Buddhist spells, rituals and kings

Tibetan prayer flags
Tibetan prayer flags

The project’s seminar series resumed this September after the summer break. The speaker was project researcher Gergely Hidas, discussing his recent work on Buddhist ritual texts and practices. His research on this aspect of Buddhism focuses on dhāraṇī literature, a genre of text presenting spells and related ritual manuals composed in Sanskrit. These Buddhist practices can be traced back to at least the beginning of the Common Era with the earliest surviving example being one of the Gandhari manuscripts.

The main focus of these scriptures is protection and healing, with ritual practices that often include the making and use of magical items such as amulets, flags and coloured threads, forms of which are still seen in Buddhist cultures today. In the seminar, Hidas explored the ways that these practices are linked to royal power, where more grand-scale rituals like the defence of the state or magical weather control for agriculture are introduced.

Śaivism on the caravan trail

Statue of Śiva in Baroda (Vadodara), India

At the project’s monthly seminar in June, Hans Bakker spoke about his research on the Skandapurāṇa, an early Śaiva text composed between 550 and 650 CE. This is a key text for the Pāśupata tradition, recording how Śiva incarnated in a place called Kārohaṇa, identified with the modern village of Karvan, 20 km south of Baroda. It also mentions the places where the incarnation of the Lord subsequently initiated his four disciples: Ujjayanī, Jambumārga, Mathurā, and Kānyakubja (Kanauj).

Hans Bakker showed how the route between those places corresponds broadly with the caravan trail that connected the seaport of Broach with the Gangā-Yamunā Doāb during the fourth to six centuries, and he discussed the correlation between the spread of the Pāśupata movement and the major trade routes of western India.

New excavations at Sri Ksetra, Burma

Sri Ksetra Temple
Buddhist structure in Sri Ksetra.

At our last monthly seminar Janice Stargardt gave a fascinating talk about her recent archaeological excavations just outside the southern walls of the ancient city of Sri Ksetra, in Burma. The work was carried out in late December 2014 to the end of February 2015 Janice Stargardt, with a joint Cambridge-Field School of Archaeology team. The excavations have revealed significant new information about this city: for the first time in Burma, an ancient habitation site was identified and selectively excavated at the Yahanda mound. Excavations revealed stratified habitational debris, including hardened work surfaces, abundant potsherds, food spills, other compacted organic matter, cooking fires and iron nails. Immediately below rich habitational layers with traces of ancient postholes and pits, the fragmentary brick structure of a former burial terrace was found, containing one cremated burial (so far). Nearby at the Yahanda Gu, a ritual site with a standing monument reconstructed during the Pagan period, a sequence of brick platforms belonging to earlier phases of ritual buildings on that site was exposed, while below them were found dense layers of potsherds and iron nails. Both sites are unfinished but work so far will provide objective dates for major phases of activity at both sites and lay the foundations for the first ceramic typologies and chronologies of the first millennium at Sri Ksetra.

Beyond boundaries


The aim of Asia Beyond Boundaries is to reimagine the pan-Asian culture of the Gupta period (3rd to 6th centuries AD). The project team will examine the cultural constitution and configuration of the centres of political power, map the languages of political and religious discourse came to be used across Asia, and analyse how temples, monastic organisations and landed estates emerged as autonomous socio-economic institutions with stable endowments. For more on the project, see the About page.