Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

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

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Location: Kolozsvár/Cluj, Budapest, Oxford, ibi ubi

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lost and found

[Make sure you read the UPDATE below] First of all, a small rant. Why can we not have something like this for Sanskrit manuscripts? Hats off to Prof. Witkam, especially since he scanned this book as well: The Art of the Book in India (you will have to scroll down the list to 'Jeremiah P. Losty'). The introduction of this very nice publication has a few things to say about copper plates as well and it is there that we find the image on the left of this text on p. 11. The caption reads: "Single copper plate issued at Monghyr in c. AD 854, with Pāla seal riveted on. Iveagh Bequest." 

Get the book if you want to read some of the text, this image is not very good. On and off some akṣaras are legible on the paper version. For now you will have to believe me that the seal reads śrīdevapāladevasya. Yes, this seems to be the Monghyr copper plate of Devapāla, "the first Sanskrit inscription that was ever brought to the notice of European scholars" as Kielhorn says (Indian Antiquary, September 1892, p. 253 ff.). This issue of the IA is available at DLI, you can check the references given there for the first publication and other studies. 

What is interesting here is that as of 1892 the plate got lost (again paraphrasing Kielhorn here, perhaps the plate was lost even earlier). Apparently it somehow made it into the Iveagh collection, where it was photographed by Losty. Why on earth would this collection of paintings (famous Rembrandts included) and other things have the Munghyr copper plate, I have no idea. But it seems to be there, just a few dozen miles away from me, at a place called Kenwood House in Hampstead. Stay tuned for more. 

Meanwhile, to modestly celebrate the resurfacing (at least for me) of this inscription, here is one of my favourite verses from the edict: 

bhrāmyadbhir vijayakrameṇa karibhiḥ svām eva Vindhyāṭavīm 
uddāmaplavamānabāṣpapayaso dṛṣṭāḥ punar bāndhavāḥ | 
Kambojeṣu ca yasya vājiyuvabhir dhvastānyarājaujaso 
heṣāmiśritahāriheṣitaravāḥ kāntāś ciraṃ vīkṣitāḥ || 

And here is Kielhorn's translation (1892): 

"In the course of conquest his elephants, roaming over their own Vindhya forest, met again with their kindred who shed plentiful tears (of joy); and, after he had crushed the power of other kings, his young chargers in Kamboja at last saw their mates, and it was a pleasure to hear them loudly neigh at each other."

And that of Wilkins (Esq.) (1799):

"He who, marching through many countries making conquests, arrived with his elephants in the forests of the mountains of Beendhya, where seeing again their long lost families, they mixed their mutual tears; and who going to subdue other princes, his young horses meeting their females at Komboge, they mutually neighed for joy."

Crying elephants: that sounds familiar.

UPDATE: Ok, forget about the whole thing. The plate was known to have resurfaced, cf. Bhandarkar's list and EI XVIII, pp. 304 f. and Pl.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Woe unto you, scribes

Another Prajñāpāramitā ms., source here.

I have just finished reading "Bengal, Bihar, Nepal? Problems of provenance in 12th-century illuminated Buddhist manuscripts" published in two parts in Oriental Art, vol. XXXV (1989). In this otherwise extremely well-researched and interesting article J. P. Losty writes the following about an Aṣṭasāhasrikā ms. now held at the British Library (Or. 14268):

