This reliquary is made in a shape of the stupa with three umbrellas. According to the Buddhist tradition, after the death of the Buddha kings from all the countries came requesting his relics. The Brahmin, Drona, divided the Buddha’s ashes into eights taking the vessel the ashes had been stored in for himself. The relics were transported to every country and worshipped in the stupas built for that purpose. The king Ashoka (304-232 B.C.) known as a protector and propagator of Buddhism divided the relics even more and ordered construction of 84,000 stupas all over his country.
The reliquaries are symbolic and never contain any relics of the Buddha, but only some freshwater pearls, sometimes rock crystal beads, some gold foil ornaments, etc., and it happens that also coins are find inside. Reliquaries were religious objects, perhaps an offerings to temples, and some of such caskets are inscribed with a name of a donor and a purpose of donation. Numerous reliquaries were made in Gandhara, and besides the shape of the stupa there are also caskets in various shapes.
In a purpose of spreading Buddhism countless scenes from the Buddha’s life were carved in schist to be mounted along the walls of stupas where people came to worship the Buddha and pray. After conquering Bactria by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) influence of the Western culture upon the Gandharan early Buddhist art resulted in first images of the Buddha in a human shape, because up till then he was depicted by symbols like Buddhapada, a turban, a pillow from the throne, etc., and numerous Buddha and Bodhisattva figures were sculpted.
Reliquary in a shape of a stupa, Gandhara, 3rd century A.D., schist, H: 26 cm