(This is a revised and expanded version of a talk given at Harewood House, UK, in 2006, at a conference convened to ‘clear the air’ on the thorny issue of the Piprahwa claims. Whilst challenging the reliability of those claims, it should not be regarded as any kind of endorsement, by default, of the Nepalese claim that Tilaurakot represents the site of Kapilavastu.  My views on the ‘Kapilavastu Problem’ and related questions are set out in my website entitled Lumbini on Trial: The Untold Story’, which should be read in conjunction with this article).




The Piprahwa Deceptions: Set-ups and Showdown


‘The careful excavation of Mr Peppe makes it certain that this stupa had never been opened until he opened it…The hypothesis of forgery is in this case simply unthinkable.  And we are fairly entitled to ask : “If this stupa and these remains are not what they purport to be, then what are they?”…Though the sceptics – only sceptics, no doubt, because they think that it is too good to be true…’ (etc)


(‘Asoka and the Buddha-relics’, by T.W. Rhys Davids, JRAS (UK) 1901).


In January 1898, Mr W. C. Peppe, manager of the Birdpur Estate in north-eastern Basti District, U. P., announced the discovery of soapstone relic-caskets and jewellery inside a stupa near Piprahwa, a small village on this estate. An inscription on one of these caskets appeared to indicate that bone relics, supposedly found with these items, were those of the Buddha. Since this inscription also referred to the Buddha’s Sakyan kinsmen, these relics were thus generally considered to be those which were accorded to the Sakyas of Kapilavastu, following the Buddha’s cremation. The following year (1899) these bone relics were presented by the (British) Government of India to the King of Siam, who in turn accorded portions to the Sanghas of Burma and Ceylon.


When Peppe formally announced his finds to the local Collector on 20th January, 1898, his letter disclosed that he had been in contact with the Government archaeologist, Dr Alois Anton Fuhrer, who was then excavating at Sagarwa, just a few miles away across the Indo-Nepalese border. 1. Two weeks later, a letter was despatched from the Government of Burma to Fuhrer’s employer, the Government of the North-Western Provinces.2. This revealed that Fuhrer had been conducting a secret trade in bogus Buddha-relics with a Burmese monk, U Ma, between September 1896, up to, and during, Peppe’s excavations in 1898. 3.  Fuhrer’s letters to U Ma have never seen the public light of day, and a brief summary of their contents reads as follows:


·        22nd September, 1896: Fuhrer mentions sending U Ma some Buddha-relics from Sravasti.


·        19th November 1896: Fuhrer states that ‘The relics of Tathagata, sent off yesterday, were found in the stupa erected by the Sakyas of Kapilavastu over the corporeal relics (saririka-dhatus) of the Lord.  These relics were found by me during an excavation of 1886, and are placed in the same relic casket of soapstone in which they were found.  The four votive tablets of Buddha surrounded the relic casket.  The ancient inscription found on the spot with the relics will follow, as I wish to prepare a transcript and translation of the same for you.’


This letter was sent to U Ma a year before the Piprahwa finds. These spurious relics of the Buddha, purportedly those claimed by the Sakyas of Kapilavastu after the Buddha’s cremation, together with a soapstone relic-casket, and an ‘ancient inscription’, are all, of course, details which are identical to those of the Piprahwa finds of 1898.  From this, it will be seen that Fuhrer (with whom Peppe had been in contact) had thus fraudulently staged the Piprahwa finds a year before Peppe’s supposedly unique discoveries.


·        6th March 1897: Fuhrer refers to further ‘sacred relics of Buddha’, which he will keep until U Ma’s proposed visit to India.


·        23rd June 1897: Fuhrer mentions ‘a precious tooth relic of Lord Buddha’ which he will send to U Ma.


·        29th August 1897: Fuhrer says that he will ‘despatch at once a real and authentic tooth relic of the Buddha Bhagavat… along with many other relics of Lord Buddha’.


·        21st September 1897: Fuhrer sends U Ma ‘a molar tooth of Lord Buddha Gaudama Sakyamuni. It was found by me in a stupa at Kapilavatthu, where King Suddhodana lived.  That it is genuine there can be no doubt’.  Says that ‘the other relics will follow shortly.’


·        30th September 1897: Fuhrer despatches a bogus Asokan inscription allegedly found at Sravasti, and says that he is ‘sending more relics of Sakyamuni after some time’.


·        13th December 1897: Fuhrer mentions that he will return a silver box which U Ma had sent him, together with yet further ‘relics of Gotama Buddha’. Says that he is now ‘at Kapilavastu, in the Nepal Tarai’, where he has ‘so far found three relic caskets with dhatus – nail-parings, hairs, and bones – of the Lord Buddha Sakyamuni.  All of these precious relics I will send you at the end of March’.


