Back to Inquiry Set

Ring stone with goddesses and aquatic plants

3rd–late 2nd century B.C.

Ring stone with goddesses and aquatic plants, Samuel Eilenberg Collection, Bequest of Samuel Eilenberg, 1998, Metropolitan Museum of Art,

This ring stone is decorated with small female figures, fruit-bearing trees, plants, and lucky symbols. Archaeologists have found many stones like this in South Asia, but they aren’t sure exactly how the stones were used. The female figures might be goddesses. The stone might have been used in a ritual or a celebration of growing crops or a good harvest season. Or it might have been a jewelers’ mold, used to make thin gold jewelry with these designs on it. Archaeologists have also found many small statues of male and female gods from the Maurya Period. These articles might be evidence of beliefs and practices of farmers, merchants, and other ordinary people in India, beliefs and practices that weren’t necessarily taught by the Brahmans. Why would Indians have owned small statues and ring stones when there were places of public worship throughout the country?

The combination of female figures and flowering plants is common throughout Afroeurasia, and most scholars accept the interpretation that this combination is associated with fertility. With small figures and stones, devotees could worship at home and take their deity with them when they traveled. These may be evidence of alternative religious practices among people who were not Brahmans, since there were a lot of challenges to Brahmanical authority in this period. As the students learned with the source set on Jewish holidays, farmers depended on the fertility of their crops and animals for survival. Beliefs and practices that encouraged fertility and praised a god or gods for a successful harvest would have been very important to farmers. Also encourage students to consider what impact such alternative practices might have had on the priestly class, known as the Brahmans, who would have relied on devotees coming to the temples.