Gāndhārī Buddhist Texts

Since the early 1990s, several major collections of extremely old Buddhist manuscripts have been discovered in eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, a region that corresponds to the cultural and linguistic area of Greater Gandhāra in antiquity. These manuscript finds have been referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism and have been the subject of high-profile scholarly projects in Australia, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and the USA.

Written on birch bark and palm leaf, these manuscripts carry texts in a great diversity of genres belonging to various schools and forms of Buddhism. The language of most of these documents is Gandhari written in the Kharoṣṭhī script. Dating from approximately the 1st century BC to the 3rd or 4th century AD, they are the oldest Buddhist and oldest Indian manuscripts ever discovered, in many cases hundreds of years closer to the very sermons of the Buddha than anything we knew before.

Spanning some 500 years of the Buddhist literary culture of the North-west region of the Indian subcontinent, these new manuscripts are of inestimable value to the study of the development of Buddhist thought in early India, the transmission of Buddhism to China, the history of Buddhism in ancient Gandhāra, as well as in India, Central Asia, and China, and to the study of Buddhist literature and languages.

Buddhist Texts Research Group

The Buddhist Texts Research Group at the University of Sydney is undertaking the study and publication of some of these new Gandhari birch bark Buddhist scrolls. With further support, we can continue to expand the scope of the project and help bring to life more of these ancient texts.

The University of Sydney’s Dr. Mark Allon will be leading the research in conjunction with Prof. Richard Salomon from the University of Washington, Seattle and Prof. Paul Harrison from Stanford University. Digital platform development will be led by Ian McCrabb also from the University of Sydney.

Support for the research, consulting and resources to enable the conservation, study and publishing of Gandhari Buddhist Texts at the University of Sydney will fund:

  • comprehensive digital imaging;
  • research assistants to support the investigators in the development of transliterations, translations, and grammatical, linguistic, and textual studies;
  • technical assistants to support publishing of digital editions of these text.