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Buddha-Relics in the Lives of Southern Asian Polities

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Drawing on literary and inscriptional evidence from Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia, this essay examines the place of Buddha-relics — potent traces of a Buddha — in the life cycle of southern Asian political formations. In the formation of new polities and/or new dynasties, relics were drawn into the physical landscape and literary memory of the state, in order to provide protection and to claim desirable lineage and authority. At times of heightened military and political activity, when kingdoms were at risk, the protection and deployment of relics, and their ritual engagement, formed part of the state's central technologies. During periods of victory and restoration, relic festivals and the enhancement of a landscape embedded with relics, were used to display, affirm, and protect the royal court.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA;, Email:


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