Back to Lectures

The Buddha’s Relics and the Wandering Thai Monk: The Piprahwa Controversy in Colonial India and its Siamese Afterlife

The excavation of the Piprahwa relics in January 1898 – the most important Buddhist relic deposit ever recovered in India – immediately sparked enormous interest and controversy across the Buddhist world. Piprahwa stupa is located in northern India close to Lumbini, the site of the historical Buddha’s birthplace in western Nepal.  This lecture presents the discovery of the Piprahwa relics, which included the first reliquary inscription to credibly claim that it contained the holy remains (sarira) of Sakyamuni Buddha, and examines their remarkable fate due to the interventions of a learned Thai monk. The redistribution of part of the relics by Rama V, in the manner of the Mauryan emperor Asoka, served as an affirmation of the Siamese monarch as a Buddhist cakravartin at the moment that Siam was debating how to engage with implications of modernity.

About the speaker

John Guy is the Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of the Arts of South and Southeast Asia at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, an elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He joined The Met in 2008, having formerly served as Senior Curator of South Asian art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London for 24 years. He has worked on a number of archaeological excavations, including maritime sites, and served as an advisor to UNESCO on historical sites in Southeast Asia. He has curated numerous international art exhibitions and has published widely, most recently Tree & Serpent. Early Buddhist Art in India (2023).


Thursday, 23 May 2024 at 19:00


Lecture Room, 4/Floor, The Siam Society


Members and Students (to undergraduate level) — Free of charge
Non-Members — THB 300

For more information, please contact

To book your place, please contact Khun Pinthip at 02 661 6470-3 ext 203 or

More upcoming lectures