Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Staging Authenticity: Objects, Images and the Sensory realms of Buddhist Relics

Friday, July 6
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Jacaranda I, First Floor

This paper will reflect on new moral geographies of Southern Buddhism, especially ones constituted by relic circulation, fragmentations, and reconstitutions, where the image came to stand in for an ever-elusive object and in the process, emerged as a sensory object across overlapping worlds of scholarship, state diplomacy, and ritual devotion. Beginning with late nineteenth century photographic prints and reading a more recent docudrama and websites on relics from Piprahwa Kot in British India, this paper focuses on the material reconstitutions of ancient Buddhist corporeal relics during their late nineteenth-century journeys, from Piprahwa Kot to a new relic temple in Bangkok (Siam) as well the late twentieth century appropriations of those reconstructions.


At the turn of the nineteenth century, as scholars and bureaucrats in British India struggled with the authoritative reading of the identification markers of the Piprahwa relics, Jinavaravansa, a Siamese prince turned monk, claimed the relics on behalf of King Chulalongkorn of Siam. He selected a specific collection of photographs of the excavation site and finds as certifications of authenticity to Siam’s share of Piprahwa relics. The paper argues that this investment in photography’s promise of indexical reality elevated the status of the chosen photographs from mere images to sacred relics to be venerated. The paper then reads a different genre of images across different media, docudrama, and websites, to map the continued preoccupations of these images with earlier transnational Buddhist geographies where objects circulated as images and images stood for ritual and visual reconstructions of fragmented objects.

Sraman Mukherjee

Ashoka University, India

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2 - Staging Authenticity: Objects, Images and the Sensory realms of Buddhist Relics



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