BM/W)
The priceless gold, jewel-studded, cylindrical relic container set with almandine garnets bears a frieze with one of the earliest depictions of the Buddha from the northwest region of Gandhara (ancient India).

The reliquary was found inside an inscribed steatite (soapstone) casket. The inscription records that the reliquary contained some of the actual bones of the Buddha. [See "Bones of the Buddha" (PBS TV) on "Vethadipa" and Cremating the Buddha's body (sutra)].
The PBS special "Bones of the Buddha" explains the discovery of some of the relics (WQ)
Relics can look like pearls (
However, when found in the 19th century, the lid of the reliquary and the bones were missing. The relic was deposited with small burnt pearls [a good description of genuine relics], beads of precious and semi-precious stones, and four Azes II coins. The coins, and thus the reliquary, can be dated... More
Evidence of the Buddha's Ukraine connection
The Buddha reclining into final nirvana (paranirvana), Gandharan art (wiki)
Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, all around Kapilavastu (wiki)
The outrageous claim by a Ukrainian scholar that the Buddha may have been Ukrainian is quite possible -- so long as one extends ancient Indo-Scythia to include faraway Crimea and Ukraine high in the north of Asia.
The Scythians might well be the Shakyas of later Sakkastan. But history here is very muddled by nationalistic Indian claims, Nepalese counterclaims, British archeological discoveries and deceptions, such as the Jonesian frauds detected by Dr. Pal.

In any case, this magnificent relic container suggests that Siddhartha Gautama came from far north of India, somewhere west of the Indus river. If that is not the case, it is hard to imagine why people under a Gandharan/Indo-Pakistani king would have been involved in re-interring the Buddha's relics rather than plundering the treasure.

Whose coins were they?
The British Museum (
(WIKI) King Azes II (reigned circa 35-12 BCE) may have been the last Indo-Scythian king on the northern Indian subcontinent (now Pakistan as of 1947's Partition).

However, due to new research by R.C. Senior (2008, "The Final Nail in the Coffin of Azes II," Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society 197, 2008, pp. 25-27), his actual existence is now seriously in doubt, and "his" coins and so on are now thought to refer to those of Azes I.

Gandhara/Bactria/Afghanistan (Boonlieng/flickr)
After the death of Azes II, the rule of the Indo-Scythians in northwestern India and Pakistan finally crumbled with the conquest of the Kushans, one of the five tribes of the Yuezhi who had lived in [Greco-Persian] Bactria for more than a century, who were then expanding into India to create a Kushan Empire. Soon after, the Parthians invaded from the west. More

And what it all goes to show is that history is a mess, just as the Buddha spoke of countless empires, kingdoms, and republics that rose to glory to invariably crumble. Even a "world monarch," or chakravartin, ruling in accordance with dharma in the noble/warrior-caste ideal, is not exempt from this revolving cycle. Who were these world ruler?

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