Public Lecture: Sanskrit in the Archipelago

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An upcoming public lecture at the National University of Singapore:

Sanskrit in the Archipelago: Translation, Vernacularization and Translocal Identity
Prof. Thomas M. Hunter, Faculty of Letters, Udayana University
ISEAS Seminar Room II, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore
21 June 2011
4.00 – 5.30 pm

More information here.

The ancient sanskrit inscription in a church

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Every year, thousands of Catholic pilgrims in Malaysia travel to the town of Bukit Mertajam in the mainland side of Penang to send petitions and thanksgiving at the Church of St Anne for her feastday on July 26. Since I live in Penang, the feastday celebrations are a great opportunity to be one of the pilgrims, and also to pay a visit to a lesser-known archaeological site, right in the grounds of the Church of St Anne itself: The Cherok Tok Kun Inscription.

St Anne's Church and the Cherok Tok Kun inscription

St Anne's Church and the Cherok Tok Kun inscription

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Selections, October 2007

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A selection of archaeology-related books, new to the catalogue of Select Books, a specialised publisher and retailer of books pertaining to Southeast Asia. For ordering info, please visit the Select Books website.

042271
Archaeology Of Asia. Stark, Miriam, T. (ed.). Gb. 2006. 364pp. pb $71.64 (This introduction to the archaeology of Asia, written for the undergraduate, focuses on case studies from the region’s last 10,000 years of history. Comprising 15 chapters written by some of the world’s foremost Asia archaeologists, this book sheds light on many of the most compelling aspects of Asian archaeology, from the earliest plant and animal domestication to the emergence of states and empires from Pakistan to North China. In particular, the contributors explore issues of cross-cultural significance, such as migration, ethnicity, urbanism, and technology, challenging readers to think beyond national and regional boundaries. In doing so, they draw on original research data and synthesize work previously unavailable to western readers. Index.)

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The ancient scripts of Southeast Asia – Part 1

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I chanced upon “Aksara: The Passage of Malay Scripts” while I was doing research at the National Library last weekend and was surprised at the richness of the exhibits and artefacts gathered there. Aksara features the early script of the Malay world in Southeast Asia, drawing from the collections of the National Museum of Indonesia and the Vietnam History Museum – this is indeed a rare opportunity to see the epigraphy of ancient Southeast Asia in one collection. I had not realised that this exhibition was going on, but it’s still not too late to catch it as there are two more weeks left.

The Aksara exhibition is divided into four galleries, each covering a particular time period: The Sacred Knowledge of Writing, The Coming of Islam, Colonial Encounters and Singapore and Modern Writing. For this series, I’ll be concentrating on the first two galleries, but the entire exhibition will be covered elsewhere. See that stone pillar on the right? I almost wet my pants My heart literally skipped a beat when I discovered what it was:

The Kota Kapur Stone was discovered on Bangka Island off Sumatra and dates to the 7th century. It describes a punishment for disobeying the law, as well as Srivijaya’s attempt to conquer Javanese territories. In fact, the Kota Kapur Stone was one of the first few inscriptions which led the emminent French scholar George Coèdes to conclude the existence of a polity named Srivijaya, a polity that once held influence over much of the island Southeast Asia and the all-important trade route between China and India. Say, didn’t I just write something about Srivijaya…?

Other exhibits were no less exciting. This is a rubbing of the Vo Canh Stele, the earliest evidence for Buddhism in Southeast Asia, which describes a donation of property by the King Sri Mara to his relatives. Written in Sanskrit and dating to around the 4th century, the stele is named after the Vietnamese village of Vo Canh where it was found. Short of going up to Vietnam and visiting the Vietnam History Museum, this is the closest anyone can be to the actual stele.

The use of writing of course was a highly specialised skill, a knowledge usually reserved for members of the religious caste or leadership. To the commoner, the act of inscribing in words would have been seen as a very powerful form of magic. Examples of these stele would in fact be displayed not to be read by people but as symbols of power exercised by the inscriber. Hence one sees the common themes of cursing, warning and commemorating in early writing – not just in Southeast Asia, but the rest of the world.

There are two more artefacts that I will feature in a Part 2 of The Ancient Script of Southeast Asia, but for now, if you are in Singapore, this is your last chance to visit this spectacular – and underrated – exhibition at the National Library. The exhibit is at Level 10 and admission is free. The last day of this exhibtion is on June 30.

SEAArch would like to thank the National Library Board, Singapore for the permission to take photographs in this exhibition.
Books featuring ancient Southeast Asian scripts and inscriptions:
Uncovering Southeast Asia’s Past: Selected Papers from the 10th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists by E. A. Bacus, I. Glover and V. C. Pigott (Eds)
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds)
The Pararaton by I Gusti Putu Phalgunadi