·        16th February 1898: (i.e. a fortnight after the arrival of the Burmese letter exposing Fuhrer’s deceptions, and three weeks after Peppe’s announcement of his supposed finds). Having received an indignant letter and telegram from U Ma (who finally realised that he had been duped) Fuhrer writes to him from ‘Camp Kapilavastu’, i.e. Sagarwa.  Fuhrer states that he can ‘quite understand that the Buddhadanta that I sent you a short while ago is looked upon with suspicion by non-Buddhists, as it is quite different from any ordinary human tooth’ (it was subsequently shown to be ‘apparently that of a horse’). He goes on : ‘But you will know that Bhagavat Buddha was no ordinary being, as he was eighteen cubits in height (about 27 feet) as your sacred writings state. His teeth would therefore not have been shaped like others…Kapilavastu, where the tooth was found in an ancient relic mound, is now a jungle, and overgrown with forest…I shall send you a copy of an ancient inscription which was found by me along with the tooth. It says “This sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha is the gift of Upagupta”. As you know, Upagupta was the teacher of Asoka, the great Buddhist emperor of India. In Asoka’s time, about 250 BC, this identical tooth was believed to be a relic of Buddha Sakyamuni. My own opinion is that the tooth in question was a genuine relic of Buddha’.


From these letters, we see that Fuhrer had thus been conducting a secret trade in bogus relics of the Buddha both before, and during, the similar supposed finds at Piprahwa. These items purportedly included those relics of the Buddha that were claimed by the Sakyas of Kapilavastu after the Buddha’s cremation – precisely the same stupendous claim which was made for the Piprahwa relics – together with a soapstone casket and an ‘ancient inscription’ in Asokan Brahmi characters, details also identical to those of the Piprahwa finds. And since Peppe had been in contact with this notorious forger and cheat just before announcing his supposed finds, we shall surely conclude that Fuhrer’s earlier deceptions were thus merely a ‘dry run’, as it were, for the events at Piprahwa itself.


Moreover, in his subsequent Progress Report, Fuhrer claimed that at Sagarwa he had discovered the inscribed relic-casket and stupa of Mahanaman (the Sakyan successor to the Buddha’s father at Kapilavastu) together with the relic caskets of seventeen ‘Sakya heroes’, their names - all of which he carefully listed - being supposedly inscribed upon these caskets in ‘pre-Asoka characters’. 4.  A few months later, however, the full extent of Fuhrer’s U Ma deceptions was finally revealed, and V. A. Smith was appointed to investigate Fuhrer’s office at the Lucknow Museum.  5. Smith denounced all of Fuhrer’s Sakyan inscriptions – including those seventeen ‘Sakya heroes’ - as ‘impudent forgeries’, and Fuhrer himself resigned shortly thereafter. 6. The following year (1899) Drs Hoey and Waddell visited Nepal, and discovered that Fuhrer had ‘lied and lied on a grand scale’ concerning his discoveries at other Nepalese sites, Hoey remarking that ‘one is appalled at the audacity of invention here displayed’. 7


To sum up then : in early 1898, we have two supposed discoveries, those of Sagarwa and Piprahwa respectively. Both of these discoveries were made within the same month, by two parties a few miles from and in contact with each other, and one of these parties was a notorious forger of inscriptions. Both parties purported to have discovered unique, inscribed, pre-Asokan, Sakyan relic-caskets from Kapilavastu, items which have never been found either before or since. Fuhrer’s Sagarwa claims were then exposed as fraudulent, whilst Peppe’s Piprahwa finds had been fraudulently duplicated by Fuhrer a year earlier.


But why then were Fuhrer’s claims unmasked, whilst those of Peppe were not?  As we have noted, it was the Government of Burma which had exposed the U Ma forgeries, whilst subsequent events, and the official letters relating to these, supply the answer to the Peppe question also. In his letter to the Government of India on Piprahwa, the local Commissioner, William Hoey, drew attention to the presence in India at this time of a crown prince of Siam, Jinavaravansa, who had then assumed the robe of a Buddhist monk. 8.  This gentleman quickly got downwind on this supposed find of Buddha-relics at Piprahwa, and promptly expressed a keen desire for them to be made over to Siam. Having drawn attention to Jinavaravansa’s request, Hoey then recommended that the Government of India should ‘manifest its goodwill’ towards surrounding Buddhist countries by acceding to this request (pointing out that Siam was also ‘a country bordering on Burma’, a recently-acquired British possession). V. A. Smith, then Acting-Secretary to the North-Western Provinces Government, declared that ‘intense interest will be aroused in the Buddhist world, and all Buddhist countries will desire to share in relics of such exceptional sanctity’. 9