Its colophon, however, is worth quoting as it both suggests a date and offers food for intriguing speculations (Fig. 25). The ye dharmā verse is followed (after another verse expressing pious Buddhistic sentiments beginning with lokaṃ prāpayituṃ) by (f. 292v): 
kāle[']smin bahudṛṣṭiśa[=sa]ṅkulakalau pāṭhe [']pi dūraṅgate 
nānābhedam anekapustakagatan dṛṣṭvādhunā śraddhayā 
kupyadvādigajendrakumbhadalane bhadreṇa yā śodhitā 
lokārthaṃ hariṇā mayā parahitaiḥ seyaṃ budhair guphyatāṃ || [[...]] 
Here the pious donation statement breaks off. A literal translation would be: "At this time in the Kali-era of tumult of many view-points, when the establishment of good readings is not possible on account of the many gaps in various books, now let this [MS], which has been edited for the general benefit with faith by me Hari who am skillful in breaking open the temples of enraged elephant-lords of debate, be strung by the well intentioned wise. [[...]]" [[...]]
Although at first sight a personal statement and not a scribal formula, one other manuscript is known to me which contains the identical verse along with its preceding one. This is Grierson MS 1 in the India Office Library, written in a very similar, if not identical, hooked Nepalese script of the same period, but this time with a donor, one Luṃṇībhāro, and with covers illuminated in the Nepalese style of the late 12th century. However, this seems to be the only other occurence of these verses, and I propose for the time being to treat them as personal scribal statements and not as standard formulae. It is difficult otherwise to account for his stating that his name is Hari, which is odd because this is a Hindu name and also because unaccompanied by the usual nāmnā. He also of course has no Buddhist monastic titles to justify his portrayal of himself as a skilled debater in Buddhist councils. Be that as it may, he must logically be either a Nepalese writing either in Nepal or Bihar, or an Indian who had gone to Nepal and adopted a typically Nepalese script. 
As to dating, the scribe's gloomy remarks suggest a period of great upheaval. On palaeographic grounds, a date in the second half of the 12th century or early 13th is most likely by comparison with dated manuscripts using this script. The evidence of the miniatures suggests a date at the end of this period. Both India and Nepal experienced upheavals in the last decade of the 12th century. In Nepal, the so-called Ṭhakurī dynasty had collapsed, three claimants were fighting for the throne, and feudatories from outside the Kathmandu Valley were establishing their independence. [[...]] In India, of course, the Muslim armies swept down the Gangetic plain towards Bihar and Bengal, and the ferocious onslaught was such that the Buddhist monasteries with their great libraries were all destroyed by the early decades of the 13th century. Either event could be referred to by the phrase "in the Kali-era of tumult of many viewpoints," although so apocalyptic a phrase suggests the latter. 
Our scribe tells us that he is a skilled debater, often victorious in the philosophical debates that took place at the great monasteries, and hence we would suppose him to be more than a humble copyist. The image comes irresistibly to mind of this famous debater sitting in the ruins of the library at Nālandā, piecing together from what was available the text of this famous scripture. It would, however, be sounder in fact to resist this image, as we must remember that our scribe is using a Nepalese script. It is difficult to see why a Nepalese scholar would have gone to India at such a time to copy such a well-known text. [[...]] 
We could, however, suppose that our scribe was in Nepal, viewing events in distant India from the still unviolated Kathmandu Valley. But would a Nepalese scribe speak so slightingly of the libraries of the Buddhist vihāras of his own country, so that it was impossible to write the text of so well-known a scripture without recourse to the Indian libraries? This is unlikely. However, if the scribe were an Indian monk who had taken refuge in Nepal and was using a well-established Nepalese script (albeit with backslidings towards Siddhamātṛkā), then his feeling of cultural isolation, running even to peevishness in his final remarks, is perfectly comprehensible. [[...]] 
Another possibility is that our scribe was not actually in the Valley itself, but in one of the towns outside, and hence he thought that it was not possible for him to establish good readings. [[...]] 
No firm conclusions can be drawn as yet about the provenance of this manuscript in the light of the above speculations. However, the most likely seems to be a Nepalese scholar (or possibly an Indian) established temporarily in a town such as Dhulikhel in the period 1190-1200, earning a humble living as a scribe, fulminating about the disasters in both the Valley and India itself, [[...]]
To sum up: Losty argues that the statement in verse is made by the scribe of the manuscript. This man was called Hari, therefore probably a Hindu. His statement suggests turbulent times, which must be events at the end of the 12th century in India or Nepal, possibly both. However, he carefully points out that this is his (informed) speculation and no firm conclusions should be drawn from it.

The image of the fulminating scribe faced with tragic events is a very attractive one. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it is also untrue. For the rather clever verse hides not a Hindu scribe, but a famous Buddhist author who lived about four centuries before.

Let us take another look at the verse. The image of "breaking open the temples of elephants" is exclusively associated with lions in poetic imagery (they also extract a kind of pearl from there, but this is a story for another day). Bells start ringing that the author is trying to be clever, for "hari" does indeed mean lion. Is he trying to trick us anywhere else? Indeed, he does: "bhadra" is to be construed with the lion, therefore the name in hiding is Haribhadra.

I could not trace Grierson MS 1, but I would be very surprised if it were not a Buddhist ms. linked to the Prajñāpāramitā. The same verses also occur at the end of the Ratnaguṇasaṃcayagāthā (at least in Vaidya's edition, see Mahāyāna-sūtra-saṃgraha, part I, p. 397), although a little bit garbled. The present transmission is actually very helpful in emending that edition (especially after we read gṛhyatām for the unnatural guphyatām).

In other words, there is no fulminating scholar-scribe, these are the words of the 8/9th-century Haribhadra. The "crisis" described therein does not seem to refer to any real events. It seems that this is just a good old Buddhist cliché about our ever-decaying world.

