How did the snow lion become the symbol of Tibet?

Jamyang Norbu explains

Tibetan political activist and writer delves into history to talk about mythical creature’s origins

The Tibetan snow lion is a symbol of political authority, Tibetan political activist and writer Jamyang Norbu has told Down To Earth (DTE) in an interview.

“The snow lion is very important for the Tibetan world. That is why it is in the Tibetan national flag,” Norbu said, while speaking to DTE via Zoom.

The snow lion came into the spotlight most recently when Special Frontier Force (SFF) soldier, Tenzin Nyima was killed on the south bank of the Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh August 29, 2020.

“The snow lion is also the symbol of the Tibetan Government-in-exile as well as the SFF headquartered in Chakrata because it symbolises political authority. The lion is the king of beasts in most cultures and mythologies. Not just Tibetans and Indians, but British imperial power also used the lion as a symbol in the past,” Norbu said.

So how did the snow lion become a symbol of Tibet? “One theory is that it is because the lion is the symbol of the Buddha. The earliest iconography of Buddhism did not use an actual representation of the Buddha. It might have been done out of a sense of reverence. The whole art of depicting deities in stone did not exist at that time in India,” Norbu said.

Instead of depicting the human form, early Buddhists depicted the founder of the religion in the form of the Ashoka Chakra, which is today the symbol of the Indian Republic. Sometimes, the Buddha’s footprint was depicted instead of him.

“The term for lion in India is ‘Singha’ or ‘Singh’ in Punjab. In Tibet, the term is ‘Singe’. The terms are basically the same. The lion as an iconographic beast might have come to Tibet from India. Tibet does not have lions like India. Tibetans might have created this mythological creature, living in the snow. So he is all white but has all the qualities of a lion like courage, ferocity and nobleness. That became the symbol of old or imperial Tibet also,” Norbu said.

However, he also said it was possible that the snow lion could have already existed in Tibet.

“Buddhism came to Tibet rather late, around the 7th or 8th century. Pre-Buddhist kingdoms in Tibet followed the native Tibetan religion of Bon. They also had the stories of the snow lion. It could be that there was an earlier mythological creature native to Tibetans, with white body hair. It features in Tibetan literature and there are a lot of Tibetans in earlier times who claim to have seen it like in the Secret Biography of the Sixth Dalai Lama,” Norbu said.

The snow lion was also used on the banners and standards of the Tibetan Empire which stretched from Central Asia to the Bay of Bengal, Norbu said, adding that the snow lion was very important for Tibet.


This essay is a preliminary to the study of the modern Sinhala Buddhist civilization of Sri Lanka. This essay draws attention to those aspects of Asia’s Buddhist civilization, which are not well known and have not received much attention in Sri Lanka.

Buddhism, which originated in north India in the 6th century BC, spread over most of South and Southeast Asia, creating a vast Buddhist civilization, which included many sovereign states of today. Sri Lanka played an important role in preserving Buddhism and in spreading Buddhism within this region.

Buddhism held a monopoly position in Asia until the 16th century. In the 16th century, South and Southeast Asia went under Muslim rule and then Christian rule. Sri Lanka had 450 years of Christian rule, during which Sri Lanka’s Buddhist heritage came under attack. Buddhism returned to its ‘rightful place’ after independence in 1948, to the open resentment of the other religions, which had been given entrenched positions by the foreign rulers.

Buddhism is the only atheist (non-God) religion among the three world religions[1]. This makes it unique. Buddhism does not speak of a God and does not call for the assistance of a God in human affairs. It did not say, as other religions did, that a God figured in the creation of the world. Buddhism has no theory of creation. In addition, Buddha said he was not a messenger, incarnation or a prophet of God. He was not a supernatural being at all. He was plain human and if he could achieve Buddhahood, so could others.

Buddhism was very much a product of the Indian thinking of its time. India in the 6th century BC was teeming with various philosophical ideas. It was in a veritable religious and philosophical ferment, said Ananda Guruge. The public changed faith frequently and there was competition for followers. When they met, people asked each other, ‘who is your teacher’.

The most important contribution of Buddhism to this medley was its focus on the individual, on analytical thinking and on the control of the mind. However, concentration of the mind is only a means to an end. Buddhist teachings are a raft to be abandoned later, said the Buddha. Buddha played a pioneering role in concept formation in Indian philosophy, said Guruge.

Buddhism begins with the present, with the empirical observations of human existence. But these were given a new twist. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said ‘one cannot step twice into the same river’. Buddha said ‘the same man cannot step twice into the same river’.

Nirvana was the goal, but that was far away. What were Buddhists to do till then? Lay Buddhists were advised to carry out duties and obligations which ensure harmony and common good. Buddha was as concerned with saving and investment of capital as with the duties of a ruler and duties one owes to ones parents, family, friend, and even servants, said Guruge.

Buddha found it advisable to build on the existing knowledge and use the vocabulary that existed. Buddha incorporated some of the existing philosophical ideas into his own doctrine. These include the theory of samsara, rebirth, Karma and meditation. Anthropologists have sneered as Sri Lankan Buddhists saying that they imagine that Buddhist concepts, especially Karma, are unique to Buddhism.

Buddha used the existing vocabulary, as well, but gave the words new meanings. He used ‘Tevijja’ to mean Buddhist knowledge not the three Vedas. He gave new meanings to ‘arahant’, ‘dharma’, ‘atman’, ‘Samadhi.’