By the 1890s, Britain and France had successfully taken large slices of territory from Siam, and in a desperate attempt to preserve his country’s independence Siam’s king, Chulalongkorn, was obliged to play off one imperial power against the other. During this period the king also cultivated a close and personal friendship with the Russian leader Tsar Nicholas, a fact which gave the (British) Government of India considerable cause for alarm, particularly as both the French and Russians were also offering to train up the Siamese armies around this time.  In furtherance of his diplomatic aims the Siamese king set forth on a nine-month Grand European Tour in 1897. He was accorded a full royal welcome by the monarchies, presidents, and heads of state of Italy (where he met the Pope) Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and France. Having arrived for a two-month stay in Britain - his son was then receiving his education at Harrow, a prestigious English public school – he was welcomed by the Prince of Wales and presented to Queen Victoria, who was by then the Empress of India. 10.   Immediately upon his return to Siam the Buddha’s relics were supposedly discovered at Piprahwa and presented to the king, who was also accorded formal recognition as the leader of the Buddhist world by the British Empire. This opportunity to ‘manifest its goodwill’ was thus, for the British, a political opportunity that was not to be missed, and this tiresome piece of imperial realpolitik was thus allowed to go ahead with consequences that have seriously benighted Buddhist studies ever since. Is it any wonder then, that those unnamed ‘sceptics’ mentioned by Rhys Davids (see my opening quotation) promptly dismissed this cynical imperial stunt as ‘just too good to be true’ shortly thereafter?



Writing of the Piprahwa stupa in 1904, Dr Theodor Bloch, Superintendent of the Eastern Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India, declared that ‘one may be permitted to maintain some doubts in regard to the theory that the latter monument contained the relic share of the Buddha received by the Sakyas. The bones found at that place, which have been presented to the King of Siam, and which I saw in Calcutta, according to my opinion were not human bones at all’. 11.  Bloch was then Superintendent of the Archaeological Department of the Indian Museum, Calcutta, and would doubtless have relied not only on his own archaeological expertise before making this extraordinary allegation, but also that of his zoological colleagues at the Museum, which was then considered to be the greatest museum in Asia.


W. C. Peppe retained a tooth from the Piprahwa finds.12.  This tooth was taken by the author, Charles Allen, to the Natural History Museum in London, where palaeontologists declared it to be the molar tooth of a pig. In his book ‘The Buddha and Dr Fuhrer’, Allen (who supports the Peppe claims) attempts to explain away the distinctly awkward presence of this tooth by claiming that it came from a broken casket found near the summit of the stupa. 13.  There is not the slightest evidence for this proposal.  According to Peppe this casket was merely ‘full of clay, and embedded in this clay were some beads, crystals, gold ornaments, cut stars etc,’ 14. and Allen’s ‘solution’ would still fail to explain why a pig’s tooth was interred in a stupa which supposedly contained the Buddha’s relics.  Moreover, we have already noted Bloch’s observation that the bone relics from Piprahwa ‘were not human bones at all’. Since portions of these items are now enshrined at the Wat Saket Temple (Thailand) the Shwe Dagon Pagoda (Rangoon) Anuradhapura (Ceylon) and in the Nittaiji Temple in Japan, this raises the appalling spectre that the Buddhist world has been venerating the remains of some ancient pig. One is thus reminded of the similar ‘holy relics’ of Chaucer’s sly Pardoner : And in a glas he hadde pigges bones’.


As for the precise location of the bone relics when they were allegedly found within the Piprahwa stupa itself, the existing accounts present startling contradictions. The first published reference to these items appeared in the ‘Pioneer’ newspaper a few days after Peppe’s official announcement, and apparently came from Peppe himself. 15.  This stated that all of the caskets contained jewellery and ‘quantities of bones in good preservation’ (so good, in fact, that Peppe later declared that they ‘might have been picked up a few days ago’, a curious observation to make upon bones which had supposedly survived a blazing funeral pyre 2500 years earlier). 16.  Smith and Fuhrer however  - both of whom had visited Peppe to examine the finds for themselves - stated that these ‘sacred fragments’ had been ‘enshrined’ in a decayed wooden vessel which was also found within the coffer. 17. Since the bones were finally handed to the Siamese together with these decayed wooden fragments, this would presumably confirm this wooden casket as their original location, though this then raises further awkward questions about their real identity in consequence.



The four steatite caskets of 1898 from Piprahwa (Fig. 1) are identical in appearance to caskets which were interred in the 2nd century BCE at stupas in the Sanchi area. These Sanchi caskets are shown in Alexander Cunningham’s ‘Bhilsa Topes’, a book which was utilised by Fuhrer for other deceptions. 18.  The steatite of which the Piprahwa caskets are made is still being worked in India today, I shall add ; I recently bought a couple of incense-holders made of exactly the same material, which were made in Varanasi. 


