Michael Backman Ltd - Home  

Pala Stone Stupa
Bodhgaya or Sarnath, Northeast India
10th-11th century

height: 18.6cm, diameter: 14.5cm

This votive, domed stupa is carved from phyllite stone. Most probably from Bodhgaya in northeast India or possibly Sarnath, it has been carved in Pala style,
and dates to the tenth or eleventh century.

It is of cylindrical shape and at each of the cardinal points there is, carved in a niche surmounted by a pointed, leafy arch, a Dhyani Buddha, each showing
specific hand gestures and seated in
padmasana on a cushion carved with lotus petals. The sides are further carved with lotus petal bands.

Model stupas such as this were found in significant numbers at Bodhgaya, the site of the Mahabodhi temple, and are believed to have been placed there by
monks and members of the laity as a means of earning merit. Similar stupas were also found at Sarnath. (The two sites were important pilgrimage sites and
are approximately 250 kilometres from one another.)

According to Harle & Topsfield (1987, p. 39), "During cleaning and extensive 'excavations' towards the end of the 19th century, hundreds and even thousands
of these little monuments were taken away [from Bodhgaya], many of them to Burma, the site having passed under the control of a Hindu religious

The example here was acquired in the UK and it is likely that it first came to the UK during the colonial era, either from Burma or from India itself.

here to see a related sandstone example in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Another similar example, probably from Sarnath, is in the Museum of
Archaeology & Anthropology, Cambridge University, UK. Another is in the British Museum - see below for a photograph of that example.

Elliot, M., & N. Thomas (eds.),
Gifts and Discoveries: The Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, Cambridge, Scala, 2011.
Harle, J.C. & A. Topsfield,
Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum, Ashmolean Museum, 1987.

Provenance: UK private collection

Inventory no.: 2190 SOLD
A photograph taken of the archaeological site at Sarnath, 1905, shortly after when the lion capitol of Ashoka's pillar was unearthed. Stone stupas similar to the
example here can be seen strewn about the site as well.
A related example currently displayed
in the British Museum.