Buddhism arose long after Brahmanism was established in India. The Vedas had been organized into the three Samhitas and the Vedic literature, such as the Upanishads, had been written long before Buddhism appeared. But it is doubtful whether the Buddha was exposed to the full impact of this literature, said Guruge. The Vedic teachings were known only to a limited group. and the part of India in which the Buddha lived was on the periphery of the Vedic civilization. The Buddhist canon therefore shows only a vague acquaintance with the Vedic literature, said Guruge.

Buddha’s preachings were directed towards the intelligent listener. The doctrine of Anatta was not intended for those who are dull, because they will fall into the error of nihilism, Buddha said. Buddhist learning consisted of progressively difficult mental exercises. Buddha had designed individualized courses of meditation for his disciples according to each ones personality. In Majjhima nikaya, Buddha compared his teaching to training a horse or elephant, learning archery or accountancy.

Buddha was a skilful teacher. His discourses were planned with meticulous care. There was an orderly presentation of ideas, said Guruge. Beginning with an attention catching statement he analyses a Buddhist concept into its constituent elements. He posed a battery of questions aimed at convincing and leading his listeners gradually to his point of view. He sets tasks which made people arrive at conclusions, by their own efforts.

Buddha’s teachings had been committed to memory and classified during the time of the Buddha itself. Scholar monks recorded the utterances of the Buddha and his disciples and classified them, said Guruge. Commentaries began to appear in the Buddha’s life time. And when the first Buddhist Council was held within three months of the death of Buddha, disciples were able to have a ‘general rehearsal’ of all teachings and examine its codification and classification, reported Guruge. A body of knowledge divided into Vinaya and Dhamma had emerged.

There was other literary activity going on. Indices, tables of contents, summaries and annotated references were prepared to keep track of the growing mass of sayings, sermons, discourses, debates, clarifications, interpretations, elucidations, expositions as well as poems. There were mnemonical summaries to facilitate recall and a proper system of indexing. All this literary activity commenced in the time of Buddha, presumably under his direction, said Guruge.

Buddha used the Magadhi language for his teachings. These sermons were later converted to Pali language . Pali was a literary language , not a spoken one and it showed many divergences from Magadhi , said Guruge. The word Pali means ‘text’.

Guruge gives us information on Gautama Buddha as a person. The Buddha was not the austere person some western scholars have attempted to show, Guruge said. Buddha could appreciate good music and had commented favorably on a love lyric.

Buddha had a fine aesthetic sense. He saw the beauty of a well laid paddy field and ordered the monks to sew their robes in a similar design. Buddha chose beautiful sites for his stops during missionary activities. Donors should construct beautiful monasteries and gift them to the monks, Buddha said in the Chullavagga.

The Buddha was a persuasive orator, whose powerful verbal onslaughts on opponent and lucid and eloquent explosions of moral and spiritual values were worth of record and repetition. Similes drawn from everyday life made his discourses picturesque. He delved into legend and history for anecdotes and illustrations. He made apt use of dramatization and visual aids drawn from the environment.

He was a poet of extraordinary talent, whose picturesque language, figures of speech and simple metrical compositions had a permanent appeal, said Guruge. Buddha presented his ideas in metre, usually a quatrain of 32 syllables. Around the Buddha was a galaxy of equally gifted poets.

Buddha was a great story teller, and his repertoire, judging by the Buddhist literature, was enormous, continued Guruge. He could create or recall a story to suit every occasion. Buddha delved deep into the vast folk literature of India for stories and anecdotes which he cleverly adapted to illustrate doctrinal points. The Jataka stories are a collection of 547 Indian stories which become Buddhist only because the main characters are connected to the Buddha. The Hindu and Jain stories are also based on this common source of Indian folklore, Guruge added.

Buddha did not appoint a successor, nor did he create an ‘administrative set up’. Buddha had no pre conceived plan for the Sangha either. The Sangha evolved gradually. Rules were laid down for the Sangha as and when situations arose. But a vibrant Sangha was created. It proved to be a resilient organization with a proven capacity for self regeneration.

The Sangha were effective teachers. Moggalana had illustrated a talk on dependent origination using the diagram of a wheel. This became a popular motif in Nepal and in the Tangka paintings of Tibet.Monks and nuns prepared their own sermons and even composed poetic appreciations of their way of life, as in Thera-theri gatha.

Monks were expected to have a good memory, legible well rounded hand writing, and clear speech.In all Buddhist countries parents sent their children to the Buddhist temple to learn akuru, said Guruge.

Monks also had a wide range of manual and technical skills. They knew something of wood work, masonry, and metal work. In Tibet monks studied carpentry, masonry, sewing and embroidery as well as their religious subjects.

The Sangha consisted of women as well as men. The bhikkhuni order was created soon after the bhikkhu order.In the Vinaya Pitaka there is a separate Bhikkhuni vibanga. A collection of scriptures concerning the role and abilities of women in the early Sangha is found in the fifth division of the Samyutta Nikaya, known as the Bhikkhunī-Saṃyutta . A number of the nuns whose verses are found in the Therigatha also have verses in the book of the Khuddaka Nikaya known as the Apadāna.

An important feature of Buddhism was the creation of monasteries. Settled life within monasteries promoted the pursuit of study , debate, discussion teaching and research. There was intellectual liberalism. The Buddha asked the monks to avoid tradition, dogma, subject everything to critical examination, including his own teachings.

A distinctive feature of Buddhist education in the monastery was its individual cantered learning. Teacher met each pupil individually, not in a class taught collectively by teacher. Student spent time in self learning, using commentaries, glossaries, indexes and lexicons. He had to provide an original composition in the final exam.However, no student was considered a failure in monastery. An average student was given the task of memorizing material or printing texts for dissemination.