Having closely examined the inscribed Piprahwa casket at Calcutta in 1994, I noted features not mentioned in any report. The earliest photographs of it were taken by Fuhrer at Piprahwa in 1898, and one of these shows a curious feature on the centre of the lid, and also reveals that a large piece was then unaccountably missing from the base (see Fig. 2).  My examination revealed that the former was a piece of sealing-wax (since transferred to the inside) which had originally been stuck on to halt a large crack, while a subsequent ‘repair’ to the base – an inset piece – looked to be a pretty botched affair also. All of which reveals that this casket had been badly damaged from the start – that it was originally found broken in fact – again, a fact not noted in any report. But is it likely that the Buddha’s relics would have been enshrined in this insignificant broken casket, as claimed? Or is this the ‘broken’ casket which was reportedly found by Peppe near the top of the stupa, and which was ‘similar in shape to those found below’? 19.  This casket - the first of the alleged finds - apparently vanished into thin air thereafter. It is not found in the Indian Museum collection, or mentioned on their Accessions List (which I also examined), it was not mentioned in Smith’s detailed JRAS list of the finds, and no drawing or photograph was ever made of it either. So whatever happened to this ‘broken’ casket?  Did it then become the inscribed casket – which was also broken, as we have noted - and did Fuhrer forge the inscription upon it? Is the Piprahwa inscription merely another Fuhrer forgery? Fuhrer certainly had the knowledge to do this, and may well have been unwittingly assisted in doing so by the great Sanskritist, Georg Buhler. Having received an early eye-copy of the inscription from Fuhrer, Buhler immediately wrote back and ‘begged Mr Peppe to look if any traces of the required I in the first word, of the medial i in the second, and of a vowel-mark in the last syllable of bhagavata are visible’, all features which were duly present when Fuhrer first photographed the inscription shortly thereafter. 20 Three weeks later, Fuhrer’s deceptions with U Ma had been exposed and Buhler was dead, having drowned in mysterious circumstances. So had Buhler heard of Fuhrer’s deceptions and realised that he had also been duped? Had he perhaps even collaborated with Fuhrer - he had certainly been Fuhrer’s foremost and most influential champion - and thus feared exposure and disgrace as a result?


Charles Allen’s book contains a photograph of the earliest-known copy of the Piprahwa inscription, which was sent by Peppe to Smith. 21.  This inscription was, in fact, very carelessly engraved upon the casket, and shows startling irregularities in some of its characters. Since Peppe wouldn’t have had the slightest knowledge of this ancient and forgotten script, he should, of course, have faithfully reproduced these ‘mistakes’ when he made his copy of it, but he didn’t : his copy shows perfectly-drawn Asokan Brahmi characters (see Figs. 3 and 4).  Moreover, Smith’s transliteration of Peppe’s copy completely ignores the two final characters – ‘yanam’ - of the all-important word ‘sakiyanam’, showing the alleged Sakyan association with these relics. Charles Allen attempts to explain this astonishing omission by saying that Smith had evidently regarded these two characters as ‘random scratches’, but they are quite clearly depicted in Peppe’s copy, and were presumably added to it later on (which also accounts for their being placed above the line of the others). This omission by Snith also explains why none of the January 1898 letters between Peppe, Smith, and Fuhrer (which are cited by Allen) make any reference at all to this all-important Sakyan connection, and shows that the inscription was, in fact, engraved upon the casket in various stages around this time – doubtless by Fuhrer - Buhler’s emendations being later included in the final copy.



We have already noted that Peppe was in contact with Fuhrer while the latter was excavating at Sagarwa, across the nearby Nepalese border. The difficulties surrounding precisely what was discovered by Fuhrer at Sagarwa, and the subsequent fate of those items, would now appear to be quite insurmountable. All of the jewellery, caskets, and other items which were found at Sagarwa promptly disappeared, and the Nepalese authorities have assured me that they have no idea of their present whereabouts either. Smith and Peppe, curiously, ‘rode up unannounced’ on January 28th, whilst Fuhrer was excavating Mound Number Five, and Smith noted seeing ‘a few gold stars, similar to those subsequently found at Piprahwa’. Mound Number Four at Sagarwa (which was excavated just before this visit) was later declared by P.C. Mukherji to have been ‘very rich in yielding relics’ (i.e. jewellery) but only ‘a naga and six relics of sorts’ were shown in Mukherji’s report, hardly ‘a very rich yield’. So whatever happened to these finds? Was all this missing Sagarwa jewellery utilized for the supposed finds at Piprahwa? We have already noted Smith’s comment on the ‘similarity’ of the Sagarwa items to those of Piprahwa, and the Curator at Lucknow Museum (at which Fuhrer had formerly been the Curator) informed me that the curiously-marked bricks from Sagarwa appear to lie uncatalogued at this location.



The question also arises as to whether Peppe’s collection of jewellery from Piprahwa was legally retained by him thereafter. V. A. Smith assured the Government of India that ‘Mr Peppe has generously placed all the items discovered at the disposal of Government, subject to the retention by him, on behalf of the proprietors of the estate, of a reasonable number of duplicates of the smaller objects’ (Smith also referring to the selfsame ‘few duplicates’ in his JRAS article, ‘The Piprahwa Stupa’). 22.  Since Peppe, however, retained not merely ‘a few duplicates’ of the jewellery, but around one-third of the actual jewellery itself – over 360 pieces - it is evident that Smith’s assurance that Peppe would ‘place all the objects at the disposal of Government’ (a legal obligation anyway, according to Smith) was not met, and the question thus arises as to whether the Peppe family legitimately retained these items thereafter (particularly as they were then removed from India after Independence). 23. One also wonders why Smith, then Acting Secretary to the North-Western Provinces Government, found it necessary to lie about those ‘duplicates’ to the Government of India itself. And does anyone seriously imagine that if these finds were really considered genuine, they would not have been placed in the careful custody of the British Museum in London, instead of being consigned to a museum in Calcutta where they quickly disappeared from public view?



