This very long scroll was copied in the mid-10th century for a Buddhist patron, who requested long life for himself and his family in return.
What language(s) is it in?
With the spread of Buddhism eastwards through Central Asia, a whole corpus of Buddhist works was translated and produced in multiple languages, including local vernaculars. This particular item contains six different texts that are transcribed in Brahmi script: the first two are incantations (dhāraṇī) in Sanskrit; the following four are a mixture of sutras and confession texts (deśanā) in Khotanese. Both languages are read from left to right, top to bottom, hence the vertical format of the scroll. While Sanskrit was highly regarded as one of the main languages of Buddhism from India, Khotanese was a Middle Iranian language used between the 5th and 10th centuries in the Buddhist kingdom of Khotan, which was located on the southern branch of the Silk Route (present-day Xinjiang province, China).
Who commissioned the scroll?
The scroll was written over a period of six months in the year of the Hare, which is thought to correspond to 943 CE. The patron, named Śāṃ Khīṅä Hvāṃ’ Saṃgakä, must have been quite important or wealthy, judging by the impressive size of the item and by its beautiful painted silk cover that represents two confronted geese standing on lotus flowers. The scroll was found in the so-called Library Cave, near Dunhuang, and also shows the presence of a well-established Khotanese community in the region during the 10th century.
View the whole scroll via the International Dunhuang Project (IDP) website.