Saturday, 8 December 2012

Volume 21 Bulletin Asia Institute

The Bulletin of the Asia Institute presents on a regularly basis each year or longer) studies in the art, archaeology, numismatics, history and languages of ancient Iran, Mesopotamia, and Central Asia and connections with China and Japan along the Silk Road. 
Includes: an index, subscription, and publication information.
In March this year Volume 21 was published.
Following a short summary of the contents of this issue.
For more information, go to:

Penélopé Riboud, Bird-Priests in Central Asian Tombs of 6th-Century China and Their Significance in the Funerary Realm 

Part of an incomplete stone funerary couch supposedly belonging to An Bei, d. 589.
Part of an incomplete stone funerary couch supposedly belonging to An Bei, d. 589.

Although Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Turkic Shamanism were undoubtedly popular among Central Asian communities in China between the 6th and 10th centuries, it is still difficult to decipher textual and iconographical sources in terms of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and many questions pertaining to pantheon, rituals, and cults remain unsolved. Among the religious imagery that appears on 6th-century Central Asian monuments unearthed in China, one notices a recurrent pictorial composition consisting of two half-man, half-bird hybrid creatures wearing a ritual mouth cover and standing on both sides of a fire altar. This paper aims at demonstrating that bird-priest motif was intentionally invented to answer both requirements of guiding the deceased’s soul to a Zoroastrian afterlife and placing him at the centre of a Chinese-oriented cosmological scheme. Instead of exclusively pointing at the deceased’s foreign background, it surprisingly illustrates a sense of belonging to 6th-century Chinese society as well. In order to understand this twofold reading, we shall examine potential sources of the bird-priest motif and attempt to explain how they eventually mingled together.

Pratapaditya Pal, Evidence of Jainism in Afghanistan and Kashmir in Ancient Times 

A Socle of a Jain Image, Gujarat, 12th century.
A Socle of a Jain Image, Gujarat, 12th century.

Of the three religions that originated in India–Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism–Jainism is the only faith that does not seem to have traveled abroad until modern times. Certainly, there is no evidence of any sea-borne migration of Jainism to Sri Lanka or Southeast Asia, where both Hinduism and Buddhism were entrenched religions from early times. In this article, however, both material—in the forms of metal images—and literary evidence are presented to demonstrate that the Jains did travel north by land as far as Kashmir and Afghanistan in pre-modern times.

Alka Patel, Architectural Cultures and Empire: The Ghurids in Northern India (ca. 1192–1210) 

Possible Ghurid-period mosque, Badi Khattu, Rajasthan (Indian). Late 12th-early 13th century
Possible Ghurid-period mosque, Badi Khattu, Rajasthan (Indian). Late 12th-early 13th century

This article examines the culturally and architecturally disparate territories of the Ghurid empire (ca. 1150-1215), based in central Afghanistan but at its zenith including eastern Iran through western Bengal (India). Building on the scholarship on the archaeology of empires, the work emphasizes the equal importance of regions traditionally divided as centers and peripheries, proposing the rubric of "architectural culture" to analyze each of these disparate but equally significant regions.

Mehrdad Shokoohy, The Zoroastrian Towers of Silence in the ex-Portuguese Colony of Diu 

The burial place of the Parsees in India, from Herbert, Travels in India.
"The burial place of the Parsees in India," from Herbert, Travels in India.

From ancient times Zoroastrian funeral practices have attracted attention, as rather than cremation or burial, the body of the diseased is exposed to birds of prey in a dakhma, a structure known in the West as a “Tower of Silence.” Many such towers still stand in Iran and India, but in spite of extensive discussion on Zoroastrian beliefs, rites, and rituals regarding disposal of the dead, study of the physical and architectural features of such towers has remained minimal, as approaching--let alone entering--a dakhma is forbidden to all, including Zoroastrians, apart from the corpse bearers. The available information on the interior of these towers has so far been based on some architectural drawings of a large dakhma apparently prepared for the construction of dakhmas in Navsary and Bombay, published in 1892. Although well known that dakhmas can vary in size and interior arrangement, these widely reproduced drawings have created a predetermined concept of a standard form. A dakhma is traditionally destroyed when no longer in function, but the preservation of one of these towers in Diu has provided an unprecedented opportunity to investigate such features in depth. The dakhma of Diu clarifies many aspects of the development of the form in the last two centuries. It is a unique example of a fairly small tower, the design of which is very different from what has been widely perceived as the norm. In spite of the custom of demolishing disused dakhmas, there are still some extant old dakhmas in India and Iran, leaving the field open for future investigation, which would no doubt expand our still limited knowledge of the variety of design within a set formula for the traditional Zoroastrian system of disposition of the dead, a custom already abandoned in Iran and not practiced by Zoroastrian communities in the West. Only in India the tradition still continues, but even there is gradually dying away and dakhmas may soon become part of history.