 In 1962, Debala Mitra, then Superintendent of the Eastern Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India, was invited by the Nepalese authorities to conduct a survey of the sites in the Nepalese Tarai, with a view to their development for pilgrimage purposes. Her subsequent report (1969) was highly critical of these sites however, and when the Nepalese refused to publish her findings, Dr Mitra retaliated by summarising them as an appendix to her ‘Buddhist Monuments’ book, published in India in 1971. In this, she declared that the 1898 inscription provided a ‘strong presumption’ for Piprahwa being the site of Kapilavastu, and added that ‘intensive excavation in the monasteries at Piprahwa is likely to reveal some monastic seals or sealings’, which ‘will prove the identity of Kapilavastu with Piprahwa or otherwise’. 24


An Indian archaeologist, K. M. Srivastava (also from the Eastern circle of the ASI) promptly commenced further excavations at Piprahwa, and claimed to have discovered a ‘primary mud stupa’ below the one excavated by Peppe. This supposedly yielded yet more soapstone vessels (none of which bore inscriptions) containing bones. According to Srivastava, the ‘indiscriminate destruction’ caused by Peppe’s excavation meant that the bone relics found in 1898 could not reliably be shown to be those of the Buddha, and the inscription on the 1898 casket somehow ‘pointed’ to the bones supposedly found (by him) lower down, which were thus the real relics of the Buddha in consequence. Srivastava also claimed to have discovered - precisely as Debala Mitra had predicted – various clay sealings and the lid of a pot, all bearing the word ‘Kapilavastu’, in monastic remains at the Piprahwa site (though neither Peppe nor Mukherji had found a single specimen of such sealings when they excavated at these selfsame remains in 1898). 25. Having delivered a sharply critical review of Srivastava’s claims, the eminent archaeologist and historian, Herbert Härtel, then added that ‘To declare that the bones in one of the reliquaries in the lower chambers are those of the Buddha is not provable, and therefore not tenable. In our opinion, it is high time to set a token of scientific correctness in this extremely important matter’. 26  Needless to say, however, this call for ‘scientific correctness’ then fell on deaf ears among the academic fraternity at large.


During my 1994 visit to the Indian Museum, I found an elaborate wooden model of a stupa displayed, in appearance similar to the great stupas at Sanchi and Amaravati (Fig. 5). This purported to be a model of the Piprahwa stupa itself, and inside it was a wooden copy of the inscribed casket, displaying two pieces of bone. The accompanying caption declared that these were ‘relics of the Lord…which were found in 1972 at Piprahwa, Basti District, U.P., supposed to be ancient Kapilavastu, the capital of the Sakyas, the clan of Sakyamuni Buddha’, and stated that the Piprahwa stupa was ‘encircled by railings, having gateways at four cardinal points, embellished with beautiful sculptures of the Buddha and contemporary life’. When I asked who was responsible for this item, I was told that it was Mr Srivastava. However, my earlier visit to the Piprahwa stupa showed that none of these ‘railings’, ‘gateways’, or ‘beautiful sculptures of the Buddha and contemporary life’ existed at the actual site itself (Fig. 6).  I then visited the National Museum in Delhi, where I discovered two of Srivastava’s soapstone caskets containing yet further ‘relics of the Lord’ (and ostentatiously displaying lumps of clay on the caskets themselves, thus ‘proving’, presumably, that they had been properly unearthed as claimed). Having examined these items as closely as I could – the Museum guard levelled a loaded rifle at me when I got too close – I then paid a visit to the Curator of Buddhist Antiquities, J. E. Dawson, and mentioned the 1898 bequest to Siam, when supposed relics of the Buddha were also found. He had no knowledge of this bequest however, and promptly began telephoning around the Museum, urging staff to report to his office. Pretty soon the room was full, and he asked me to repeat this information, of which no-one else present appeared to have any knowledge either. During the ensuing discussion I mentioned that Krishna Rijal, then Nepal’s leading archaeologist, had told me of a commission which had been set up, under Rajiv Gandhi, to investigate the authenticity of Srivastava’s Buddha-relics, but which had never published its conclusions thereafter. This immediately prompted one of the staff to call out ‘They are false!’ an outburst which shocked everyone into silence. I asked him to repeat this assertion, which he did. I then asked him how he knew this, and he replied that an Indian professor had told him. ‘And how does he know?’ I enquired. ‘Because he was on the commission!’ came the prompt reply. Thermoluminescence dating of Srivatava’s ‘sealings’ would quickly confirm my own view that these alleged finds are merely a cynical and opportunistic fraud.



