Dali’s Daggers: Buddhist Material Culture on the Southern Silk Road

Key information

5:30 PM to 7:00 PM
Brunei Gallery
Event type

About this event

Prof. Megan Bryson (University of Tennessee)

Ritual daggers or pegs feature prominently in Tibetan Buddhism, where the textual, visual, and material record testify to the importance of phur pa (aka phur bu) as ritual objects and as the deity animating these objects. However, the earliest extant daggers come from the Dali kingdom (937-1253) rather than from Tibetan regions. This talk examines Dali’s daggers to trace the transmissions of Buddhist material culture along the southern Silk Road that passed through the Dali kingdom, which governed a large swath of territory centered in modern-day Yunnan Province. It considers how the daggers of the Dali kingdom relate to Indian kīla, single-pronged vajra pestles from East Asia, and Tibetan phur pa. In the absence of textual sources documenting transmission practices, I treat these daggers as material records of transmission networks. This talk will illuminate the fascinating but understudied Buddhist traditions of the Dali kingdom and the southern Silk Road.

Speaker Biography

Megan Bryson is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her research focuses primarily on Buddhism in the Dali region of Yunnan Province, especially during the Nanzhao (649-903) and Dali (937-1253) kingdoms. Bryson’s first book, Goddess on the Frontier: Religion, Ethnicity, and Gender in Southwest China (Stanford University Press, 2016), traced the worship of a local deity in Dali from the 12th to 21st centuries. Her current projects include Buddhism on the Southern Silk Road, a monograph on the textual, visual, and material transmission of Buddhism in the Dali kingdom, as well as the edited volume Buddhist Masculinities (with Kevin Buckelew). Bryson’s research has been supported by an ACLS fellowship and she serves on the Board of Directors of the Society for the Study of Chinese Religion and the Tang Studies Society.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Buddhist Studies

Contact email: st8@soas.ac.uk

Sponsor: Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation