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Corporeal relics in stupa deposits from Gandhara

Graduate Seminars in Indic Religions
OCHS Library
Wannaporn Rienjang
Friday, 7 June 2013 - 4:00pm


The literary tradition has it that after the Buddha left his earthly body, his body was cremated and his bones divided between 8 kings. These bones are, according to Buddhist tradition, corporeal relics of the Buddha. The 8 kings subsequently buried the Buddha’s bones inside a ritual monument called stupa in their own kingdoms. Literature also claims that the 8 stupas were later opened by King Asoka, who distributed the bones, and had them buried in 84,000 stupas. The deposition of objects inside stupas in Gandhara, present-day northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, could be traced back to the mid 2nd century BC.

Not all Gandharan stupas contain bones. Bones in Gandharan stupas consist of both burned and unburned bones. All burned bones are of small size, while unburned bones are of different sizes and show obvious indication of being animal bones. This presentation will look at the spatial distribution of bones in Gandharan stupa deposits, and attempt to discuss reasons of the absence of bones in some stupas. One of the main arguments for the absence of the bones concerns the attitudes towards body remains. Apart from Buddhists, Gandhara was also inhabited by Zoroastrians and Hindus, to whom dead body is considered impure. The co-inhabiting of the Buddhists with the Zoroastrians and Hindus may have prompted the exclusion of bones in stupa deposits.