Kharosthi Fragments

Buddhist Texts Research Collaboration

Developing editions and researching Buddhist manuscripts and inscriptions
We take a multi-institutional, cross-disciplinary approach to the development of scholarly editions and studies of ancient Buddhist texts.

About us

We are a network of researchers established around a shared framework, methodology and platform for digital corpus development.

We bring together several international collaborative projects that are engaged in the study of Buddhist manuscripts and inscriptions with the aim of developing digital scholarly editions and their associated studies: palaeographic, grammatical (phonological, orthographical and morphological) and syntactic.

These corpus resources encapsulate conventional philological scholarly output and serve as the basis for research from other disciplines such as historical, archaeological, art historical, social, religious, political and economic scholarship.

Originally focused on Gandhari manuscripts (the Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism) written in the Kharosthi script, our projects have been extended to include other Indic languages such as Sanskrit and Pali, and scripts that witness expressions of Buddhism across diverse geographic, cultural and temporal contexts.

Our platform

READ is a digital platform for manuscript and epigraphic research developed by a consortium of universities engaged in the study and publication of ancient Buddhist documents. Transliterations can be imported, linked, researched, analysed and then published in standards-based formats. The defining innovation is the atomisation of text into a semantically linked network of objects.

READ Workbench is a self-service portal which supports the integration of researchers, resources, tools and processes in the collaborative development of textual corpora. Hosted at the University of Sydney, Workbench delivers READ philological research capability, configured for individual projects, as ‘software as a service’ for partner institutions.  Workbench manages the configuration deployment of READ and implements a researcher-centric corpus development methodology with collaboration and innovation at its heart.


Our projects

The international effort underway to edit Gandhari manuscripts has added significantly to our understanding of the development and transmission of Buddhist literature rather than the ritual and religious practices of Gandharan Buddhism.

Relic inscriptions are central to our understanding of the ritual practice of relic establishment – perhaps the most significant element of Buddhist religious culture in the period between 150 BCE to 200 CE covered by the inscription record. They are highly formulaic and, located at the nexus of state and monastic hegemony, may be characterised as truly foundational artefacts.

The focus of this project, which initiates requirements for READ and the basis for the development of READ Workbench, is the characterisation of the ritual practice of relic establishment through the detailed analysis of formulaic patterns in the content of reliquary inscriptions.

The University of Sydney are the project stakeholder, with funding provided by Prakas Foundation.

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Located on the Silk Route at the ‘crossroads of Asia’, Gandhara played an important role in the transmission of Buddhism from India to Central Asia and China. Recent manuscript finds dating from as early as the first century BCE have revolutionised the field of Gandharan studies. 

These documents are the oldest surviving Buddhist manuscripts as well as the oldest Indian manuscripts. They provide unprecedented insights into the early history of Buddhism in South Asia, the development of Buddhist literary genres, transmission to China and beyond, the rise of the Mahayana as well as greatly improving our understanding of the Gandhari language and Kharosthi script.

The ‘Senior’ collection of birch bark manuscripts originating from eastern Afghanistan or northern Pakistan date to the second century CE and contain discourses of the Buddha and biographical accounts of his life. The manuscripts are fragmentary, and required extensive conservation and reconstruction. A number of the manuscripts have already been the subject of monographs and doctoral dissertations.1

In this truly multi-national undertaking, ‘Senior’ manuscripts are being edited at three institutions – University of Sydney, University of Washington and Cornell University – as well as by independent scholars across widely divergent time zones. Each of the research participants are peer stakeholders in the project. 

This project is funded by the University of Sydney and Prakas Foundation.

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1  Allon, Mark. 2007. “Introduction: The Senior Manuscripts.” In Andrew Glass, Four Gandhari Samyuktagama Sutras: Senior Kharosthi Fragment 5. Gandharan Buddhist Texts 4, pp. 3–25. Seattle: University of Washington Press ; Allon, Mark. 2014. “The Senior Kharosthī Manuscripts.” In Paul Harrison and Jens-Uwe Hartmann, eds., From Birch Bark to Digital Data: Recent Advances in Buddhist Manuscript Research. Papers Presented at the Conference Indic Buddhist Manuscripts: The State of the Field Stanford, June 15–19 2009, pp. 19–33. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2014.

The objectives of this project are to aggregate a selection of inscription from across two language/scripts, Gandhari/Kharosthi and Epigraphical Hybrid Sanskrit (EHS)/Brahmi. They were composed in both the first and second century of the Kusana period into a collection. The Kusana dominated across the greater Gandhara and extended into north-west India from the early first to third century.

The collection encompasses a range of exemplars recording the donation of different types of religious objects. The project leverages existing editions developed in the Gandharan relic inscriptions project and required development of a suite of EHS inscriptions.

The project stakeholders are the University of Sydney and the University of Hawaii.

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The Kuthodaw Pagoda Project was established for the purpose of photographing, documenting and studying the Kuthodaw Pagoda site and its Pali language inscriptions.

The project objectives are to pilot the digitisation of the entire canon by on-boarding a select number of texts. Existing digital Roman-script transliteration of the 6th Council edition are edited to reflect the readings of the Kuthodaw Pagoda stelae by a team of Burmese monks from the Sitagu Academy in Mandalay, Myanmar under project supervision.

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The project objectives were to pilot the integration of a Sanskrit inscriptions corpus from Angkor, Cambodia (7th-13th century CE) with geographic information system GIS mapping from the Angkor Toponymic Atlas and with historical scholarship on the region and its inscriptions.

Previously, multiple editions of these inscriptions were transliterated, catalogued and archived inconsistently, constraining any integrated analysis.

The initial phase focussed on the deconstruction of historical editions to create cubed TextBases which encapsulate the scholarly history of each inscription through multiple cloned edition substrates, each with critical annotations. Subsequent phases include the development of glossary, translation and historical annotation analysis strata.

The project stakeholders are the University of Sydney and the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO), with project funding awarded by the University of Sydney.

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Our people

  • Mark Allon (Academic)
  • Ian McCrabb (Digital platform)
  • Mark Allon (University of Sydney)
  • Isobel Andrews (Prakas Foundation)
  • Chris Clark (University of Sydney/University of Edinburgh)
  • Tamara Ditrich (Nan Tien Institute/University of Sydney)
  • Yang Li (Prakas Foundation)
  • Stephanie Majcher (Australian National University)
  • Ian McCrabb (University of Sydney)
  • Royce Wiles (Nan Tien Institute)
  • John Ryder (University of Sydney)
  • Blair Silverlock (University of Sydney)
  • Mike Butcher (University of Washington)
  • Collet Cox (University of Washington)
  • Julia Estève (Mahidol Univeristy)
  • Andrew Glass (Microsoft/University of Washington)
  • Paul Harrison (Stanford University)
  • Chanida Jantrasrisalai (DIRI)
  • Tim Lenz (University of Washington)
  • Joe Marino (Cornell University)
  • Jason Neelis (Wilfrid Laurier University)
  • Mike Skinner (University of Hawaii)
  • Richard Salomon (University of Washington)
  • Andrew Skilton (Oxford University)
  • Dominique Soutif (École française d’Extrême-Orient)
  • Steven White
  • Ryan Willis (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Academic lead

Dr Mark Allon