Since December 2012 the Peppe jewellery has been offered for sale on the Internet, whilst a recent TV documentary, ‘Bones of the Buddha’, now finds the German Indologist, Harry Falk, declaring that the Piprahwa finds are Asokan (the first Indologist ever to do so). 27  Falk’s previous judgments on such matters, however, have proved to be wildly inaccurate. Having examined the evidence on the Kapilesvar stone tablet (which, like the Piprahwa inscription, exhibits badly-drawn Asokan lettering) Falk concluded that it was a pilgrim’s souvenir from Lumbini, and dated it between 4th - 8th century CE. He has now admitted that this assessment was entirely wrong however, and that it is a crude and absurd modern fake. Moreover, he made precisely the same mistake with another phony item from Mathura, which displays yet another defective Asokan inscription. 28


Among the Piprahwa items retained by the Peppe family was a glass phial half-full of ‘petrified’ rice grains, and according to the label affixed to it this rice was ‘found at the Piprahwa stupa’. Since there was no rice found in the stone coffer it is evident that this rice came from the stupa’s bricks, which are ‘full of rice-husks’ we are told. In 2006, samples of the rice were subjected to carbon-dating tests by two separate laboratories, and yielded dates between 20-220 CE. 29 This thus dates the bricks (and thus the stupa’s construction) to within the Kushan era – i.e. several centuries after Asoka – and thereby not only gives a date when the stone coffer was interred within the stupa, but dates the coffer’s contents also.


Also among the Peppe collection are over thirty ‘sarira’, small, pearl-like objects that are said to occur during cremation. 30  Since this collection is now being offered for sale, I have proposed that these items be radiocarbon-dated to determine their age. It is, of course, quite certain that no-one else’s remains would have been interred along with those of the Buddha, and there can surely be no ‘spiritual’ objections to such testing either, given that the Buddha’s own disciples saw no problem with incinerating his entire body during his cremation! Whatever the event, I was informed by a member of the Peppe family that unnamed American sources were engaged in investigating the problem using extensive academic resources and ‘cutting-edge’ science, and that the world will be appraised of their conclusions in due course. That was in April 2014, and the resultant silence is deafening, given that a 5th century BCE dating would bring inconceivable financial rewards as a result. Since a century of academic wrangling over Piprahwa has merely succeeded in producing educated guesswork – ‘he says she says’ - it is now patently evident that only the selfsame cold, rigorous science which dated that contentious Shroud of Turin can successfully establish whether these items are as old as they are alleged to be. The same dating tests which were performed on the Shroud should now be applied to these items also, and an independent referee should be appointed to oversee the project. With rigorous protocols being duly observed, three sarira specimens should be taken at random from the Peppe collection, and sent to the three international laboratories which tested for the Shroud. It is now incumbent upon those who are making these extraordinary claims to scientifically validate them accordingly, so let them test those sarira openly and transparently, and resolve this vexatious matter once and for all.


© T. A. Phelps, 2008.  Comments on this article would be most welcome. Please address them to Terry Phelps at taphelken@hotmail.com





1.       Government of India Proceedings, Part B, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, Archaeology and Epigraphy, August 1898, Proceeding no. 15, File no. 30 0f 1898, Page 2 (National Archives of India, New Delhi). Researchers should note that all of the official (i. e. Government) correspondence on the Piprahwa events (i. e. both Part A and Part B) can be found in the Department of India Proceedings (Home : Public) for 1898 and 1899, at the Oriental and India Office Collections, London, which is thus an absolutely indispensable source of information on these events. In particular, the following should be examined : July 1898, proceedings 225-31, pp. 1311-28 ; December 1898, proceedings nos. 258-62, pp. 2573-77; April 1899, proceedings 3-20, pp. 627-34; and June 1899, proceedings nos. 160-67, pp. 1341-55. 

2.       Government of India Proceedings, Part B, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, Archaeology and Epigraphy, August 1898, File no. 24 of 1898, Proceedings 7-10. (National Archives of India, New Delhi).

3.       Ibid. See also V. A. Smith’s ‘Prefatory Note’ to P.C. Mukherji’s ‘A Report on a Tour of Exploration of the Antiquities of the Tarai, Nepal’, footnote, p. 4 (Report no. 26, Archaeological Survey of India, New Imperial Series, 1901).

4.       A. Fuhrer, Annual Progress Report, Archaeological Survey, North-Western Provinces and Oudh Circle, Epigraphical Section, year ended 1898.

5.       Government of India Proceedings, Part B, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, Archaeology and Epigraphy, October 1898, Proceedings nos. 22-33, File no. 13 of 1898, Serial no. 18 in file. (National Archives of India, New Delhi).

6.       V. A. Smith, Annual Progress Report, Archaeological Survey, North-Western Provinces and Oudh Circle, y/e 1899, p. 2. See also ref. 3 (Smith) p. 4.

7.       Government of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh Proceedings, Public Works Department, B & R Branch, ‘Miscellaneous’, August 1899, Proceeding no. 90-91, pp. 29-33. (Oriental and India Office Collections, British Library, London). The same details are also disclosed in the Government of India Proceedings, Part B, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, Archaeology and Epigraphy, April 1899, File no. 6 (see ‘Enclosure 1’ (Report) of letter no. 53A, and also letter no.  41A in this file). (National Archives of India, New Delhi).

