RARE SILVER PAGODA-STYLED RELIQUARY
A GIFT FROM THE WOON BROTHERS FOUNDATION
BY WOON WEE TENG
A rare silver cylindrical-shaped pagoda-styled reliquary for containing sutra. It is finely inscribed on the outer surfaces with a Buddhist pantheon comprising of Acuoye Guanyin, Maitreya, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, Vajrapani, Brahma, Indra, Heavenly Guardians, acolytes and others. These images are quite close in style to the drawings in the Yunnanese scroll painting commonly known as “The Long Roll of Buddhist Images” (大理國梵像卷) painted by Zhang Sheng Wen sometime between AD 1173-1176. In this scroll, there are similar style pagoda-like reliquaries with Siddham characters on the outside (see page 236 of The Sculpture and Painting Arts of Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms).
There are seven parts forming this reliquary. They comprise the top cover with lotus finial bud and decorated with multi-coloured beads; three cylindrical pieces of different sizes (large, medium and small with the small piece placed inside the medium piece which are then together placed inside the large piece); lotus base; petal-edged plate; and bowl.
The large cylindrical piece is detachable from the lotus base and likewise for all other parts of this reliquary. The bowl on itself looks like an alms bowl. This particular Yunnanese style of reliquary with such bowl reminds devotees of the Buddha’s arduous path of cultivation to ultimately attain Buddhahood through renunciation and non-attachment which are symbolised by the alms bowl of a mendicant.
This reliquary is a gift from the Woon Brothers Foundation1 to the Yunnan Provincial Museum. There is no written publication of other similar style reliquary from Yunnan. However, there is a similar pagoda-style reliquary found from Liao Dynasty (AD 907 - 1125) containing sutra (see page 167 of The Art of East Asia). This latter artifact is another piece of evidence of the close links between Dali Kingdom and Liao Dynasty.