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Diameter: 4 cm (1 9/16 in.); Overall: 4.2 cm (1 5/8 in.)
Bequest of Elizabeth B. Blossom 1977.64.b
Tiny reliquaries holding the cremated remains of the Buddha or a high-ranking holy person empowered monuments and made them sacred. A Buddhist monument, such as the solid hemispherical mounds called stupas, would not be worshipped until it was consecrated with the relic secreted inside. Bits of ash were combined with tiny gems inside a crystal or glass reliquary, which was then placed inside a stone or metal container, like the lidded versions seen here. These containers look like cosmetic vessels for aromatic pastes used for perfume in ancient India. Buddhist texts state that the enlightened Buddha emitted a fragrance like sandalwood paste; the form of the reliquary as a perfume bottle indicates the presence of the Buddha by the visual reference to his pleasant scent. Once enclosed in the stupa the reliquaries would not be seen, but monks were tasked with applying sandalwood paste to the exterior of stupas as part of their regular maintenance to convey to visitors the ongoing presence of the Buddha radiating from the relic in the center.
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