8.       See ref. 1. According to Charles Allen, Jinavaravansa visited Piprahwa a week after Peppe announced his supposed finds (see ref. 13, p. 201) but this mistake rests upon Allen’s absurd mistranslation of the words ‘kalaiwalah’ (a mender of pots) from Bansi’ (a small town near Piprahwa) into ‘Jinavaravansa’, and ‘’Bunri’, in the final paragraph of Fuhrer’s letter of February 3rd.  As the RAS letters clearly show, Jinavaravansa didn’t arrive at Piprahwa until early April of that year, and by this time Buhler’s letter (together with its proposed ‘amendments’ to the inscription) had arrived at Birdpur (in mid-March) allowing the final version of the inscription to then be inscribed upon the casket.

9.       See ref. 1.

10.    See website entitled ‘King Chulalongkorn Rama V : His Labours and His Voyages’. For a clear indication of the imperial machinations underlying this bequest, see article entitled ‘Buddha as a Political Factor of Great Importance to the British Empire’ in the London newspaper ‘Sphere : An Illustrated Newspaper for the Home’, dated August 17th 1901. This quotes an allied article as saying (of the Buddha-relic diplomacy then underway) that ‘an empire’s destiny hangs on it’.  For details of the British concern regarding the Russian/French proposals to train up the Siamese armies, see ‘Political and Secret’, Home Correspondence, August 1898 (Oriental and India Office Collections, British Library, London).

11.    ‘Notes on the Exploration of Vaisali’, by Theodor Bloch, Annual Report, Bengal Circle, Archaeological Survey of India, year ended April 1904, p. 15.

12.    ‘Buried With the Buddha’, by Vicki Mackenzie, ‘The Sunday Times Magazine’ (UK), 21st March, 2004, pp. 36-42.

13.    ‘The Buddha and Dr Fuhrer’, by Charles Allen, Haus Publishing (UK) 2008, p. 260.  See also ref. 12, p. 38 (photograph).  I note, incidentally, that Allen writes (pp. 60-1) of a pillar at ‘Khango’ which was mentioned by Buchanan.  According to Allen, ‘the site of this pillar has never been identified’, and ‘the pillar itself was almost certainly broken up within a few years of Buchanan’s visit to this area’. This is the well-known pillar at Kahaon, full details of which are given in the ASI reports (Old Series) Vols. 1 and 16.  It is still there I shall add, and its details – including a photograph - are available on the Internet. 

14.     W. C. Peppe, ‘The Piprahwa Stupa, containing relics of Buddha’, p. 574, JRAS (UK) 1898). 

15.    See item ‘Birdpur Ruins’, in ‘News and Notes’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (UK) 1898, pp. 457-8. Curiously, there is no reference to either bones or inscription in Peppe’s letter to the local Collector, officially announcing his finds.

16.    See ref. 14 (Peppe) p. 576.

17.    ‘The relics consisted of some fragments of bone. These sacred fragments had been deposited in a wooden vessel, which stood on the bottom of a massive coffer’ (Smith) : see ‘The Pioneer’ (Lucknow/Allahabad newspaper) 1st March, 1898, or the Journal of the Maha Bodhi Society, Calcutta, 1st April 1898.  For Fuhrer’s observations on the matter, see ref. 4, p. 3 (‘Another casket of fragrant red sandalwood, in which had been enshrined portions of the bone relics of Gautama Buddha, collected from his funeral pile, was found almost decayed.’).  Smith visited Piprahwa a few days after Peppe’s announcement of his alleged finds, but astonishingly, omits any mention of what he saw there during this visit. 

18.    See ref. 3 (Smith) and also ref. 6 (Smith).

19.    See ref. 14, in which Peppe states that ‘At a distance of ten feet from the summit a small broken soapstone (steatite) vase, similar in shape to the vases found lower down, was discovered. This vase was full of clay, and embedded in this clay were some beads, crystals, gold ornaments, cut stars etc.’ Since this ‘broken’ casket was thus sufficiently intact to be ‘full of clay’ and other items, it was neither ‘badly smashed’ nor ‘completely shattered’, as Allen and Srivastava have claimed.

20.     ‘Preliminary Note on a Recently Discovered Sakya Inscription’ by Georg Buhler (JRAS, 1898, 387-9).

21.    See ref. 13 (Allen). pp. 50-55, and 77-8 (Peppe’s copy of the inscription is shown on p. 54). Allen’s book draws very extensively on my own sixteen-year researches into the Piprahwa events it should be added, though no acknowledgment is made of this ‘borrowing’. Some of the Peppe private papers which are cited by Allen have now been deposited with the Royal Asiatic Society in London, and reveal a very different version of these events from that given by the official reports. Smith, for example, referred in three of his reports to an ‘unannounced visit’ which he and Peppe had made to Fuhrer’s Nepalese camp on the 28th January 1898, but these RAS Peppe papers show that this visit had been secretly arranged between these three parties well beforehand. So why did Smith and Peppe pay a laborious (and unofficial) visit to Fuhrer at this time, if not to set up the entire Piprahwa scam? Most revealing of all, however, is item no. 32 in these papers, which happily succeeds in giving the entire show away. This shows a handwritten paragraph by Peppe, in which he shows a copy of the final version of the inscription, together with the statement ‘Translation from Hoey and Buhler’. This statement reveals the two sources from which the final inscription was created, viz, those of Hoey’s ‘Pioneer’ translation (Feb. 1898) together with that proposed by Buhler (see ref. 20) the latter received by Peppe in mid-March (and also coinciding with Fuhrer’s visit to Peppe, after leaving Nepal).  A careful comparison reveals that the inscription was thus a judicious blending of these two versions, the final version of which was photographed by Fuhrer in mid-March, 1898. Thus the two sources from which the inscription was created are here unwittingly named by Peppe himself, and this confirms that it was simply a modern forgery.