As Buddhism evolved into an organized religion, there was a need for a permanent record of its activities and donations received as well. This led to the well known Buddhist tradition of record keeping.

There was a substantial Buddhist literature..The missionary outlook, the monastic organization and the intellectual interaction of highly motivated men and women provided an ideal climate for intensive literary activity, observed Guruge.

In addition to the Buddhist philosophy, the literature consisted also of secondary material. Thera gatha” is written by monks, starting with those who lived during the time of the Buddha. The collection has continued to grow until at least the Third Buddhist Council. Many of the verses are on the attempts of monks to overcome the temptations of Mara. One set of verses is recited by the reformed killer Angulimala. Verses mirror contemporary secular poetry of their time, with romantic lyrics replaced with religious imagery.

Theri gatha is a collection of short poems by senior Bhikkhunis. They also start in the late 6th century BC and go on for the next 300 years. They were composed orally in the Magadhi language and were passed on orally until about 80 B.C.E., when they were written down in Pali. It is the earliest known collection of women’s literature composed in India.

The Therigatha contains passages reaffirming the view that women are equal to men in terms of spiritual attainment . It also contains verses that address issues of particular interest to women in ancient South Asian society. There are verses of a mother whose child has died ,a former sex worker who became a nun, a wealthy heiress who abandoned her life of pleasure and even verses by the Buddha’s own aunt and stepmother, Mahapajapati Gotami . One verse is spoken by a woman trying to talk her husband out of becoming a monk.

The Buddhist doctrine was formalized in the three Councils held after the death of the Buddha. The first Council was held at Rajgir under King Ajatasattu (492 to 460 BC) three months after the death of the Buddha. A major part of the Sutta and Vinaya pitaka were decided at this Council.

Second council was at Vaisali, under King Kalasoka (395 –  367 BC) hundred years after death of Buddha, This council met to discuss disputes regarding Vinaya rules. By this time, new schools of Buddhism had developed. These breakaway groups were present at this Council. Their first set of disagreements was on how to interpret the Vinaya rules, and then they went on to doctrinal differences.

The Third Council was Pataliputra, under Dharmasoka (268 – 232 BC). This was a very Important Council. The Theravada canon which we have today was decided at this Council. At this Council too, there were differences of opinion between the various Buddhist schools. The Sarvastivada and Mahasanghika schools attending this Council later helped to develop Mahayana.

There are three major Buddhist canons, Pali Tripitaka, Tibetan Tripitaka and the Mahayana texts. Each Buddhist canon is a series of distinct texts. Pali Tripitaka, consists of Vinaya, Sutta and Abhidamma Pitaka. Several sections of the Sutta Pitaka are of high literary value.

The Pali canon was the best preserved, most complete and nearest to the original, said Guruge. The Buddhist texts of the other schools, found in fragments, quotations and translations confirm this. The Vinaya texts of the Sarvastivada School preserved in Chinese and Tibetan translations confirm the antiquity of the Vinaya pitaka.

The rigidity of the Theravada school, the sheltered existence it enjoyed under royal patronage in India and Sri Lanka, the writing down of it in Sri Lanka and the unbroken tradition of learning maintained in monasteries in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia had helped Theravada to keep the Buddha word in its purity, said Guruge.

The Pali canon also provides information on the Buddha . The oldest version of the life of the Buddha, possibly, is found in the Mahavagga .This is one of the most readable parts of the Canon, too. Digha nikaya provides information which can be used to reconstruct the life of the Buddha, also the contemporary political social and religious history of India. Cullavagga speaks of the First and Second Councils .

Buddhism branched into different schools of Buddhism. But the fundamental doctrines of these different Buddhist schools did not differ. They remained faithful to the original teachings. The core of all these canons is identical. Even the divergences reveal development from a common base. Buddhist texts scattered all over Asia, preserved over time , show common elements. This similarity helps to establish the antiquity and reliability of the contents, observed Guruge.

The Sarvastivada and Mahasanghika schools which had attended the Third Council were the breakaway groups which later developed into Mahayana. By first century Mahasanghika school had its centers in Mathura, India and Afghanistan. The Sarvastivadins were active in Kashmir.

Kushan emperor Kanishka I (120-144) favoured Sarvastivadin School. The Kushan Empire, included Northern India and Afghanistan. Kushan gave royal patronage to Sarvastivadin school. There were many adherents and this was a period of spectacular progress.

Initially, Mahayana and Theravada seem to have run parallel to each other in India. Four philosophical schools of Buddhism arose in India in the 7th century AD. They were Vaibhasika and Sautrantika schools (Theravada) and the Madhyamika and Yogacara schools (Mahayana). These four philosophical schools represented an age of great intellectual activity among the Buddhist of India, said Guruge.

Madhyamika school was funded by Nagarjuna. its centre was Nalanda. Through Nalanda, Madhyamika school exerted enormous influence in Mahayana. Nagarjuna’s chief disciple was Aryadeva. Aryadeva succeeded Nagarjuna as head of the Madhyamika school of thought and also became the head of Nalanda University . Aryadeva was from Sri Lanka . These Madhyamikas were prolific writers . Both Nagarjuna and Aryadeva wrote reams, said Guruge.

The leader of the Yogachara school was Dharmapala. He was succeeded by Silabadhra. Hiuen Tsang studied under Silabadhra at Nalanda. He translated many Yogacara texts to Chinese. There was also Chandragomin, who knew philosophy, medicine, architecture, grammar, and wrote on them. He had lived short periods in Sri Lanka and Tibet.

