J. Mark Kenoyer

Stone Beads in Buddhist Art, Culture and Ritual: An Investigation of Technology and Trade during the Early Historic Period in South Asia

The production of stone beads during the Early Historic Period (600 BC to 300 AD) in Gujarat and other regions of the subcontinent represents an important technology that contributed to the global connections between various regions of South Asia and beyond. The growth of bead production coincides with the important spread of Buddhism throughout the
subcontinent and many other parts of India and adjacent regions. The production centers of Nagara, Gujarat, and Taxila, Punjab and other sites produced a variety of beads and pendants that were used throughout the region, by various communities. In this paper we will focus on the role of beads in Buddhist art, ritual and ornamentation. The sources for this information come from carvings depicting Bodhisattvas and devotees ornamented with beads, as well as the paintings of caves such as Ajanta. Beads were often given as gifts by devotees at stupas and many relic caskets also had precious beads included with the sacred relics. Technological studies of beads from production sites and domestic areas provide evidence for the early use of diamond drilling as well as mass production and polishing. The trade of these beads closely followed the spread of Buddhism and can be traced throughout the subcontinent as well
as distant regions, such as Central Asia, Tibet, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Near East. The bead trade of Gujarat continued into the medieval and modern period, and is still an important industry that is globally connected.