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Gandhari Manuscripts: the Discovery of Writing in Ancient South Asia

February 24, 2011 - 7:30pm
Building 380 - 380W, Main Quad

The Silk Road Lecture Series, Winter 2010-11 presents:

Stefan Baums Shinjo Ito Postdoctoral Fellow in Buddhist Studies, U.C. Berkeley

Between the fourth century BCE and the third century CE, the ancient region of Gandhara (modern Pakistan and Afghanistan) witnessed the encounter of a succession of cultures: first it was part of the Achaemenid empire; after Alexander's conquests, Greek colonies interacted with Bactrian and Indian populations; and from the first century BCE, Scythian and Parthian kingdoms and the Ku?ana empire ruled over the region. Gandharan art with its fusion of Greek and Buddhist elements has long stood as a testament to this encounter, but until recently much less was known about the literary culture of ancient Gandhara: a number of short inscriptions and one single birch?bark manuscript (found near Khotan on the Southern Silk Road) appeared to be the only surviving remains of Gandhari literature.

The picture changed radically fifteen years ago, when a cache of twenty?eight Gandhari scrolls was discovered in an inscribed clay pot and acquired by the British Library. This initial find was followed by a long series of further manuscript discoveries, and more than eighty birch - bark scrolls and numerous manuscript fragments on birch bark and palm leaf have now come to light. The study of this manuscript corpus by an international group of scholars has revealed a broad range of Buddhist and non - Buddhist genres: sutras, verse collections, commentaries, Mahayana sutras and monastic codes, as well as a treatise on statecraft and a legal document, ranging in date from the first century BCE to the third or fourth century CE.

This lecture will first present and overview of the new manuscript discoveries and of the research that is being carried out on them. It will then then address the question of the origins of writing and of written literature in Gandhara by a close examination of the manuscript formats and scribal habits of the Gandhari manuscripts, combined with a study of the stylistic features of those texts that were composed in Gandhara. In conclusion, the lecture will discuss the transition from the local writing culture based on Gandhari language, Kharosthi script and the scroll format to the transregional model of Sanskrit, Brahmi script and the pothi format.

Free and open to the public.

Event Sponsor: 
The Silk Road Foundation and Center for East Asian Studies.
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