Silabadhra was followed by Dharmakirti , also a disciple of Dharmapala. Dharmakirthi’s contribution to science of logic was highly regarded and the Yogachara school made a great impact on Buddhist logic, said Guruge. The contribution made by the two Mahayana schools to the development of logic in India was enormous.

the growth of Mahayana was not the result of violent dissensions, disagreements or conflicts as in the case of Christianity. It was gradual. It started with an overlap. both Theravada and Mahayana were accepted in the Kushan empire.

When Hiuen Tsang went to India in 7 AD, he found 54,500 monks who were both Mahayana and Hinayana. There was also another 32000 e Mahayana and 96,000 Hinayana. in Sri Lanka too, the original intention, in my view, was to start with an overlap. That is why Jetavana was placed inside the Mahavihara.

The concept of Buddha hood differed in Mahayana. Mahayana gave Buddha supernatural powers and miracles. There was a pantheon of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, including the five Dhyani Buddhas. Bodhisattvas ranked also most as gods. The most popular bodhisatvas were Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Vajrapani, and Samantabadra.

Worship of stupas, Buddha statues , Buddha relics and the Bo tree had begun long before Mahayana. Buddha himself approved the building of Chaitya to enshrine relics. But it is Mahayana that gave supremacy to these external forms of worship. Ceremonies such as taking images and relics in procession became elaborate and popular. This was very different to the simple practices of the early Buddhists who placed greater emphasis on Dana, Sila and Bhavana. But eventually, these Mahayana practices were accepted into the puritanical Theravada as well. There is a great deal of Mahayanism in the Theravada practices in Sri Lanka .

Mahayana used Sanskrit as the medium of communication. There was a substantial Buddhist Sanskrit literature, such as Lalitavistara and many Mahayana writers such as Asvaghosa, (2 cent AD). But most Sanskrit Mahayana texts are in fragments today. Most of the information is taken from Chinese and Tibetan translations.

Mahayana training differed from Theravada. Mahayana included a wide variety of non-Buddhist subjects such as medicine, astronomy, mathematics. Monks were trained also to be disputants. dialectics and logic received utmost attention..

Mahayana set up large institutions, where scholars from various parts of India as well as neighboring countries could attend. The most prominent were Nalanda in Bihar and Valabhi in Gujerat. Chinese monks studies there and recorded their impressions.

Chinese monk Hiuen Tsang ( 602-664)studied for five years at Nalada. His account showed that Nalanda was a fully fledged University with various faculties, admission and examination procedure, libraries and lecture halls. Chinese monk I-Tsing (635-713) studied at Vallabhi for five years. Vallabhi provided training in secular subjects . The course was 2-3 duration, names of exceptional graduates was engraved on gates. The government of Vallabhi recruited Vallabhi graduates for employment.

There was also Vikramasila and Odantapuri, both in present day Bihar and both established in the 8th century . Odantapuri was considered second only to Nalanda. In Vikramasila, admission was gained through participating in a debate. the degree awarded was that of Pandita. these institutions were destroyed by the Muslim rulers arriving in India in the 12 century

Mahayana doctrine was firmly established in China and Tibet. There was a direct route from Gandhara to China. Mahayana went along this route to China. In 5th century AD, Kumarajiva translated Mahayana texts to Chinese. Chinese and Tibetan translations are found even when the original Sanskrit versions of Mahayana doctrine have disappeared.

The third school of Buddhism which rose to importance was that of Tantra or Vajrayana Buddhism. This arose in 8th century AD in Bihar and Bengal. Tantric Buddhism included sex , mysticism, and magical cults. It had prayer wheels, recitations like ‘Om padme hum’ and the Mandala illustration. The central figure was the Buddha Vairocana,. Vajrayana Buddhism became entrenched in Nepal, Tibet , Mongolia and other Himalayan kingdoms.

Cambodian man arrested with almost 300 centuries-old jars

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A man on Cambodia’s southern coast was arrested for possessing almost 300 centuries-old earthenware jars that he is believed to have salvaged from a shipwreck, an official said Tuesday.

Khieng Phearum, a spokesman for Preah Sihanouk province, said the 42-year-old man was arrested late Sunday after authorities determined that he was illegally keeping 281 small and big jars presumed to be legally protected antiquities at his home.

The man, who was still being interrogated on Tuesday, is an expert diver and had been spotted in the area of an underwater shipwreck in the Gulf of Thailand off the coastal city of Sihanoukville from which the pottery is believed to have been retrieved, Khieng Phearum said,

He said he did not know how the man retrieved the jars or how long they have been in his possession, but the authorities had become aware of his collection, and after observation, arrested the man at his home.

It was not known if the man intended to sell the jars, but he is expected to be charged under a law protecting Cambodia’s cultural heritage.

Long Punna Serivath, a spokesman for the Culture and Fine Arts Ministry, said Monday that judging from photos of the jars, they were likely made some time during the 15th to 17th centuries, officially making them antiquities.

Buth Bupha, a director of the Culture and Fine Arts Department of Preah Sihanouk province, said the origin of the jars and the ship from which they were presumably taken have not yet been established, and experts will study the collection for answers.

He said that in 2015, several hundred pieces of similar pottery were collected from a sunken Chinese ship off nearby Koh Kong province.

