A Buddhist sutra and illustrated cover
Among the collection of 40,000 or so books and manuscripts discovered in 1907 by Sir Aurel Stein in cave 17 of the âCaves of a Thousand Buddhasâ near the city of Dunhuang in China, were large numbers of scrolls including 31 written in Khotanese, a Middle Iranian language which was used between the 5th and 10th centuries in the Buddhist kingdom of Khotan on the southern branch of the Silk Route (present-day Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region of the Peopleâs Republic of China). Of them, the Buddhist scroll Ch.c.001 (IOL Khot S.46) is by far the largest, measuring over 21 metres. It was copied in Dunhuang in the mid 10th century for a Buddhist patron ÅÄá¹ KhÄ«á¹ Ã¤ HvÄá¹â Saá¹gakÃ¤ who, in return, requested long life for himself and his family.
Ch.c.001 photographed by Stein in Serindia (Oxford, 1921), vol 4, plate CXLVI
The scroll is dated in four colophons written over a period of six months in the year of the Hare (AD 943) and includes Buddhist esoteric MahÄyÄna and Tantric works written in Sanskrit and Khotanese. The first two are Sanskrit dhÄraá¹Ä«s (incantations): Buddhoá¹£á¹Ä«á¹£a-vijaya and SitÄtapatra (ll. 1-198), and these are followed by further texts in Khotanese: Bhadrakalpika-sÅ«tra, a list of the names of the Buddha (ll.199-754); two almost identical deÅanÄ (confession) texts on the same subject (ll. 755-851 and 1062-1101); and the MahÄyÄna Sumukha-sÅ«tra (ll. 852-1061), in which the Bodhisattva VajrapÄá¹i and several other deities promise to protect anyone who recites and learns the sÅ«tra.
Lines 795-803 of Ch.c.001 (IOL Khot S 46), part of a confession text written in calligraphic formal Brahmi script. 10th century. Image from IDP
To judge from its size and the care taken to preserve it, the patron, ÅÄá¹ KhÄ«á¹ Ã¤ HvÄá¹â, must have been an important person. Almost certainly he can be identified with HvÄá¹â ÅÄá¹ KhÄ«á¹ Ã¤ (i.e., çä¸å¿ Wang Shangqing) described as a donor in both Khotanese and Chinese on a Dunhuang painting of VaiÅravana (also completed in the year of the Hare), which is preserved in the BibliothÃ¨que nationale Paris (Pelliot Tib 0821). The importance of the patron is also suggested by the quality of the silk painting, which was originally glued to the back of the scroll and served as a cover, secured by ties.
Painted silk sÅ«tra wrapper from Ch.c.001 (IOL Khot S 47). 10th century. Image from IDP
The painting shows a pair of birds, possibly swan geese, standing on lotus flowers and holding budding branches in their beaks. The motif of the wild goose, frequently mentioned in Dunhuang literature, is well attested in Tang painting, lacquerware, silver and ceramics, appearing, for example, on the Dunhuang banner headings MAS 876 and 877 (Ch.00304.a and b), both preserved in the British Museum.
British Museum MAS.876: one of two square-shaped fragments of plain woven silk patterned with the clamp-resist dyeing technique. The pattern consists of two motifs: a dominant large roundel with encircled rosettes and a narrower inner roundel, enclosing four paired geese; and a four-petalled flower in the centre, and the other secondary quatrefoil. The repeat in the warp direction is about 56.6 cm but it is unclear in the weft direction. Another fragment from the same textile (but without geese) is in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (ÐÑ 51). Image from IDP
To find out more about the Stein collection and finds from Central Asia, visit our International Dunhuang Project Database website at idp.bl.uk. This collaborative database holds over 400,000 images from the major Central Asian collections worldwide.
Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
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P. O. SkjÃ¦rvÃ¸, Khotanese manuscripts from Chinese Turkestan in the British Library: a complete catalogue with texts and translation. London, 2002, p 541-50
Sh. Takubo, TonkÅ Shutsudo Utengo Himitsu KyÅtenshÅ« no KenkyÅ« [= Studies on the Khotanese âCollection of the esoteric sÅ«trasâ found in Tunhuang]. Tokyo, 1975
G. Dudbridge and R. E. Emmerick, âPelliot tibÃ©tain 0821,â Studia Iranica 7/2 (1978), pp. 283-85