This project focuses on ancient manuscripts from the Gandhara region (modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan). These manuscripts are radically shifting our knowledge of Buddhism’s history and its textual transmission from South Asia to China. The scholarly expertise required for studying these manuscripts has made them largely inaccessible to international Buddhist communities and to the modern societies for whom they represent irreplaceable cultural heritage. The physical manuscripts are also targets of cultural theft, meaning most texts available for study are unprovenanced and located in private collections. This project leverages existing successes in the creation of publicly available digital editions of such texts, but with a new focus on the way that such editions can be transformed into community resources through wider engagements.
The Robert Senior Collection consists of twenty-four birch bark scrolls containing at least forty-one Buddhist texts in the Gāndhārī language and Kharoṣthī script. Dating to the early second century CE, it is the largest extant collection of Gandhāran sūtras, or discourses of the Buddha, and thus provides invaluable information about the production and transmission of such texts during a period when Buddhist literature was spreading rapidly from Gandhāra to Central and East Asia. The collection and the pot in which it was discovered also shed light on an important Buddhist practice, the burial and veneration of manuscripts as relics at stūpa sites, which were the ritual centres of Buddhism in ancient South Asia.