Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

The Senior Manuscripts: Another Collection of Gandharan Buddhist Scrolls

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

The Senior Manuscripts: Another Collection of Gandharan Buddhist Scrolls

Article excerpt


In 1994 the British Library acquired a collection of twenty-nine fragments of birch bark scrolls containing various Buddhist texts written in Kharosthi script and Gandhari (Prakrit) language (Salomon 1997). At the time, these were virtually the only known specimens of what must have been a very extensive Gandharan Buddhist literature, with the exception of one other manuscript, namely the famous "Gandhari Dharmapada," which had been discovered in 1892 near Khotan in what is now the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. In 1996 the British Library/University of Washington Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project was constituted to study and publish this new collection. To date four volumes of studies of the British Library scrolls have been published (Salomon 1999, Salomon 2000, Allon 2001, Lenz 2003), and several further volumes are in progress.

Since the project was inaugurated in 1996, a large amount of additional related material has come to light. Most of this new material is contained in three major collections. The first of these is the Schoyen collection of Buddhist manuscripts, which includes, in addition to several thousand fragments of Buddhist texts in Sanskrit and Brahmi script, 238 small fragments in Kharosthi script and a sanskritized variety of the Gandhari language (see Salomon 2001), written on palm leaf in folio or pothi format. Study and publication of the Kharosthi portion of the Schoyen collection has been begun by members of the Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project in cooperation with Professor Jens Braarvig of the University of Oslo, who is supervising the publication of the Schoyen collection as a whole (Braarvig 2000; Braarvig 2002; Allon and Salomon 2000; Salomon 2002a). Another collection, smaller but still significant, of Gandhari manuscripts on palm-leaf folios is the eight fragments in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, which were found by the Pelliot expedition in the northern Tarim Basin (Salomon 1998).

The third additional major collection of Gandhari manuscripts (the fourth in total, including the British Library collection), and the one which is the subject of this article, (1) is the Senior collection, named for its owner, Robert Senior of Butleigh, Glastonbury (U.K.). This collection consists of twenty-four birch bark scrolls or scroll fragments of widely varying size, format, and quality of preservation. Like the British Library scrolls, the Senior scrolls were found inside an inscribed clay pot (described below in part 2) whose original provenance is not known with any certainty, but which is believed to have come from one of the several stupa sites in and around Hadda, near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. After being unrolled and conserved by the staff of the British Library's India Office and Oriental Collections, the scrolls were found to contain varying amounts of textual material in Kharosthi script and Gandhari language (except for one scroll, no. 6, which proved to be blank). Several of the Senior scrolls, such as nos. 5, 19, and 20, are complete or nearly complete, in contrast to the British Library scrolls, all of which were more or less fragmentary.

The owner of the collection has generously agreed to put it at the disposal of the Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project for study and publication, and this work is now in progress. Following this article, which is intended to introduce the Senior collection as a whole, the project staff plans to begin publishing texts from the collection in the Gandharan Buddhist Texts series as soon as possible. The first volume on the Senior manuscripts will contain a detailed overview and catalogue of the collection as a whole (analogous to Salomon 1999 for the British Library collection), plus sample editions of one or more of the texts contained therein.


Like the British Library scrolls, the Senior scrolls were found in a clay jar with a Kharosthi inscription. …

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