Ayurvedic literature: Delving into its history

The travelogue of Chinese pilgrim Faxian was the earliest testimony to describe the healthcare system in ancient South Asia. It is close to the description by the earliest Ayurvedic compendium, Charaka Samhita

Ayurveda has become a buzzword in the contemporary setting of medicine in the era of COVID-19. There are many discussions on Ayurvedic approaches towards enjoying a healthy life. However, there is hardly any discussion on the historical landscape of Ayurveda. How do we understand Ayurveda in a historical setting? What are the major textual interventions of the formation of this medical system? In the early 5th century of the Common Era (CE), the Chinese Buddhist monk and translator, Faxian, travelled on foot to South Asia and Southeast Asia. In Pataliputra, modern-day Patna, he saw the city’s astounding beauty and well-managed healthcare infrastructure where senior citizens and children were well taken care of. The city dwellers were affluent, and the business people supported the pharmacy in distributing medicines to the patients.

Furthermore, the city administrators supported every aspect of the patients in hospital.

The travelogue of Faxian was the earliest testimony to describe how healthcare was managed in ancient South Asia. The healthcare setting that the Chinese pilgrim discussed is amply proximate to the description by the earliest Ayurvedic compendium, Charaka Samhita.

Ayurveda is the science of longevity. Ayurveda is a healthcare system based on nature, daily regimen, activities related to the seasons.

It does include a wide range of surgical procedures also. The Ayurvedic compendia describe a broader range of topics from moral and ethical aspects to the pathological, medical and broader medical setting. Ayurveda encompasses all aspects of human healthcare. One of the most important clusters of ideas in the Ayurvedic tradition is that which relates together the humors (dosha), body tissues (dhatu) and waste products (mala). The three-humoral theory is based on the wind (vata), bile (pitta) and phlegm (kapha or shleshman).

This theory seems to be similar to the ancient Greek health theory propounded and enriched by medical philosophers like Hippocrates and Galen and others.

There are three major Ayurvedic compendia in classical Ayurvedic studies.

The Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtangahridaya Samhita.

Among them, the Charaka Samhita is the earliest one, dating from the third or second centuries BCE.

The other important treatise of the Ayurvedic medical system is Sushruta Samhita, dating from about 500 CE. One of the prominent scholars of Ayurvedic studies, Meulenbeld, says that the treatise has several historical layers, and the earliest layer might have been composed in the last centuries BCE. This treatise is particularly notable since it systematically talks about surgery in detail. The types of surgical instruments to be used and diseases that require surgery are dealt with in the text in addition to other medical procedures.

This is the earliest text that describes surgery at such length in the world.

One of the earliest dated handwritten manuscripts of this text is preserved in the Kaiser Library in Kathmandu.

The other important treatise is the Ashtangahridaya Samhita. This text was composed by Vagbhata, possibly from Sind, from modern-day Pakistan. This treatise describes concisely the significant issues discussed by the two previous compendia, Charaka and Sushruta. This text is the most famous treatise that is taught in the Ayurvedic colleges of Nepal and India.

There is not much information about the composer of the text. Scholars like Meulenbeld states that Vagbhata is from the early decade of the seventh century CE, a Sind resident and a follower of Buddhism.

Scholars like Dominik Wujastyk mention that the work of Vagbhata in South Asia is like that of Galen and Avicenna in Europe and the Middle East. The wisdom manifest in the treatise has not been surmounted by anyone in Ayurvedic literature.

Other major contributing Ayurvedic treatises are the Madhava Nidana, Kashyapa Samhita and Bhela Samhita, composed before 10th century CE.

They became a milestone in the development of Ayurvedic literature. The Kashyapa Samhita is particularly significant in the treatment of children’s diseases.

This text also discusses demonology. The treatise also deals with questions about how children suffer from demons and how those problems could be overcome.

A fascinating medical event took place in 12th century CE when the broader use of mercury was mentioned in Ayurvedic treatises. Since then, alchemical literature has pervaded in Ayurvedic literature.

Some scholars like Meulenbeld and Prafulla Chandra Ray argue that the extended use of alchemical procedures took a significant presence in South Asian medical tradition by the influence of Arabic-Persian medical tradition. The alchemical literature talks about gold, mercury and other metals in the treatment of patients. Similarly, alchemical literature discusses the methodology of achieving immortality using the elixir. In this same era, Ayurvedic literature introduced pulse testing. Later in the 16th century, pulse tests became widespread in medical literature, a technique still used widely by Ayurvedic physicians today.

Like every medical tradition, Ayurveda also has its limitations. No medical system is perfect, neither the modern nor Ayurveda.

We need an approach that could integrate both Ayurveda and other established medical systems.

Rimal has been researching the history of science in South Asia in Sanskrit

Buddha’s head restored on statue with 3D tech

A Buddha’s head has been three-dimensionally printed to restore a stone statue at the Longmen Grottoes, a world cultural heritage site, in central China’s Henan Province.

The printed head, which is 40cm tall and 30cm wide, perfectly matches the remaining part of the Buddha statue carved on the northern wall of Fengxian Temple in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), said Yang Chaojie, a researcher with the research institute of the grottoes.

Located in the city of Luoyang, the Longmen Grottoes include more than 2,300 grottoes with 110,000 Buddhist figures and images, over 80 dagobas and 2,800 inscribed tablets created between the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) and Song Dynasty (960-1279).

In the early 20th Century, the grottoes were largely damaged and looted, with many Buddha’s statues carried overseas. Wen Yucheng, former head of the institute, said the Buddha’s head was missing after 1923 and was purchased by the Shanghai Museum in 1957.

