Footed Bowl with Lid

  • Central Asia, Gandhara
  • End of 1st century B.C.
  • 1cB.C.
  • Central Asia, Gandhara
  • H-28.8 D-12
Catalogue Entry

The silver reliquary consists of two parts: a base with small stem and foot, and a cover topped by a small ibex, whose long horns extend all the way to his tail and thus serve as a handle. The reliquary is fluted over the entire surface, and both base and cover are carinated. The lid has an everted lip that fits neatly over the upper edge of the base. The provenance is unknown, but it evidently was made somewhere in the Gandharan region, perhaps in Taxila or nearby.

The base of the reliquary is similar in form to Indo-Parthian drinking goblets in silver, copper, and earthenware that have been found in considerable numbers at Taxila and other sites, and which are also depicted in the hands of revelers in "bacchanalian" scenes in Gandharan sculpture. It thus appears that this object was originally a ceremonial drinking cup that was later put to use as a Buddhist reliquary.

The cover, however, is unique, as none of the similar goblets have any kind of lid. Perhaps it distinguishes the cup as a royal ceremonial goblet. The use of ceremonial drinking cups as status markers was until recent times a prominent feature of the society of Nuristan (in eastern Afghanistan), and it has been suggested that the Indo-Parthian goblets had a similar social function. The ibex atop the lid is reminiscent of Iranian and Scythian art, in which this animal is a prominent motif, but it is most unusual in Gandharan art. This feature thus seems to reflect the Scythian ethnic origins of its owners.

The reliquary has six inscriptions written in pointill style in the Kharosthi script and the Gandhari (Prakrit) language. Among them, three short inscriptions on the lip of the base and the cover record the weight of the objects in staters and drachmae, and the names of its owners. These inscriptions reveal that the goblet originally belonged to the Indo-Scythian king Kharaosta, who was previously known from his coins and from the famous Mathura lion capital inscriptions. Subsequently it came into the possession, perhaps by way of a gift to a faithful vassal, of the Apraca prince Indravarman. Two other, much longer inscriptions were written at a somewhat later date in duplicate around the central portions of the base and cover. These proclaim that the object was dedicated by Prince Indravarman as a container for bodily relics of the Buddha in a stupa that he founded. These inscriptions read, in part: "Prince Indravarman, son of Commander Vishpavarman, together with his wife establishes these body-relics in his own stupa... [May] all beings [hereby] be caused to attain nirvana").1

Since Indravarman is also known to have been the donor of a slightly later stone reliquary that is dated to the equivalent of A.D. 6, this silver reliquary must have been placed in the stupa sometime around the commencement of the Christian era. Its original manufacture as a ceremonial goblet, however, probably took place some years earlier, that is, some time in the latter part of the first century B.C. The inscriptions are of considerable importance for the reconstruction of the history of the dynasty of the kings of Apraca, who were until recently mostly obscure but who are now known to have been a prominent line of Indo-Scythian kings allied to the house of Azes, and who were lavish patrons of Gandharan Buddhism. Among several other points of historical importance, this inscription records for the first time the name of Indravasu, the previously unknown grandfather of the donor Indravarman.

1. See Salomon 1996 for reproductions, transcriptions, and translations of all six inscriptions and a detailed discussion of the object and its importance.