Relics and Relic Worship in Early Buddhism: India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Burma

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Among world religions, only Buddhism and Christianity attach a central significance to the role of relics. These two traditions, however, are different in both conceptual and material terms.

In Buddhism, the most sacred relics are those considered parts of the cremated remains of the Buddha; a hair, a tooth, a small fragment of bone or the tiny bead-like relics generated by the Buddha before entering nirvana.

In contrast, Christianity venerates objects associated with Christ such as the thorns, the cross or his robe. This first generation of relics were later joined by both the bodily relics and items used by the saints.

The papers in this volume, the culmination of a research project focusing on relic worship and Buddhism, cover a rich variety of themes. Subjects include a discussion of what constitutes a relic according to primary and secondary sources, as well as an analysis of the special terminology related to relic worship. 

Other chapters focus on the placement and treatment of relics in situ, in addition to the wider archaeological contexts for relics, relic chambers and reliquaries. New perspectives are also offered on the relics and reliquaries themselves, for example, the golden Bimaran casket from Afghanistan, an exceptional example of metalwork from the 1st century ad.

The final chapter explores the spread of Buddhism to Burma and the evidence of the vibrant relic culture that has been found there, including one of the oldest surviving Pali inscriptions in the world, a text on gold leaves deposited in a relic chamber. 

More about the editors

Janice Stargardt is Professorial Fellow in the archaeology of South and South East Asia, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and member of the research team in Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State, an ERC research project led by Michael Willis, Sam van Schaik and Nathan Hill.

The over-arching theme of her research has been the transition of societies in South-East India, Burma and Thailand from Iron Age villages to complex, literate and urbanized communities. She explores a range of factors involved in this transition: the natural environments - resources and stresses; the role of ancient irrigation in mitigating the latter; the contribution of maritime trade to prosperity; and the cultural cargoes that travelled with trade, pre-eminent among these was Buddhism.

She is currently directing new excavations at Sri Ksetra, one of the oldest cities in Southeast Asia and the largest until the emergence of Angkor and Pagan some 700 years later.

 

Michael Willis is leading Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State, a project funded by the European Research Council that is based in the British Museum, the British Library and the School of Oriental and African Studies.


  • Product Code: CMC0861592180
  • NUMBER OF PAGES: 150
  • FORMAT: paperback
  • Dimension: 29.7cm x 21cm
  • SUBTITLE: British Museum
  • Editors: Janice Stargardt and Michael Willis
  • Illustrations: 75
  • Weight: 0.58 Kg

Among world religions, only Buddhism and Christianity attach a central significance to the role of relics. These two traditions, however, are different in both conceptual and material terms.

In Buddhism, the most sacred relics are those considered parts of the cremated remains of the Buddha; a hair, a tooth, a small fragment of bone or the tiny bead-like relics generated by the Buddha before entering nirvana.

In contrast, Christianity venerates objects associated with Christ such as the thorns, the cross or his robe. This first generation of relics were later joined by both the bodily relics and items used by the saints.

The papers in this volume, the culmination of a research project focusing on relic worship and Buddhism, cover a rich variety of themes. Subjects include a discussion of what constitutes a relic according to primary and secondary sources, as well as an analysis of the special terminology related to relic worship. 

Other chapters focus on the placement and treatment of relics in situ, in addition to the wider archaeological contexts for relics, relic chambers and reliquaries. New perspectives are also offered on the relics and reliquaries themselves, for example, the golden Bimaran casket from Afghanistan, an exceptional example of metalwork from the 1st century ad.

The final chapter explores the spread of Buddhism to Burma and the evidence of the vibrant relic culture that has been found there, including one of the oldest surviving Pali inscriptions in the world, a text on gold leaves deposited in a relic chamber. 

More about the editors

Janice Stargardt is Professorial Fellow in the archaeology of South and South East Asia, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and member of the research team in Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State, an ERC research project led by Michael Willis, Sam van Schaik and Nathan Hill.

The over-arching theme of her research has been the transition of societies in South-East India, Burma and Thailand from Iron Age villages to complex, literate and urbanized communities. She explores a range of factors involved in this transition: the natural environments - resources and stresses; the role of ancient irrigation in mitigating the latter; the contribution of maritime trade to prosperity; and the cultural cargoes that travelled with trade, pre-eminent among these was Buddhism.

She is currently directing new excavations at Sri Ksetra, one of the oldest cities in Southeast Asia and the largest until the emergence of Angkor and Pagan some 700 years later.

 

Michael Willis is leading Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State, a project funded by the European Research Council that is based in the British Museum, the British Library and the School of Oriental and African Studies.


  • Product Code: CMC0861592180
  • PAGES: 150
  • FORMAT: paperback
  • Weight: 0.58 Kg
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