Restoration research in cooperation with the museum started in May 2019. Among the museum’s five relics items confirmed to have come from the Longmen Grottoes, the Buddha’s head was the first one that was identified with its original location in the grottoes.

Shi Jiazhen, head of the institute, said the restoration using 3D technology has provided a new choice for the missing relics to “return home.”

Sadly undervalued: Southeast Asia’s oldest civilisation – the Bujang Valley

It felt utterly surreal.

Standing inside the ancient ruins of the approximately 1,500-year-old Bukit Batu Pahat temple, built amidst delightful, lush greenery and the soothing sounds of the Merbok Kechil River running right next to it, I yearned to be transported to a time when the Bujang Valley civilisation in Kedah was at its zenith, some 2,500 years ago.

Gently resting my fingers on the robust stone blocks lining the temple walls, I closed my eyes and tried to visualise its past splendor.

Tired, travel-weary traders from both the East and the West would have docked in Pengkalan Bujang, before making their way into the thronging city. If they were travelling at night, the brightly burning beacons atop large stone hearths on the mighty Mount Jerai would have safely guided them into the jetty. Once they berthed and furled up their sails, sweaty stevedores would have helped them unload their precious cargo and safely transport them to the city.

Once in the city, they would have bartered for a whole host of things including metals, textiles, rainforest produce and ornaments with traders from all over Asia. Its diverse ethnic and linguistic composition would likely have resembled that of a modern metropolitan city.

After a busy few days of conducting business and enjoying the excellent facilities that Bujang Valley offered, they would have replenished their supplies in preparation for the return journey. But before they did, they would have made their way up to the many temples there, including the Bukit Batu Pahat Temple, to gain blessings for their long, onerous trip back home.

Oh what I would not give to have experienced life back then.

Having known about the significance of Bujang Valley for a long time, and having visited it recently, I mourned the lack of attention given to it by our history books, local media and popular culture.

They have imprinted on us that Malacca is the most historic city in Malaysia. The great civilisations that predated it, including Bujang Valley, have been relegated to the sidelines – a fact I’ve always found to be bizarre.

I’ve always thought that there has to be a lot more to the story than they would have us believe. After all, Malacca, as impressive as it must have been in its heyday, is still a relatively young city – only being settled from around 600 years ago (post-1,400 AD).

But we live on the fractured remains of the prehistoric landmass of Sundaland – home to at least tens of thousands of years of continuous human habitation. So surely we must have had sophisticated, ancient cities that predated Malacca and rivalled the antiquity of the Roman Empire, and the Chola and Han dynasties?

And sure enough, our very own Lembah Bujang did.

Mirroring the Hindu-Buddhist philosophy which its inhabitants are believed to have been steeped in, it had many names – the Indians called it Kadaram, the Chinese called it Chieh-Cha and the Arabs called it Kalah.

Strategically sandwiched between the snaking, life-sustaining Muda River and the coast-hugging, majestic Mount Jerai, Bujang Valley was a thriving, bustling port city from at least 535 BCE – more than a staggering 2,500 years ago.

This easily predates Southeast Asia’s historical juggernauts, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which was built in the 12th-century and Borobudur in Indonesia, which was built in the 9th-century, thus making Bujang Valley the oldest civilisation not just in Malaysia but also all of Southeast Asia.

The reason for its rise to prominence is immediately apparent. Thanks to Bujang Valley’s felicitous location, sailors and traders from India, China, and the Arab world would have been hard pressed to find a better place to seek respite in after an arduous journey by sea. The massive Mount Jerai would have been an unmissable landmark and the Merbok estuary would have provided sheltered anchorage and easy passage deep into Kedah via its extensive riverine network.

The prevailing theory about Bujang Valley’s origins is that it started as a trading settlement before evolving into the first port in Southeast Asia and one of the busiest of its time. It was heavily influenced by Tamil kingdoms of old and is thought to initially have been an outpost of the regionally dominant Langkasuka empire before it was absorbed by the rapidly rising Srivijaya empire.

The fact that the landscape is bestrewn with smaller shrines as opposed to large ones similar to those found in Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia lend credence to the claim that it was more a bustling, commercially indispensable entrepot than a political powerhouse.

However, not everyone agrees with this assessment. V Nadarajan, a local historian, says that Bujang Valley was the “foremost and most prominent maritime kingdom of Southeast Asia in ancient times; like Melaka later and Singapore even later”. As evidence of this, he cites the fact that Rajendra Chola, the king of the powerful Tamil empire at the time was given the title “Kadaram-kondan”, which means the conqueror of Kadaram. For such a title to be bestowed upon him, it must have been a highly significant victory over a worthy adversary.

The unearthing of metal smelting facilities, and evidence of it being an administrative centre, by University Sains Malaysia’s archaeological team at nearby Sungai Batu recently strengthens this argument even further.

I’m sure there are more treasures buried from around Gunung Jerai right up to Cherok To’ Kun in Seberang Perai. Why, I wonder, isn’t more being done to unearth these treasures or to aggressively promote the Bujang Valley as Southeast Asia’s oldest civilisation?

Bujang Valley’s reign as the preeminent port city in the region lasted an astonishing 1,500 to 2000 years, up till the storied rise of Malacca in the 15th century, which went on to supplant it.

However, having visited both Angkor Wat and Borobudur, I was slightly underwhelmed by the unostentatious, modest-looking temples that dot Bujang Valley. But I quickly shrugged the feeling off, attributing this to the fact that its earliest inhabitants were centuries older than those of Angkor Wat and Borobudur and hence probably did not yet possess the technology to create the intricate relief sculptures that adorn the ancient Cambodian and Indonesian architectural marvels.

