Stupa at Kara-Tepe: Towards the Place of Origin of the Bimaran Reliquary

There is an overland monumental Buddhist monastery at the northern hill of Kara-Tepe on the Old Termez townsite (Northern Bactria, Uzbekistan), which was excavated by Uzbek-Japanese archaeological team. To the north of the monastery was situated a monumental stupa, which was surrounded by small shrines. We can propose that there were three stages of the existence of the stupa. It can be assumed that the construction of the shrines refers to the second stage (middle of 2nd - the beginning of 3rd c. AD). In one of these shrines (room #11) was located a small stupa (Пидаев, Като, 2004).

The construction and peculiarities of decor of this small stupa are the subject of this report. There were two stages in the existence of this stupa. First stage (middle of 2nd c.AD). The stupa consisted of base with square layout (vedika) and cylindrical drum (karandaka). The base of the drum was decorated with relief of lotus petals. The finds of fragments of leaves of acanthus testify that the drum or the dome of stupa may have been decorated with them.

In the second stage (the end of 2nd - beginning of 3rd c. AD), the stupa was reconstructed. The bottom base was preserved, but the cylindrical drum changed to parallelepiped of mud bricks. The main interest presents the decor of the base of stupa. We can propose that it appeared at the first stage of stupa’s existence. There are five reliefs of arched niches supported by square pilasters on each side of the base. The space between each arch is filled with relief remains of eagles. There are pictures of standing figures within each arch.

We can propose that there were two compositions - Buddha with gesture abhaya-mudrā with attendants and Bodhisattva (Maitreya?) with attendants. Both compositions were repeated twice on the sides of the base. On the each sides of base two persons are standing in three-quarters with the gesture of salutation (anjali-mudrā) in front of Buddha (or Bodhisattva). Their divinity is proclaimed by the nimbus over their heads. Maybe they are Indra and Brahma. The other figures faces forward are donators. They have no nimbus and dress in white garment.

There are a lot of similar features between the iconography of this Kara-Tepe stupa and that of the Bimaran reliquary. M.Carter has shown that the “Bimaran reliquary is a tiny stupa” (Carter, 1997). In our case we have close links between the real stupa in Bactrian Buddhist shrine and Bimaran reliquary. So may the latest was made by Bactrian goldsmiths.