Carved from schist on a lathe, this lovely piece features a base and sides decorated with finely incised concentric circles. The lid with carved petals radiating out from the center and enclosed in a circular band of an incised diamond pattern. The lid is held in place by grooves, and can be lifted free from the base. As with many such reliquaries (see item #1987.258.2a-q Metropolitan museum of art), this item contains a variety of objects, including glass beads and pieces of crystal, gold foil with a repousee design of the Buddha, and coins - that were donated to relics of the Buddha and placed inside the reliquary.
The similarity of this piece to a perfume/cosmetic container is not a coincidence; the Buddha's remains are described in early sources as being "saturated," "pervaded," "infused," and "imbued" with virtues such as wisdom, kindness, and morality, in much the way oils are infused with the scent of perfume. The shape of the perfume container was thus considered appropriate for a Buddhist reliquary, and the "residence" of the Buddha - meaning his monastic residence - is described in early Buddhist texts as a gandhakuti (perfumed chamber) because it was imbued with his presence. In the same way, the reliquary itself was understood to be saturated with Shakyamuni's enlightened essence. Buddhist texts prescribe the use of flowers, perfume, and incense to make the absent Buddha present,and today fragrant offerings remain an important component of Buddhist ritual practice. Reliquaries, because they were considered saturated with the power of the Buddha's relics, were regularly reused and reinterred within stupas.
Condition: Minor deposits to the body and indications of use; small losses to the edge of lid and base that do not detract, overwise intact and in excellent condition overall.
Dimensions: height 1 inch (2.54 centimeters), diameter 2.75 inches (7 centimeters)
Provenance: Private Japanese collection.