SOAS University of London

Centre of South East Asian Studies

Old Mon inscriptions and the Dvāravatī culture

Hunter Watson
Hunter Ian Watson (National University of Singapore)

Date: 30 October 2019Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 30 October 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4426

Type of Event: Seminar


The name Dvāravatī is used to refer to a first-millennium culture predominantly in what is today the Central Plain of Thailand. This name has been used as such for over a century, yet there are ongoing debates about what the name implies and how it should be used. The greatest problem arises from the fact that scholars in the fields of archaeology, art history, and palaeo-linguistics use the name with different connotations and implications, causing confusion. This presentation will elaborate on these debates.

One window to understanding Dvāravatī is through the study of inscriptions composed in the Old Mon language. Old Mon inscriptions have been identified scattered around the Central Plain, the Khorat Plateau of northeastern Thailand and lowland Laos, and in the Chiang Mai-Lamphun Basin in northern Thailand. These inscriptions have received little scholarly attention, and my studies have included many inscriptions which have never been properly studied or published. They date approximately from the sixth to the thirteenth century. Tentatively, I have identified around 100 artifacts in the region inscribed in Old Mon, and this number continues to increase. They range in size from large steles with numerous lines of text to small sealings with only a few words. The majority are quite short, rarely exceeding a few lines; in nearly all cases Old Mon was utilized for composing donative texts, which were records of meritorious deeds such as the donation of resources for a religious foundation. The details of the meritorious actions are not normally described, but emphasis is given to naming the donors. The exception is the later Old Mon inscriptions of the Haripuñjaya culture in northern Thailand, where several large inscription stele have been found. These give much greater detail in a narrative fashion, and some references are made to historical events.

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Speaker Biography

Hunter Watson is a PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore (NUS), working under the supervision of Professor John Miksic. His primary research area is Thailand and surrounding countries; his main interests are epigraphy and archaeology. Hunter holds an MA in Oriental Epigraphy from Silpakorn University in Bangkok, where he studied Sanskrit, Khmer and Mon, and the development of ancient scripts in South and Southeast Asia. His doctoral research is an investigation of Dvāravatī and neighboring cultures, with a focus on script development and art artifacts, including dharmacakras, sema stones, votive tablets, coins, and ceramics, as well as settlement patterns and interaction spheres in ancient mainland Southeast Asia.


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This event is made possible by generous support from SOAS's Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of South East Asian Studies and SOAS Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme

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