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Gāndhārī language


Gāndhārī language

Gāndhārī (Sanskrit: गान्धारी) was a northwestern Prakrit in which Gandharan texts were compiled. Like all Prakrits, Gandhari is descended from either Vedic Sanskrit or a closely related language.

Gāndhārī was written in the Kharoṣṭhī script. Scholars believe that the language featured elements from the languages native to the area (pre-Indo-European population) which are related to the Indo-Aryan family to which all Prakrits belong, as well as Dardic and Iranian languages.

It is believed Buddhism in Gandhara was prevalent among those residents having Indo-Aryan ancestry while Zoroastrianism and a pre-Zoroastrian ethnic religion was professed by those Iranian ethno-linguistic heritage.


  • Rediscovery and history 1
  • Buddhist manuscripts in Gāndhāri 2
  • Translations from Gāndhāri 3
  • Notes 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Rediscovery and history

Initial identification of a distinct language occurred through study of one of the Buddhist Āgamas, the Dīrghāgama, which had been translated into Chinese by Buddhayaśas (佛陀耶舍) and Zhu Fonian (竺佛念).[1]

The now dominant hypothesis on the propagation of Buddhism in Central Asia goes back to 1932 when E. Waldschmidt remarked that the names quoted in the Chinese Dīrghāgama (T. 1), which had been translated by the avowedly Dharmaguptaka monk Buddhayaśas (who also translated the Dharmaguptakavinaya), were not rendered from Sanskrit, but from a then undetermined Prākrit also found in the Khotan Dharmapada. In 1946, Bailey identified this Prākrit, which he named Gāndhārī, as corresponding to the language of most Kharoṣṭhī inscriptions from Northwestern India.

Since this time, a consensus has grown in scholarship which sees the first wave of Buddhist missionary work as associated with Gāndhārī and the Kharoṣṭhī script, and tentatively with the Dharmaguptaka sect.[2] Available evidence also indicates that the first Buddhist missions to Khotan were carried out by the Dharmaguptaka sect, and used a Kharoṣṭhī-written Gāndhārī.[3] However, there is evidence that other sects and traditions of Buddhism also used Gāndhārī, and evidence that the Dharmaguptaka sect also used Sanskrit at times.[4]

It is true that most manuscripts in Gāndhārī belong to the Dharmaguptakas, but virtually all schools — inclusive Mahāyāna — used some Gāndhārī. Von Hinüber (1982b and 1983) has pointed out incompletely Sanskritised Gāndhārī words in works heretofore ascribed to the Sarvāstivādins and drew the conclusion that either the sectarian attribution had to be revised, or the tacit dogma "Gāndhārī equals Dharmaguptaka" is wrong. Conversely, Dharmaguptakas also resorted to Sanskrit.

Starting in the first century of the common era, there was a large trend toward a type of Gāndhārī which was heavily Sanskritized.[5]

Buddhist manuscripts in Gāndhāri

Until 1994, the only Gāndhāri manuscript available to the scholars was a birch bark scroll of a Buddhist text, the Dharmapada, discovered at Kohmāri Mazār near Hotan in Xinjiang in 1893 CE. From 1994 on, a large number of fragmentary manuscripts of Buddhist texts, seventy-seven altogether,[6] were discovered in eastern Afghanistan and Western Pakistan. These include:[7]

  • 29 fragments of birch-bark scrolls of British Library collection consisting of parts of the Dharmapada, Anavatapta Gāthā, the Rhinoceros Sūtra, Sangitiparyaya and a collection of sutras from the Ekottara Āgama.
  • 129 fragments of palm leaf folios of Schøyen collection, 27 fragments of palm-leaf folios of Hirayama collection and 18 fragments of palm leaf folios of Hayashidera collection consisting of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra and the Bhadrakalpikā Sūtra.
  • 24 birch-bark scrolls of Senior collection consists of mostly different sutras and the Anavatapta Gāthā.
  • 8 fragments of a single birch-bark scroll and 2 small fragments of another scroll of University of Washington collection consisting of probably an Abhidharma text or other scholastic commentaries.

Translations from Gāndhāri

Mahayana Buddhist Pure Land sūtras were brought from the Gandhara region to China as early as 147 CE, when the Kushan bhikkhu Lokakṣema began translating the first Buddhist sūtras into Chinese.[8] The earliest of these translations show evidence of having been translated from Gāndhārī.[9] It is also known that manuscripts in the Kharoṣṭhī script existed in China during this period.[10]

Some scholars believe that the importance of Gāndhārī in Central Asia is out of proportion with the relatively small number of surviving documents which have been discovered so far.[11]


  1. ^ Heirman, Ann. Bumbacher, Stephan Peter. The Spread of Buddhism. 2007. p. 97
  2. ^ Heirman, Ann. Bumbacher, Stephan Peter. The Spread of Buddhism. 2007. p. 97
  3. ^ Heirman, Ann. Bumbacher, Stephan Peter. The Spread of Buddhism. 2007. p. 98
  4. ^ Heirman, Ann. Bumbacher, Stephan Peter. The Spread of Buddhism. 2007. p. 99
  5. ^ Heirman, Ann. Bumbacher, Stephan Peter. The Spread of Buddhism. 2007. p. 99
  6. ^ The Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project
  7. ^ Saloman Richard, Recent Discoveries of Early Buddhist Manuscripts in Between the Empires, Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE, Oxford University Press, New York, 2006 CE, ISBN 978-0-19-568935-8
  8. ^ "The Korean Buddhist Canon: A Descriptive Catalog (T. 361)". 
  9. ^ Mukherjee, Bratindra Nath. India in Early Central Asia. 1996. p. 15
  10. ^ Nakamura, Hajime. Indian Buddhism: A Survey With Biographical Notes. 1999. p. 205
  11. ^ Mukherjee, Bratindra Nath. India in Early Central Asia. 1996. p. 15

See also


  1. , University of Texas at Austin.Peoples and Languages in Pre-Islamic Indus ValleyRahman, Dr. Tariq,
  2. , Encyclopedia Iranica.Gandhari LanguageSalomon, Richard,

Further reading

Yu. V. Gankovsky, The Peoples of Pakistan: An Ethnic History. Translated from the Russian by Igor Gavrilov (Lahore: Peoples' Publishing House, 1964)

External links

  • The Gāndhārī Dharmapada
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