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Bones of Contention: Buddhist Relics, Nationalism and the Politics of Archaeology

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Relics of Sāriputta and Moggallāna, two of the Buddha's closest disciples, were discovered by Fred. C. Maisey and Alexander Cunningham in a stūpa at Sānchī in 1851 and were re-enshrined at the same place in November 1952. The exact whereabouts of the relics between these two dates has been uncertain, partly because both Buddhists and scholars have assumed, incorrectly, that the relics that were brought back to India had been in the possession of Mr Cunningham. The purpose of this article is to give a detailed account ot the relics of Sāriputta and Moggallāna found at Sānchī. The account is based on correspondence and notes about the relics found in archives of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and on relevant sources published by the Maha Bodhi Society. I argue that the quarrel over the relics was an important part of the revival of Buddhism from the end of the nineteenth century. I also discuss how the relics of the two saints were used by the government of India as nationalist symbols.

Affiliations: 1: The University of Oslo, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, Boks 1010 Blindern, 0315 Oslo, Norway;, Email:


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