The moral of the story is of course not that Losty was wrong. Actually, the reasoning is ingenious and we would be hard pressed to find a better one if we were not in possession of Haribhadra's works. The lesson seems to be that we must co-operate, textual scholars and art historians. It is difficult to believe that the text would not have rung a bell had it been exposed to Buddhologists (ok, I don't like the name either). Conversely, textual scholars must have written equally wrong statements based on superficial observations of artworks. I would know, I could not tell one miniature from the other even if I were to look at them for hours. The other lesson is never to trust secondary literature, even if it is written by the most eminent scholars of the field.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Help with numbers

Dear readers,

I would really appreciate if you could give an honest opinion about this image. For the time being I will not reveal where it is from because I do not want to influence your judgement (however, I am very grateful to the person who scanned it and [s]he will be revealed in due course). Suffice to say that we are probably looking at the early tenth century. The words are samvat [XX]. What I'm really after here are the numerals [XX], especially the first one. Leave your vote in the comment field and my everlasting gratitude will haunt you.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Nice verses on a vidyādhara

Third-type vidyādharas? Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

I came across these nice verses in the Pṛthivīrājavijaya of Jayānaka (ed. Ojhā). One of Pṛthivīrāja's ancestors is hunting in the forest when he comes across a white palace (actually, now I see that his was built by him) where he finds an odd fellow sound asleep. The king cannot figure out for a while what the man is, although the bees in v. 37 seem to give it away. The translations are idiomatic (traduttore trattore and all that).

puṣpasrajām amaralokabhuvām upāstim 
ārabdhavadbhir alibhir madhuraṃ dhvanadbhiḥ | 
vidyādharo 'yam iti kaiścana mūrtimadbhir 
vidyākṣarair iva samāśritayāmikatvam || 4.37 

Like formidable embodied syllables of a spell,
bees humming sweetly "This is a vidyādhara!"
were his night-watchmen as they started to worship
his garland of flowers from the world of immortals.


taṃ vīkṣya bhūpatir acintayad eṣa tāvad 
asvapnatāṃ vyabhicaraty atha śeṣaśāyī | 
devo 'yam etad api nāsti sa dṛśyate yais 
teṣāṃ bhavanti na hi divyadṛśāṃ vikalpāḥ || 4.39 

The king beheld him and thought to himself:
"Well, that's odd: he's asleep (therefore not a god)*;
I have it! It's the god [Viṣṇu], he sleeps on a snake!
But that can't be either: for those with a divine vision
would not entertain doubts after having seen Him."

*Gods do not sleep.

nātrāsate na ca manuṣyaviśeṣam enam | 
saṃbhāvayāmi na ca vaiśravaṇasya yo 'pi 
dhartā naraḥ spṛśati so 'pi mamopadhānam || 4.40

He does not bear any of the signs of gandharvas, siddhas,
kiṃnaras! But he is not some special human either.
Nor can he be that odd fellow who carries Kubera,
for he too touches my footstool (in obedience).

nāgo 'pi nāyam uragatvavibhinnayāpi 
mūrtyā na hi vyabhicaranty ahayaḥ phaṇitvam | 
lobhasvabhāvamalinā khalu jātir eṣā 
ratnaṃ varākadhanavad vijahāti nāṅkāt || 4.41

No, he's no nāga. Though they shed their slithering bodies,
they could never hide their hoods. What's more: that lot
is well-known to be greedy, never would they cast away
precious jewels as if they were worthless. (But he does!**)

**In a previous verse some jewels seem to fall off the sleeping fellow.

vidyādharatvam api yad †dvija†pādalepa-
kaukṣeyakāñjanamalatrayakalmaṣaṃ syāt | 
tat tāvad asya na bhavaty atha yaḥ prakāras 
turyas tam asya mukhadarśanato vidhāsye || 4.42 

(We all know:) vidyādharas would be smeared
on their feet, on their eyes, or else, carry*** a sword.
No sign of those on this fellow. Let me just check
his mouth whether he be of that fourth kind.

***This is weird. How can we take a sword to be a kalmaṣa? I also wish someone could tell me how to take 'dvija-' here.

Anyhow, the king does proceed to examine the mouth of the funny being. Just as he does so, the man's mouth opens slightly and his 'pill' (gulikā, later said to be a siddhagulikā) pops out and rolls under the king's foot. This was the source of his powers, and at the same time a sure sign to the king that he is a fourth-type vidyādhara (the ones who pop pills so to speak). The vidyādhara wakes up in terror as he realizes that his pill is gone. I find the next image quite funny: he bows his head in shame as if looking for places down here - he knows that his career as a high-flier is over. Well worth a read, Jayānaka is a good poet.

[By the way: if you do decide to download the book, DLI has it in several 'versions' (same book, multiple scans). One of them is legible, but there are pages missing. These can be recovered from the other version, which is an inferior scan. Finally, a third version cannot be accessed, the link is broken or something.]

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