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An additional note on Aracapana.

In a recent article(1) I attempted to prove that the inscriptions in Kharosthi script on the Gandharan sculptures in the Lahore and Peshawar Museums(2) illustrating the Lipisalasamdarsana episode as recounted in the Lalitavistara, in which the future Buddha visits a school and reveals his knowledge of the 64 scripts, represent the first 8 or 9 syllables of the Buddhist Arapacana syllabary (a ra pa ca na la da ba da). This interpretation, however, was not absolutely certain due to the poor condition of the inscriptions in question, which are on the writing tablets held in the hands of the figures in these sculptures. But a previously unpublished Gandharan relief on the same theme now provides definite confirmation of this interpretation.

The new sculpture in question (see fig. 1) was brought to my attention by Mr. Isao Kurita of the Eurasian Art Gallery in Tokyo, who has kindly granted permission to publish it. Mr. Kurita reports that the piece is of grey schist with heavy patina, 24 cm high and 5 cm thick. It is reported to have come from the environs of Landi Kotal, just east of the Khyber Pass in Pakistan. It depicts the Bodhisattva (i.e., the future Buddha) seated in the middle, writing on a board held on his lap. To his left is another seated figure with a writing board, who is presumably the teacher Visvamitra. There are also two standing figures to the Bodhisattva's right and behind (above) him, the latter of whom also holds a writing board diagonally across his chest. The composition of the scene resembles, but is not identical to the two previously known examples, mentioned above.

Of the three writing boards shown in the new relief, the one held by the Bodhisattva is uninscribed. Since his stylus is poised near the right side of the board, which would be the beginning point in the Kharosthi script, which is written from right to left, the scene evidently depicts the moment when the Bodhisattva begins writing the alphabet. The two other boards, however, are inscribed, and the one held by the figure behind the Bodhisattva clearly (except for the damaged last character) reads a ra pa ca na la da (ba) (see fig. 2). The inscription on the teacher's board is less clear, but evidently reads a ra pa ca na la (fig. 3).

The evidence of these inscriptions, particularly the first one, which is much better preserved than the previously known examples in the Lahore and Peshawar reliefs, should suffice to confirm that the inscribed text in all the Lipisalasamdarsana scenes is indeed the beginning of the Arapacana syllabary, as I previously claimed was "virtually certain."(3) It also lends further support to the theory that the contemporary, and presumably original, version of the legend in the Lalitavistara had the Bodhisattva expounding the "alphabet" according to the Arapacana system, rather than in the standard Indic varnamala order, as in the extant Indian Buddhist texts.(4)

(1) Richard Salomon, "New Evidence for a Gandhari Origin of the Arapacana Syllabary," JAOS 110 (1990): 255-73. (2) Sten Konow, Kharoshthi Inscriptions with the Exception of Those of Asoka, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. II, part 1 (Calcutta: Government of India, 1929), 129-31; for further references see Salomon, 262. (3) Salomon, 265. (4) John Brough, "The Arapacana Syllabary in the Old Lalitavistara," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 40 (1977): 85-95; Salomon, ibid.
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Author:Salomon, Richard
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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