Visiting Gandhara in Edinburgh

I have recently become aware of some quite impressive pieces of Gandharan Buddhist art in Edinburgh collections, both in the University Library Centre for Research Collections, and in the National Museum of Scotland. During a recent visit from Peter Skilling and Nat Sirisawad we were lucky enough to view both collections, including the museum pieces that are kept in off-site storage. (Many thanks to curator Rosanna Nicolson for arranging this latter trip, which was a fantastic experience!)

Sumedha makes his vow to buddhahood at the feet of the past buddha Dipankara, who predicts that he will indeed become a buddha in the future. This traditionally marks the beginning of the long path of Śākyamuni Buddha. Gandharan relief. Image (c) National Museums Scotland. Museum reference A.1934.371

Sumedha makes his vow to buddhahood at the feet of the past buddha Dipankara, who predicts that he will indeed become a buddha in the future. This traditionally marks the beginning of the long path of Śākyamuni Buddha. Gandharan relief. Image (c) National Museums Scotland. Museum reference A.1934.371

Most of these pieces are fragmentary stone reliefs, but some are quite substantial, including a beautiful relief of the encounter of Sumedha with Dipankara Buddha (above), and a number of other friezes that are harder to identify. These seem to have been donated primarily by army officers from Scottish regiments, though little is known about their provenance.

The University’s collection can be found by inputting “Gandhara” here: http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/

A Gandharan relief showing musicians and dancers? Photograph © The University of Edinburgh/Thomas Morgan. Item reference 0017324.

A Gandharan relief showing musicians and dancers? Photograph © The University of Edinburgh/Thomas Morgan. Item reference 0017324.

Only some of the Museum’s pieces have been photographed, but more are promised, and you can search what there is here: http://www.nms.ac.uk/explore/search-our-collections/

These visits, along with more time spent amongst the University’s Southeast Asian manuscript collections, have convinced me that I would like to explore Edinburgh’s Buddhist materials more extensively. I hope, with the help of colleagues, to find out more about what the items are and how they ended up in Edinburgh instiutions. Watch this space!

 

 

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About naomiappleton

I work in the Divinity School at the University of Edinburgh, where I research and teach subjects related to South and Southeast Asian religions.
This entry was posted in Academia, Buddhism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Visiting Gandhara in Edinburgh

  1. jayarava says:

    Most of these reliefs are based on Jātaka stories aren’t they? It must help enormously to be familiar with them.

    • Well I was hoping to spot a jātaka but I’ve not managed so far! The trouble is that a lot of the groupings are just of generic characters, so it is hard to tell what is going on. And then there are also several reliefs just depicting the Buddha / buddhas and devotees or monks. Knowing the narrative literature is of limited help in this case!

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