Schist relief panel depicting the division of the Buddha's relics


British Museum

British Museum

According to the ancient Sanskrit text, the Mahaparinirvana-sutra, the Buddha himself gave detailed instructions for the cremation of his body and the preservation of his relics. He apparently died in the kingdom of the Mallas of Kushinagara and they performed the final rites and ceremonies as he had sanctioned. When word spread of the Buddha's death, seven of the clans from surrounding territories sent emissaries, each proclaiming his clan's right to a share of the relics. However the Mallas of Kushinagara responded by announcing their intention to keep all the relics for themselves, on the ground that the Buddha died in their territory. A brahmin named Drona intervened to ensure that all eight claimants received an equal share.

A table with thick, elaborately turned legs dominates the panel. A densely worked textile covers it, on which sit eight reliquaries. Drona stands behind the table, in the middle of the scene, flanked by the princes. Only one claimant survives next to him on this relief, the others have obviously been damaged. Guards holding spears flank the table legs.

In the next frame stands a bare torsoed female figure with one hand on her hip, and the other holding on to the branch of a tree, reminiscent of the common pose of Indian Shalabhanjika Yakshis seen at sites like Sanchi.

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  • Title: Schist relief panel depicting the division of the Buddha's relics
  • Date Created: 1/199
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 22.50cm; Width: 37.50cm; Diameter: 5.50cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: carved
  • Subject: buddha; relic/reliquary
  • Registration number: 1966,1017.1
  • Production place: Made in Gandhara
  • Place: Found/Acquired Swat
  • Period/culture: Kushan
  • Material: schist
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Funded by Brooke Sewell Permanent Fund. Purchased from Berkeley Galleries