We are an international network of researchers and developers engaged in the study of Gāndhārī Buddhist manuscripts and inscriptions, some of the oldest extant Buddhist texts, with the aim of developing digital scholarly editions. We use the READ and READ Workbench platforms to support collaborative editing, analysis and digital publishing. We produce open access studies of Gāndhārī manuscripts and inscriptions that serve as digital companions to print publications such as journal articles and the Gandhāran Buddhist Texts Series, and also provide a uniquely interactive, customizable and collaborative experience with these ancient texts. Gāndhārī Texts is a project of the University of Sydney’s Buddhist Digital Corpora Group.
- Collaborate on the editing and publishing of Gāndhārī manuscripts and inscriptions, many of which have only been discovered since the 1990s, which are of seminal importance to the field of Buddhist studies: the ‘dead sea scrolls’ of Buddhism.
- Pursue innovation in collaborative digital publishing while maintaining best practices in open access, scholarly peer-review, and support for standards-based encoding such as EpiDoc TEI.
- Complement conventional scholarly journal articles and monographs while providing a uniquely interactive experience with ancient documents.
Gāndhārī Buddhist Texts
Buddhist Texts from ancient Gandhāra (modern northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan), are some of the oldest extant traces of Buddhist thought and practice. They are witnesses to a thriving tradition at a multicultural trade hub along the Silk Road at a time when Buddhism was first spreading from India to Central and East Asia, between the 1st century BCE and 3rd century CE. They are written in Gāndhārī, a Middle Indo‐Aryan language that is closely related to Sanskrit and Pali, and the Kharoṣṭhī script, which was probably derived from Aramaic, which had been used in the region since the time of the Achaemenid Persian empire. Gāndhārī served as a kind of lingua franca beyond Gandhāra proper (Peshawar Valley) for a culturally and linguistically diverse region spanning from modern day southern Turkmenistan in the west to the eastern edge of the Chinese Taklamakan desert in the east.
Previously, our understanding of the history, character and importance of Buddhism in Gandhāra was based largely on archaeological excavations, art objects and donative inscriptions, which have provided evidence of early Buddhist social practices like relic veneration, the ritual function of common domed structures called stūpas, and the economy of Buddhist monasteries. However, recent manuscript finds, dating from as early as the first century BCE, have now revolutionized the field of Gandhāran studies. These oldest surviving Buddhist manuscripts provide unprecedented insights into the early history of Buddhism in South Asia, the development of Buddhist texts and literary genres, the transmission of Buddhism to China and beyond, the rise of the Mahāyāna as well as significantly improving our understanding of the Gāndhārī language and Kharoṣṭhī script.
The Kuṣāṇa Donative Inscriptions project applies an analysis of donative formulae to compare epigraphs composed in the Gāndhārī language and Kharoṣṭhī script with those in Epigraphical Hybrid Sanskrit (EHS) in the Brāhmī script during the Kuṣāṇa period, ca. 50-320 CE. The information contained in these epigraphs provides crucial information about the religious, political, social, and economic conditions in South Asia during the Kuṣāṇa Empire. This project is notable in that it will be the first exemplar of our Text Aggregation methodology. Individual texts will be aggregated and their grammatical, semantic and syntactic analysis merged to support comparison of donative formulae across regions and between languages.
The Gāndhārī Relic Inscriptions project has commenced publishing an initial tranche of draft inscriptions. These digital publications are notable in that they are the first examples of ‘cubed texts’. Our Text Cubing methodology encapsulates and exposes the scholarly history of a text. An initial reference edition (often from a catalogue published in the 1920’s) is successively cloned and edited, to generate a rendition of each of the subsequent editions published over the last century. The process attributes each of the innovations of subsequent editors at their most granular. The work of the contemporary researcher in developing their own edition, adding new readings and interpretations, is predicated upon this homage to previous scholarship.
Dr. Mark Allon, Senior Lecturer of South Asian Buddhist Studies at University of Sydney and academic lead of the Gāndhārī Buddhist Texts project, was recently interviewed by ABC radio in a piece called “The ancient communities of Gandhara and their priceless Buddhist manuscripts.” For an up-to-date discussion of the historical and cultural implications of recent and ongoing discoveries of Gāndhārī Buddhist manuscripts, follow the link above to stream online or download the interview. ABC also published a related article called “Crumbling cigars of bark bring scholars one step closer to ancient words of Buddha.”