David Frendo, Dangerous Ideas: Julian's Persian Campaign, Its Historical Background, Motivation, and Objectives 

After a brief discussion of the circumstances and nature of Julian's seizure of power, the present paper considers the impact of Constantine’s earlier rise to the position of sole ruler of the Roman world and in particular of the fact that he appears to have believed that he achieved his victory at the Milvian bridge through having enlisted, by an action entirely compatible with the conventional set of ancient beliefs known as the pax deorum, the aid of a new and hitherto untried deity, the god of the Christians. It then describes how Constantine’s supremely successful career together with the intolerant and exclusive nature of the new deity conspired to undermine and destroy the very beliefs under the umbrella of which the intruding deity had first been introduced. Attention is then focused on Julian’s attempt to reverse the legacy of Constantine and restore the worship of the ancient gods. It also considers the extent to which the combination of absolute power with an overwhelming sense of mission in a somewhat disturbed individual was to blind him to the reality of the historical changes which had already taken place within the Roman Empire itself and how, frustrated by the hostility shown by many of the inhabitants of Antioch towards his grand design for reversing the legacy of Constantine and his sons, Julian resorted to a foolhardy and ultimately disastrous attempt to conquer and overthrow the Sasanian Empire and state, a polity whose real weaknesses and strengths he neither knew nor made any effort to understand.

D. T. Potts, Cataphractus and kamāndār: Some Thoughts on the Dynamic Evolution of Heavy Cavalry and Mounted Archers in Iran and Central Asia

The origin of heavy cavalry in ancient Eurasia has long been a topic of interest to scholars working on Parthian and Sasanian military history and archaeology. This paper examines the evidence of Iranian, Turanian, Choresmian, and Parthian innovations that led to the emergence of full-blown heavy cavalry. The often neglected data from the Late Bronze in the Near East and the Neo-Assyrian cavalry, in particular, are discussed, as well as ways in which influences from these regions might have reached Central Asia.

Frantz Grenet; with Samra Azarnoush, Where are the Sogdian Magi? 

Panjikent, Temple II, antecella: lamentation scene with Nana and Demeter.
Panjikent, Temple II, antecella: lamentation scene with Nana and Demeter. 

Contrary to the situation in Sasanian Iran, the Zoroastrian Magi of Sogdiana are not very conspicuous in the sources and they are almost not mentioned in accounts of the Arab conquest. Nevertheless, a certain amount of information can be gathered by putting together all the categories of documents. Sogdian texts indicate that two categories of priests coexisted: vaghnpat, master of an image temple, and moghpat, equivalent of Middle Persian mowbed. This duality might have been reflected in the two Panjikent temples: Temple II, assigned to the cult of the originally un-Zoroastrian goddess Nana and presumably held by avaghnpat, and Temple I, assigned to gods of the Zoroastrian pantheon and at a certain period containing a fire sanctuary more proper for a mowbed. In the funerary art (ossuaries, sarcophagi of Sogdians in China) priests are depicted wearing the canonical costume, while those who can tentatively be identified in monumental painting tend to adopt a fashion more similar to that of their aristocratic patrons. Texts attributable to Sogdian Magi are republished in fresh translations (Appendix 1: account of Zoroaster’s assumption to Heaven; Appendix 2, with Samra Azarnouches: text on the magic of stones and rain-making).

Richard Salomon, Gāndhārī in the Worlds of India, Iran, and Central Asia 

Gāndhārī, originally a local dialect of the Middle Indo-Aryan language family spoken in the northwestern borderland of the South Asian subcontinent, became in the first three centuries of the common era an international lingua franca for administrative purposes as well as a literary language in Buddhist institutions. During this period the use of Gāndhārī spread over a wide range in the eastern Iranian world and in various parts of Central Asia. The article surveys and summarizes the roles Gāndhārī played during this period and examines the historical and geographical factors which led to its brief efflorescence and rapid decline.

Nicholas Sims-Williams, Some Bactrian Terms for Realia 

This article discusses the history of three loanwords. A Bactrian origin is proposed for a word meaning "fort, military post," which is attested in Khotanese, Niya Prakrit, and Ossetic, and for a word for "sling (for hurling stones)" attested in New Persian. The Bactrian phrase sariggo zamo is interpreted as "glazed vessels, vessels of glazed (porcelain)," the adjective sariggo being derived from a Chinese word for "lacquer."

Étienne de la Vaissière, A Note on the Schøyen Copper Scroll: Bactrian or Indian? 

If we accept the current interpretation of the Schøyen Copper Scroll recently published, it will be necessary to modify our complete understanding of the history of the Hephtalite empire: the Alxon rulers would be in Eastern Bactria. Another possibility is here proposed, in which the town referred to in the text is not Taleqan in Afghanistan, but Talagang in Pakistan.

Harry Falk, Ancient Indian Eras: An Overview 

Schist reliquary stūpa from Buner in three steps with dome.
Schist reliquary stūpa from Buner in three steps with dome.

The author summarizes his research on Indian eras which was so far dispersed over a series of articles. The main focus lies on the Indo-Greek (yavana) era, the Azes era, and the Kanishka era and their interdependence. A new reliquary is presented which reinforces the assumption that Azes was not the founder of the era named after him. An explanation for the era of Nahapana is offered, and a second new inscribed reliquary is presented with thoughts on the vision of time of the donors of Buddhist sanctuaries.

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