Critical Edition and Translation of the Sanskrit-Old Javanese Śaiva scripture Bhuvanakośa

A manuscript of the Bhuvanakośa, originally from Lombok, kept at the Leiden University Library (Ms. Cod. Or. 5022), dated śāka year 1800 (AD 1878). Photo: Andrea Acri

A manuscript of the Bhuvanakośa, originally from Lombok, kept at the Leiden University Library (Ms. Cod. Or. 5022), dated śāka year 1800 (AD 1878). Photo: Andrea Acri

In the framework of the project DHARMA (ERC n° 809994), Andrea Acri (EPHE and EFEO, Paris) is working on a critical edition with annotated translation into English of the Sanskrit-Old Javanese Śaiva scripture Bhuvanakośa.

The Bhuvanakośa (“The Storehouse of Worlds”) is a Sanskrit-Old-Javanese Śaiva tantric scripture of the tutur genre of technical texts concerned with doctrinal and yogic matters.
This textual source of anonymous authorship presents itself as a revealed scripture, framed as a dialogue between Śiva and the alleged author—a Brahmanical sage (muni) referred to as Bhārgava (‘the descendant of Bhṛgu’)—in the first five chapters, and between Śiva and Kumāra and the Goddess (devi) in the last six chapters. Including at least two separate textual entities (Brahmarahasya in chs. 1–5, Jñānasiddhānta/Bhasmamantrasakalavidhiśāstraṁ/Jñānasaṅkṣepa in chs. 6–11), it was probably compiled in various stages in the temporal window of ca. 800–1600 CE. It has come down to us through a handful of palm-leaf manuscripts (lontar) from Bali and Lombok as well as typed Romanized transcriptions kept in public or private collections in Indonesia and the Netherlands.

The Bhuvanakośa is mostly arranged in a dyadic style, i.e., in the form of Sanskrit stanzas (śloka)—whether distinct or, more rarely, embedded as individual verse-quarters within prose paragraphs—accompanied by exegetical portions in Old Javanese that integrate aspects of translations, paraphrasis, and commentary. Comprising about 525 “translation dyads”, the text is by far the bulkiest tutur to have survived to the present. It is mentioned in the list of eight authoritative scriptures described as the “secret texts of the Brahmans” by the 19th-century colonial scholar R.T. Friederich, and is still regarded in contemporary Bali as an important Hindu scripture. As such, it has been published in a number of local books including a non-critical transcription and partial translation (of the Old Javanese portions only) into Modern Indonesian.
This text was used by Roeloef Goris in his pioneering study of Javanese and Balinese Śaivism (1926), and parts of it were studied by Alexander Zieseniss (1939); further, Haryati Soebadio (1971) pointed at the existence of extensive textual parallels with the Jñānasiddhānta, a Sanskrit-Old Javanese Śaiva tutur that has also been preserved in Balinese manuscripts. In spite of having attracted the interest of those early scholars, the Bhuvanakośa has yet to be critically edited and translated into either Indonesian or European languages, let alone studied in the light of the recent advancements in our understanding of Śaivism and tantric traditions in both South and Southeast Asia.

The Bhuvanakośa deals with Śaiva doctrine (e.g. ontology), soteriology, yoga, subtle physiology, cosmography, geography, and mantric mysticism. Although it documents Śaiva doctrines that are related to those expounded in texts of the tattva genre transmitted in Java and/or Bali, such as the Dharma Pātañjala, the Vhaspatitattva, and the Tattvajñāna, parts of the text seem to betray a derivation from a different South Asian prototypical tradition. In this respect, one notes the curious mix between archaic and late elements. For instance, the philosophical section expounds a list of 26 ontic levels (tattva) encompassing the 25 ontic levels of the Sāṅkhya plus Rudra at the top, as in Pāśupata Śaivism, vis-à-vis the 31 or 36 tattvas accepted by most Śaiva schools of the Mantramārga. On the other hand, some sections of the text present Vedāntic analogies that are found in the Upaniṣads, but also in non-dualistic Śaiva Saiddhāntika texts—many of them composed in South India at a relatively late date. Furthermore, the text espouses a gnostic approach to soteriology, and openly criticizes historically earlier elements of the ascetic Śaiva movement of the Pāśupatas, such as mantra repetition, and rituals or observances involving the use of ashes, as being “material” (sakala), as opposed to the “immaterial” (niṣkala) gnosis of the Śaiva Siddhānta. As such, it casts light on an important aspect of the research agenda of the Dharma project, namely the study of the evolution of Śaiva asceticism, and the development of the figure of the Śaiva master of householder status in the medieval period, whose continuation is embodied in the institution of the Śaiva priests known as pedanda siwa in modern Bali.

Besides fulfilling the desideratum of producing a critical edition, translation, and study of this text, the present project hopes to bring this material into a fruitful conversation with the study of wider transregional dynamics of linguistic, religious, and cultural transfer within the “Sanskrit Cosmopolis”, of which both South and Southeast Asia are integral parts. Further, it hopes to stimulate a cross-fertilization between the fields of South Asian Studies (and in particular, Classical Indology) and Southeast Asian Studies (and in particular, Javanese and Balinese Studies), which have often remained tightly compartmentalized along the boundaries of academic disciplines within the Area Studies framework or, worse still, of contemporary nation states.

The project will also throw light on the transfer of Śaivism from South to Southeast Asia and its reinterpretation in a local context, highlighting the creative role of Sanskrit as opposed to its common perception as a strictly codified and “unchanging” language, as well as the originality of the Balinese textual tradition, where local agents (re-)interpreted, fractured, and restated the messages conveyed by the Sanskrit verses in the light of their frames of understanding dependent on contingent cultural contexts, religious agendas, and prevalent exegetical practices. Last but not least, the study of the Bhuvanakośa will provide Indologists with comparative elements to better understand the historical development of Śaivism in the Indian Subcontinent itself.


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