But the moment I entered the Lembah Bujang Archeological Museum, I realised how wrong I was.

Inside, my eyes caught sight of an arresting, exquisitely carved stone sculpture of the Hindu mythological figure Kaala, which was perched at the tail end of a broken stairway. A bestial, menacing presence, Kaala is the personification of time. It is meant to remind us of how time will claim us all eventually; and that it’s important that we make the best of it while we can.

This spectacular sculpture easily rivalled the architectural complexity and beauty of those found in Angkor Wat and Borobudur.

This indicates there must invariably have been entire walls or pillars that were furnished with such pulchritudinous sculptures. Unfortunately all we are left with today are the broken bits and pieces of these once-majestic, but now badly desecrated structures.

Alas, as the day came to a close, forcing me to begrudgingly leave the site, I couldn’t help but imagine how it would be if the ancient structures in Bujang Valley still stood tall, the way Angkor Wat and Borobudur still do. Imagine what an absolutely spectacular sight it would be. Imagine how much more we would now know about our rich, illustrious past.

Just imagine.

Buddha statue in Taiwan’s Taroko National Park vandalized

Marred Guanyin statue has stood on cliff trail in Hualien for over 100 years

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The tourism authorities are hunting down vandals who intentionally damaged a century-old Buddha statue on an old trail in Taroko National Park (太魯閣國家公園) in eastern Taiwan.

A tourist guide reported Monday (Aug. 24) that a Guanyin statue on the Zhuilu Old Road (錐麓古道), a cliff trail in the scenic park in Hualien County, had been vandalized, with multiple scratches appearing on its face.

Upset by the defacement of the historic stone statue, the guide surnamed Yang urged the authorities to beef up protection of the relic by adding acrylic fences or relocating it to the visitor center downhill for better preservation, wrote CNA.

Finding the offenders may be challenging, as the surrounding area in the forest is without CCTV cameras. The Taroko National Park administration will reinforce patrols while working to restore the Buddha.

The 60-centimeter-tall statue was built between 1914-15, when the Zhuilu Old Road underwent repair. The 10.3-kilometer trail, which is partly closed, requires visitors to apply at least one day ahead.

Tourists are warned against the willful destruction of any public property in Taiwan’s national parks, which can result in fines of NT$3,000 (US$102) in compliance with the National Park Law, per Liberty Times.

Flood waters reach the toes of China’s famous giant Buddha statue

(CNN)Floods in southern China have caused water from the Yangtze River to rise and reach the toes of a famous towering statue of the Buddha — reportedly for the first time in decades.
Leshan’s Giant Buddha, a 233 foot (71 meters) sitting buddha carved out of a hillside around 1,200 years ago, is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in China’s Sichuan province.
It usually sits comfortably above the waters of the Yangtze — the world’s third longest river — and tourists gather at its base.

Waters also threatened the Buddha’s toes in this photo from August 12.
Waters also threatened the Buddha’s toes in this photo from August 12.
But the area was closed on Monday as river water rose high enough to touch the buddha’s toes, which has not happened in at least seven decades, according to state-run media outlet Xinhua.
Police and staff put sandbags at the platform under the historic statue’s feet, trying to build a dam to protect it from the rushing water — but by the next morning, the rising water had already covered the toes.
The area remains closed as thousands of citizens evacuate to safety, and as emergency personnel begin search and rescue operations. Officials on Chinese social media posted that the area may re-open later this week after safety assessments are carried out.
This file photo shows tourists at the feet of the giant Buddha, which is usually untroubled by river water.
This file photo shows tourists at the feet of the giant Buddha, which is usually untroubled by river water.
Summer flooding is not uncommon in the region — but this year has seen the worst floods in decades, destroying the homes and livelihoods of millions of people as the country struggles to revive an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
The floods, which began in earnest in June, have impacted at least 55 million people — more than the entire population of Canada.
Some 2.24 million residents have been displaced, with 141 people dead or missing, the Ministry of Emergency Management said in July.
China’s Three Gorges Dam is one of the largest ever created. Was it worth it?
China’s Three Gorges Dam is one of the largest ever created. Was it worth it?
At least 443 rivers nationwide have been flooded, with 33 of them swelling to the highest levels ever recorded, the Ministry of Water Resources said in July.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Water Resources raised the national emergency response alert for flood control to level 2 — the second highest in a four-tier system.
In Sichuan, where Leshan’s Buddha is located, authorities activated the highest level of flood control response on Tuesday for the first time ever. Sections of the river and basin in the area were hit by floods “rarely seen in a hundred years,” according to Xinhua.
The majority of these flooding rivers are in the vast basin of the Yangtze River, which flows from west to east through the densely populated provinces of central China. The river is the longest and most important waterway in the country, irrigating large swathes of farmland and linking a string of inland industrial metropolises with the commercial hub of Shanghai on the eastern coast.
‘Everything is gone.’ Flooding in China ruins farmers and risks rising food prices
‘Everything is gone.’ Flooding in China ruins farmers and risks rising food prices
The flooding has not only washed away people’s homes and communities — but their farms and food supply as well. Last month, floods destroyed thousands of acres of farmland in Jiangxi province alone. The broader Yangtze River basin accounts for 70% of the country’s rice production.

China’s Ministry of Emergency Management pegs the direct economic cost of the disaster at $21 billion in destroyed farmland, roads and other property.
Beijing has so far been able to secure food supplies by importing vast amounts of produce from other countries, and by releasing tens of millions of tons from strategic reserves — but analysts warn that such measures can only be useful for so long.

