Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

Textual and visual odds and ends from India, Tibet, and around.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Of the sons of donkeys and sows (a note on bureaucratic vulgarity)

Perhaps because of having dealt with so many wonderfully absurd bureaucratic situations Thor bu loves a bit of vulgarity in official documents. Apparently those good old Biharis (and Tibetans, on which a bit later) also loved a non-veg joke in their documents. This image comes from a grant dating to the early 13th century. A local king, the rather nebulous Aśokacalladeva, and/or his ministers built a small vihāra and left some endowments. The language of the document is pretty horrible. If you want to read more about it I suggest you download Epigraphia Indica 12. There are several other publications on this inscription, but unfortunately they are not available to me at the moment.

If you are reading Tsukamoto's Indo bukkyo himei no kenkyu ('A Comprehensive Study of the Indian Buddhist Inscriptions') you will perhaps get excited at the sight of one Kashmiri Abhayaśrī being mentioned. Unfortunately he is not. I still can't figure out what the name of Kashmiri fellow is, but I'm willing to wager a good bottle of wine that it is not Abhayaśrī.

Back to the image. Here is the bigger picture:

Apparently those good old Victorian gentlemen did not share the sense of humour of the people they were studying. Here is the same inscription in Sir Alexander Cunningham's Mahābodhi:

Notice the difference? Indeed, no more unlawful carnal knowledge between... but what are they? Well, we could argue about it, but I'm pretty sure it is a donkey and a sow (or more precisely a wild boar sow). But it's not because I'm so good at zoology; I could not tell you the difference between a boar and a badger (whatever those are). It's because the - I think rather well-executed - sketch is a somewhat unusual representation of an imprecation, which is, however, almost standard at the end of land grants. An inscription dating from 32 years later from the same location says:

vaṃśe madīye yadi ko 'pi bhūpaḥ
śiṣṭo 'thavā duṣṭataro vinaṣṭaḥ |
vyatikramaṃ cātra karoti tasya
tātaḥ kharaḥ sūkarikā ca mātā ||
"And should any king of my lineage,
be him learned/superior or wickedly damned,
violate [the terms of] this [donation], his
father is a donkey and his mother a sow."

So, what the image is saying is: 'I gently remind you to respect this here donation' (take that, semiotics!). Other standard verses, more common on Pāla grants, promise rebirth as a worm in excrement. Why can't we have things like this on our contracts? [sigh]

What about the Tibetans? Well, I came across this image some time ago in here.

I even remember having somehow deciphered some of the writing under the smudge, but I lost the higher resolution images some time ago. Maybe you will have more luck. The young scribe no doubt expressed how he felt about scribbling for the zhang blon, or for the other chap, who had nothing better to do but bother him with dictating a letter about how his yearly crops went on what I imagine to have been a sunny afternoon.

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Blogger AC said...

I am quite sure the drawing is a later addition. Since Mahabodhi was published in 1892 and Epigraphia Indica, I guess around 1915, there is plenty of time for such a profanity. ;-)

8:54 am  
Blogger PDSz said...

Indeed, but it seems that somebody was at work even before Cunningham. If you look real hard you can just about see the donkey's ear. After Cunningham was gone they could finally etch in the rest as well ;)

12:43 pm  
Blogger Sam van Schaik said...

You can get to a higher-resolution (and colour) image by clicking here:- tibétain 1176

This is a glegs tshas, paper that was used to wrap the rolls of blank paper that were given to scribes. Tsuguhito Takeuchi gave an enjoyable paper on these at the last IATS conference. The scribes were allowed to use this wrapping paper for their own writing practice, or whatever. This scribe signed his name on the back four times: song stag skyes - one of those Sino-Tibetan names, I guess.

While we're at it, here's something similar from the Sogdians:-

I copy here a catalogue caption: "The writing on this manuscript is ninth-century Sogdian script. The orientation of the drawing suggests that at this period Sogdian, like Turkic in the same script, was read vertically rather than horizontally as, for example, in the oldest Sogdian texts of the fourth century (cat. nos. 191 & 192). The text, which is largely incomprehensible, is written on the back of a manuscript copy of the Diamond Sutra in Chinese. It contains an obscure remark about the man pictured, who is referred to as Tämär Quš, a Turkic name meaning ‘Iron bird’, and a lady Yimkičor."

Nice to think that this fellow's orientation has helped people to understand which way up Sogdian was read in the 9th century!


8:38 pm  
Blogger Sam van Schaik said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:38 pm  
Blogger PDSz said...

Thanks, Sam! Ahha, at least we now know the organ belongs to one Tshe job. I must return to the rest some other time.

1:52 am  
Anonymous JAS said...

Look at the cover photo on Schopen's Bones Stones and Automobiles (is that the right title?) [] and you will see the same image.

9:45 pm  
Blogger PDSz said...

Thanks JAS! I did have an uncertain memory of having seen this somewhere before. This must be the Jānibighā inscription, which is so inadequately published in the sources I've seen, e.g. they read the third pāda of the first verse hy adhvasthitānāṃ (never ever begin a pāda with hi...). But the image makes it clear that it is tryadhvasthitānāṃ

1:06 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

Goodness gracious, Sam! I think for sure his real name must be Randy or the Uighur equivalent. And I'm beginning to get a sense of what "iron bird" might mean... I would worry what might happen if and when it starts flying as per the famous prophecy attributed to Guru Rinpoche.

And PSz: Oh,and I'd add that there's an explanation on the back cover of Schopen's book"

"The inscription contains a 'curse' against any king who might interfere with the gift, which is represented visually at the bottom of the inscription and given in words: 'His father is a jack-ass and his mother is a pig.' Photo by Janice Leoshko."

I wonder if there is a problem with the verb tenses here. Is it supposed to be in a future rebirth or in the present one?

8:39 pm  
Anonymous Naga said...

Off-topic: Apropo de niste discutii avute mai demult apropo de "continenta", uite ca de fapt Eliade a mentionat in niste lucrari tarzii si subiecte gen "kundagolaka":
Ii mentioneaza, din cate am vazut, in cartea respectiva pe Abhinavagupta, Jayaratha, Gnoli si Tucci. Mai cunosti si vreo alta lucrare sau carte de-a lui in care sa fi abordat teme din astea care contrasteaza cumva, cel putin aparent, cu opiniile lui mai vechi despre tantrism?

12:39 pm  

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