SOAS University of London

Centre of South East Asian Studies

New perspectives on Arakan in the first millennium: its name, dynastic history and Buddhist culture

IMG - 20150428 - Arlo Griffiths
Prof Arlo Griffiths (École française d'Extrême-Orient (French School of Asian Studies))

Date: 28 April 2015Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 28 April 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B102

Type of Event: Seminar


The earliest phase of Arakan history, between about the fifth and the tenth centuries, has to be written on the basis of inscriptions and related material such as coins bearing Sanskrit texts, as well as sculpture and architecture. These show Arakan to have had strong ties to Southeastern Bengal (the Samataṭa and Harikela regions) and beyond this with the Buddhist communities of Northeastern India using Sanskrit as preferential medium of expression. A first batch of Arakan Sanskrit inscriptions was studied by E.H. Johnston and published posthumously in 1943. Since then, this field has been further explored mainly by Gutman in her unpublished doctoral thesis (1976), and during later visits to Arakan. The material is often in deplorable state of preservation, so that hardly any well-preserved text (other than short ye dharmāḥ inscriptions) can be added to the record compiled by Johnston. But even fragmentary material can throw new light on the past, especially when studied in combination with epigraphical and numismatic discoveries made in Southeast Bengal over the past half-century. I will present some of the ‘new’ inscriptions, and discuss the problem of their palaeographic dating. I will focus on the problem of chronology and discuss the discovery that the ancient name of Arakan was Kāmaraṅga. The overall problem that I will attempt to address is the extent to which the Arakan corpus may be regarded as integral to the epigraphical and Buddhist culture of northeastern South Asia, or can be said to represent a specifically Arakanese cultural identity.

Speaker Biography

Arlo Griffiths received his PhD in Sanskrit from Leiden University. After holding a position as lecturer in Indian Religions at the University of Groningen, and holding the chair of Sanskrit at Leiden University, he joined the French School of Asian Studies (EFEO) in 2008 as Professor of Southeast Asian history. His main fields of interest are Hindu and Buddhist religious/ritual literature in Sanskrit, on the one hand, and inscriptions of South and Southeast Asia in Sanskrit and vernacular languages, on the other. He was posted at the EFEO’s Jakarta Centre from 2009 through 2014, and now teaches in Paris and Lyon.

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