Buddha statue recovered during construction activity destroyed by locals in K-P

Status was discovered by locals during construction activity in the area


A Buddha statue discovered during construction activity in K-P’s Mardan district was smashed into pieces on Saturday by locals.

The statue was discovered by locals in the Takht Bhai area of Mardan. A video available with The Express Tribune shows locals smashing the statue using a sledgehammer.

A senior officer of the Tourism Department said authorities have taken notice of the incident and are looking into the matter.

Director Archeology Abdul Samad said the area was traced and those involved in vandalism will be held accountable. “We have located the area and we will soon have those involved arrested,” he said.

The Takht Bhai area is a tourist destination for people from Sri Lanka, Korea and Japan since it was a part of the Gandhara Civilisation – one of the earliest urban settlements documented in the history of the subcontinent.

Excavated in 1836 for the first time, archaeologists have excavated hundreds of relics made of clay, stucco and terracotta in the area.

In a dictionary from 15th century India, illustrations of dolls, yo-yos and other playthings

It offers a glimpse into what childhood looked like in Central India’s Malwa Sultanate.

The Miftāḥ al-Fużalā or Key of the Learned of Muḥammad Dā’ūd Shādiyābādī, a multilingual illustrated Persian dictionary written in 1468, gives us glimpses into the ephemeral life of the sultanate of Malwa in Central India. This illustrated dictionary has quadruple the number of illustrations – 179 in total – as Mandu’s famed Ni‘matnāmah or Book of Delights , but it has mostly escaped scholarly attention until recently.

It has been attributed to 1490 based on its paintings’ close relationship to a contemporaneous Shirazi idiom. Like the Ni‘matnāmah, it is a unicum and no other known illustrated versions survive. Other works by Shadiyabadi include a vernacularised Persian transcreation of al-Jazarī’s 12th-century Arabic book on automata, Wonders of Crafts or ‘Ajā’ib al-Ṣanā‘ī, and a commentary on the Persian poet Khāqānī’s oeuvre.

My doctoral thesis, Wonder Reoriented: Manuscripts and Experience in Islamicate Societies of South Asia – a study of the corpus of Islamicate cosmographies and related wonder manuscripts in South Asia – was prompted by the Miftāḥ. My work on the Miftāḥ and the ‘Ajā’ib al-Ṣanā‘ī led me to conduct a global search of early-modern manuscripts devoted to wonder and the cosmos made in South Asia. Through a philological and codicological analysis of the Miftāḥ, my thesis argues that the experience of this book generated a playful, didactive soundscape and its form and function owed much to the genre of the Islamicate cosmography. The definitions contained in the Miftāḥ shed light on nearly every aspect of early-modern material culture including metalwork, textiles, arms and armour, food, and architecture.
Toys and visual synonyms

As a happy diversion from today’s world, here I present some of the toys from the Miftāḥ. The Miftāḥ’s large, well-spaced nasta‘līq writing suggests that it may have been intended for a young learner, likely a child. The inclusion of several entries devoted to toys also implies a child reader.
Dolls or bādajan in the ‘Miftāḥ al-Fużalā’. Credit: British Library

For example, the first illustrated entry one encounters in the Miftāḥ is for the term dolls. Shadiyabadi defines “bādajan” as “dolls that young girls make clothes for and play with, and in Hindavi they are called ‘guriy[a]’.” Like a child playing with their early-modern Cabbage Patch Kids, the entry shows a young girl putting her three dolls to bed. It captures a lost moment of childhood play from the past.

To work on the Miftāḥ I developed a finding aid in Excel that allowed me to notice how its craftsmen created several visual synonyms. So, for the word “bādajan,” we have the visual synonym of “lahfatān”. Shadiyabadi states that these are dolls for which young girls make clothing and play with. This entry, however, does not include the Hindavi equivalent.
Lahfatān in Miftāḥ al-Fużalā. Credit: British Library

In addition to dolls, the Miftāḥ contains entries on toys that one would recognise from South Asian art more broadly. For example, it devotes an entry to the whip-top or yo-yo which Shadiyabadi calls a “farmūk” in Persian and “laṭṭū” in Hindavi.
Yo-yo, farmūk or laṭṭū. Credit: British Library.

It too has a visual synonym in the word “bādfarah” that is also accompanied by its Hindavi equivalent. These yo-yos, like many of the crafts and objects depicted in the Miftāḥ, can be found in numerous other examples. There are several Rajput paintings of ladies playing with yo-yos, for instance. The Miftāḥ gives words to these objects in both Persian and Hindavi thereby allowing art historians to come closer to these objects through philology.
Watercolour painting from Rajasthan of a lady with a Yo-yo. Credit: Brooklyn Museum (CC BY 3.0)

By way of one final example, a teaser for forthcoming work on the Miftāḥ’s sonic elements and sultanate soundscapes, I offer the definition of “kazhmazh”. Shadiyabadi defines kazhmazh as the child whose language is still not fully developed. The word itself is onomatopoetic, suggesting a childlike babble. The painting depicts a larger woman, probably the mother, speaking to her son. The child is comparatively much smaller.
Kazhmazh. Credit: British Library.

As we know so little about childhood and play in early-modern India, this illustrated definition gives us one vision of that ephemeral world. We can both hear and see the child struggle to correctly pronounce words correctly. It, along with the entries devoted to toys, draw us into a world of the pleasures of sultanate children.

This article first appeared on The British Library’s Asian and African studies blog.