Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - From Pilgrims to Custodians: Sri Lankans at Mahābodhi

Saturday, July 7
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Maple, Lower Ground Floor

Mahābodhi (modern Bodhgaya in the Gaya district of south Bihar in eastern India) was, in a sense, the power-center of the pre-modern Asian Buddhist world, deriving its sacrality as the place where the Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment. Mahābodhi remained a dynamic centre of worship and pilgrimage between 3rd century BCE and 13th-14th century CE. It is surprising that given Mahābodhi’s long history and exceptional stature, the number of extant, pre-modern inscriptions associated with the place is meager, which is in contrast to its overwhelming sculptural remains. However, the small epigraphic corpus unambiguously conveys Mahābodhi’s trans-regional renown. Its constituents include inscriptions written in Chinese, Tibetan and Burmese languages as well as Sanskrit inscriptions which refer to individuals or associations of Sri Lankan origin. While inscriptions recording the donative activities of representatives from the east and south-east Asia belong to a relatively short period between the 11th and 13th centuries, epigraphs mentioning Sri Lankans span the entire pre-modern history of the site. Consequently, it is possible to plot the changing character of Sri Lankan engagement with Mahābodhi.


 Although the epigraphic history of Mahābodhi’s relationship with Sri Lanka in the pre-modern period has been well-documented, this paper contextualizes these inscriptions against the backdrop of the evolving landscape of the site and its composite epigraphic history. Such an exercise offers insights into the nature of Mahābodhi’s management, landholding, and devotional activities. 

Sanjukta Datta

Ashoka University, India

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2 - From Pilgrims to Custodians: Sri Lankans at Mahābodhi



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