Coping stone from a carved railingOn display
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Carved stone railings were commonly erected around stupas and other sacred enclosures. This coping stone with a frieze of lions and palmettes is one of a number of surviving portions from one such railing. An inscription on the back states that it was commissioned by ‘Kashiputra Yashaka, the confidant of King Suryamitra, the son of Gopali.’
Coping stone from a carved railing
Associated peopleKashiputra Yashaka (active c. 1st half of the 1st century AD) (commissioner)
Date1st half of the 1st century AD
Kushan Period (AD 50 - 600)
Material and technique
Dimensions18 x 97.8 x 13.6 cm max. (height x width x depth)
No. of items
Purchased with the assistance of the Eric North Bequest Fund and the Friends of the Ashmolean Museum, 1983.
Museum locationGround floor | Gallery 12 | India to AD 600
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Such railings were in common use in the earliest periods to demarcate a sacred enclosure, whether it contained a holy tree, the throne of a yaksa or a stūpa [see EA1978.127 and EAOS.59]. Since at least fifteen other portions of this coping are known, the railing to which it belonged probably enclosed a large monument such as a stūpa. Apart from the crisply carved frieze of some beauty, the Ashmolean example also bears, on the reverse side, an inscription of historical importance in its entirety. It read: “Caused to be made by Kāsiputra Yaska, the confidant of King Sūryamitra, the son of Gopālī” (Härtel trans.).
The inscription provides evidence for the date and less clearly, for the original location of the railing. Professor Härtel has argued, on epigraphical grounds as well as from the style of the carving, for the less well-documented of two kings named Sūryamitra, who reigned in Pancāla, north-east of Mathura, in the first half of the 1st century A.D. The relatively small scale of the railing argues fro an early date [see EAX.391] but the frieze, in spite of its leaping lions separated by palmettes which distantly echo older western Asian motifs, is in a style quite compatible with an early 1st century A.D. date. The railing may have stood in Ahicchattra, the principal site in Pancāla, from which has come sculpture in the same style and distinctive stone at that of Mathura, and for which a sub-school of sculpture has been postulated; on the other hand, almost identical carved copings were excavated from the Kankālī Tīlā site in Mathura. Of the other nine inscribed portions, only one so far known, in a private collection in Calcutta, bears the full text. Two others are in the National Museum, New Delhi, one in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. and one in the Museum für Indische Kunst, West Berlin.
In: Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987)
Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 10 on p. 9, pp. xiv & 22, pl. 3 (colour) & p. 9
Hartel, Herbert, ‘An Early Coping Stone Inscription from Mathura’, Gouriswar Bhattacharya, ed., Deyadharma: Studies in Memory of Dr. D. C. Sircar, Sri Garib Dass Oriental Series No. 33 (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1986), pp. 101-102 & 106, illus. p. 105 figs 2a-2b
Ahuja, Naman, Art and Archaeology of Ancient India: Earliest Times to the Sixth Century (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2018), no. 91.1