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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 1.2 (2018): 14–69;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhist Arts)

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Reading Medieval Buddhist Manuscripts: Thoughts on Text and Image

Yale University

Abstract: This paper examines Buddhist palm-leaf manuscripts of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā, the Gaṇḍavyūha and the Pañcarakṣā. The Cambridge Aṣṭasāhasrikā with its illustrations of famous images has been well studied, but always in isolation from manuscripts of other religious traditions. This essay proposes that it and related Buddhist examples should be considered along with Jain palm leaf manuscripts that similarly illustrate famous images and sites, a practice that seems to have been quite popular across the sub-continent and across religious divides. The discussion of the Gaṇḍavyūha likewise suggests that a consideration of Jain manuscripts can help to explain illustrations on the Buddhist manuscripts that have not been understood. A close reading of the Pañcarakṣā texts offers new insights into its manuscript illustrations. In the concluding comments on some Jain paper manuscripts the essay suggests that in considering the relationship of text to image, we need also take into account the frequency of errors and the possibility of misplaced images.

Keywords: Medieval Buddhism, manuscripts


About the Author: Phyllis Granoff graduated from Radcliffe College and received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in the departments of Sanskrit and Indian Studies and Fine Arts. After teaching for many years at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, she joined the faculty of Yale University where she is Lex Hixon Professor of World Religions. She edited the Journal of Indian Philosophy for many years and has published in fields as diverse as contemporary Indian literature, medieval Indian philosophy and literature, and history of art.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.