Bimaran stupa deposit and the beginning of relic cult in ancient Afghanistan
Published on September 12, 2015
Written by Wannaporn Reinjang

February 2015 | BIPS Research Grant

The Bimaran Workshop took place on Friday the 11th and Saturday the 12th September 2015, at the Ancient India and Iran Trust (AIIT), Cambridge, with fifteen discussants and three observers participating* (see attachment A). One of the observers was an Afghan honorary Cultural attaché from the Embassy of Afghanistan, Mr. Wahid Parvanta, who was a guest of Sir Nicholas Barrington, a trustee of the AIIT.

Four academic papers were presented in the morning of Friday the 11th, followed by discussions (see attachments A & B). The discussions were arranged thematically, all linked to three key topics for this workshop: chronology, relic practices and development of Buddhist imagery in ancient Afghanistan. The layout of the room was done in such a format that allowed participants to fully engage with the discussions (see photograph). The presentations started with topics concerning specific objects in the relic assemblage of Bimaran stupa no. 2: the coins and the stone container, their dates and significance in establishing the chronology of relic assemblage and the practice of relic worship. The next two presentations touched on a boarder context, i.e. the practice of openly displaying relics and the development of the Buddha image by drawing on evidences in Pakistan and India. The Friday session was wrapped up by Dr. Cameron Petrie, who summarized the state of play and elements necessary for re-interpreting the relic assemblages of Bimaran stupa no. 2.

The second day of the workshop, Saturday the 12th, was devoted to discussions under three recurrent themes: chronology, relic practices, and Buddhist imagery. Fourteen discussants and two observers participated. The workshop led to a number of insights, including new understandings of the dates and identification of the much debated, but relatively unknown coins of the Indo-Scythian local satrap Mujatria, and the relative date and the manufacture of the inscribed stone container in the Bimaran deposit. It was clear that only multidisciplinary approaches will help establish the dates for the Bimaran deposit, which include numismatics, paleography, art-history, science and object biography. The workshop also raised awareness of the critical use of stylistic analysis on dating the Buddha images, and leads to a consensus of the importance of applying scientific methods like radiocarbon dating on some organic materials on the Bimaran gold casket in the future.

The question of the date of the famous Bimaran gold casket remains unanswered, but new insights on associated objects were shed. The workshop was, in this sense, successful and all participants were satisfied with the results. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the British Institute for Persian Studies for the generous funding to support this workshop.

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