22.    Government of India Proceeedings, Part B, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, Archaeology and Epigraphy, August 1898, Proceeding no. 15, File no. 30 of 1898 (National Archives of India, New Delhi, though see ref. 1). See also ‘The Piprahwa Stupa’, by V. A. Smith, JRAS (UK) 1898, p. 868. 

23.    ‘The Annihilation of Lord Buddha’s Family’, article by Paripurnanand Verma, in ‘The Pioneer’, dated 18th August 1956, which shows that the jewellery was then still at Birdpur.  Interestingly, Verma was a Member of the Legislative Assembly, and proposed that Peppe ‘hand them over to our Lucknow Museum’. A copy of this article is kept among the Peppe Papers in the library of the Department of South Asian Studies at Cambridge University, together with a privately - printed copy of Peppe’s original JRAS article. This latter item varies considerably from the JRAS version, and makes for interesting reading in consequence.  A recent website by Peppe’s grandson claims that authorisation for Peppe to retain these items came from the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, but he was not in office when the jewellery was handed in at Calcutta, and no earlier such viceregal authorisation exists either. If it did, Peppe’s grandson would reveal it, but he does not. 

24.    Debala Mitra, ‘Buddhist Monuments’ (Calcutta, Dec. 1971) p. 253.

25.    ‘Discovery of Kapilavastu’ (1986) ‘Buddha’s Relics from Kapilavastu’ (1986) and ‘Excavations at Piprahwa and Ganwaria’ (1996) all by K. M. Srivastava. Conflicting accounts exist as to whether Srivastava commenced his excavations at Piprahwa in ignorance of Debala Mitra’s conclusions, but as a member of the same Archaeological Circle he would surely have been aware of these. I also note that no mention is made, in any of Srivastava’s writings on Piprahwa, of the bequest of the 1898 relics to Siam.

26.    ‘On the Dating of the Piprahwa Vases’, by Herbert Härtel, in ‘South Asian Archaeology 1997’, pp. 1011-24 (Rome 2000). An eminent Nepalese writer, Dhooswan Sayami, has dismissed Srivastava’s claims as nothing but ‘a well-hatched plan and archaeological stratagem’ (‘Ancient Kapilavastu : Recent Politics’, Vasudha, Vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 3-4, May-Jun 1977 : quoted on p. 31 of ‘Archaeological Remains of Kapilavastu, Lumbini, Devadaha’, by Krishna Rijal, Kathmandhu, 1979).

27.    See http://bignews.biz/?id=1276085&keys=Relics-Jewels-Buddhism-Asian . They were also (unsuccessfully) offered for sale by Neil Peppe on the Channel Four TV programme ‘Four Rooms’, on 7th June 2013 (Series 3. Episode 15) when four antique dealers declared that without authentication from an acceptable source (such as the British Museum) their value was in question. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Four_Rooms_episodes and  http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=17200

28.     ‘Spurious Asokan Records’, by Harry Falk, Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Institute 72/73, 1991/1992 ;  ‘Two Anecdotes Narrated by Two Archaeologists’, by U. C. Mohanty, Orissa Historical Research Journal, Vol.22, No. 2, pp.16-20 (1976) at http://thehimalayanvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/references-on-kapileswar-inscription.html ; ‘Asokan Sites and Artefacts’, by Harry Falk (2006) pp. 292-5.

29.    See ref. 13 (Allen) p. 259.

30.    See section ‘Photographs’ at http://www.piprahwajewels.co.uk/page10.html.  The ‘sarira’ can be seen in Boxes 2 and 3.






Description: image3


Fig. 1.  The Peppe caskets, photographed in 1898.




Description: image4


Fig. 2. The inscribed casket (‘rear’ view) photographed at Piprahwa in 1898.




Description: image5


Fig. 3.  The two characters for ‘ki’ and ‘ti’ (which are part of the word ‘sukiti’) as shown on the inscribed Piprahwa casket.  Note the marked discrepancies between these items and their correctly-drawn equivalents in Fig. 8.




Description: image6



Fig. 4. This shows the correct depiction of the characters shown in fig. 7.  Having no knowledge of this obscure script, Peppe should have repeated the irregularities shown in the Fig. 7 characters when making his copy, but he didn’t. He depicted them correctly, as above.



Description: image7


Fig. 5. Srivastava’s model of the Piprahwa stupa, photographed in 1994.



Description: image8


Fig. 6. The Piprahwa stupa itself.