Task-Forces

As the projet focus on selected regions of South and Southeast Asia, three regional task-forces (A, B, and C) of overlapping membership have been set up, each under the responsibility of one Host Institution. For each region, the respective task-force not only work on the epigraphical corpora, but also include, as far as possible and relevant, the two other main documentary bases of our study, i.e. transmitted texts and archaeological sources. A fourth task-force (D), non regional, focus on the textual sources other than epigraphical.

Task-force A. The Tamil-Speaking South of India (Emmanuel Francis)

The Tamil corpus, that is inscriptions from Tamil Nadu in two languages (Tamil, Sanskrit) and inscriptions in Tamil language from outside Tamil Nadu, constitute our first key region. This corpus— the largest of premodern South Asia and Southeast Asia―is unavoidable because of its size (approximately 35,000 inscriptions). It provides information about a very wide variety of religious patronage: donors include kings and chiefs, of course, but also royal women, merchant guilds, more local corporate bodies, courtesan-dancers and many other individuals (Francis & Schmid 2016). Given the extent of the corpus, we are forced to select relevant sub-corpora (most hitherto only partly published), defined chronologically (in terms of dynasty), thematically (types of patronage) or topographically (case-studies focussing on specific sites in their longue durée).

Because collaborative excavations in Tamil Nadu (as in certain other parts of India) involving foreign partners do not seem possible in the current political climate (in spite of repeated attempts), the archaeological component of this task-force will be mainly restricted to art-historical work. Thus, for site studies, we will combine a detailed examination of the epigraphy, of the spatial localisation of the monuments and of their architecture and iconography. This has proven to be very effective for understanding the tightly entwined relationships between the social, political and religious spheres,
compared to an exclusively epigraphy-based or exclusively architecture-oriented approach (such as that of Legrand 1987). Tamil Nadu is a region particularly rich in stone temple architecture and epigraphy, which thus allows the identification of patterns of patronage of temples and other religious institutions. This is furthermore an area where collaboration with local universities (e.g. those of Pondicherry and Tanjore) would be possible, for instance for constructing historical maps. Finally, Southern novels and poetry in Tamil, Sanskrit and Prakrit will be combed through for mentions and descriptions of temples, hermitages and other foundations (on literary and other textual sources, see also Task-force D).

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Task-force B. From the Deccan to Arakan (Annette Schmiedchen)

Deccan and Āndhra Epigraphy, Art, and History
From the 6th to the 12th century, the southern Deccan (between the western coast of Goa and south Maharashtra and the eastern coast of Āndhra) witnesses the emergence and growth of several polities known from numerous epigraphic attestations. Kings associating themselves with lineages called Cālukya and Rāṣṭrakūṭa dominated a vast area corresponding to present-day Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, while also establishing collateral branches in Gujarat.
Their inscriptions, as well as the literature of their courts, make use of Sanskrit, as well as Kannada and Telugu, which gradually emerge as the main languages of political and literary discourse. The mass of documents that can be connected to these polities attests to the burgeoning religious institutions of the area, as do the imposing size and quality of the extant monuments.

Greater Bengal, Orissa, Arakan: Epigraphy, History and Archaeology
The northern quadrant of the Bay of Bengal, corresponding to the Indian states of Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal, to the whole of Bangladesh, and to the Arakan region (i.e., the state of Rakhine in Myanmar), is characterised by the fact that its inscriptional record from about 500 to 1300 CE is exclusively in Sanskrit, with local languages making their epigraphical debut rather later here than in South India and Southeast Asia.

Within the ERC DHARMA, excavations in the site of Mahasthan (Bangladesh) are conducted and aim to a better understanding of the relationship between the Bairagir Bhita and the habitation areas.

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Task-force C. Southeast Asia (Arlo Griffiths)

Cambodia and Campā Epigraphy, History and Archaeology

The corpus of ancient Cambodia (c.450–1300 CE) covers about 1300 often very elaborate inscriptions composed in Sanskrit or the vernacular (Austroasiatic) Khmer language, or both. Inscriptions from Khmer-speaking polities are spread across an area that covers the floodplain of modern-day Cambodia and extends up into the Dangrek mountains into Thailand, up the Mekong into Laos and down into the Mekong delta into what is now Vietnam.
The neighbouring realm of Campā, whose vernacular was (Austronesian) Cam, occupied a large part of present central to southern Vietnam between about 400 and 1500 CE, and has left us about 300 inscriptions in Sanskrit and/or Cam. For a variety of reasons, including the superb literary and calligraphic quality of the inscriptions, combined with the startling fact that no other locally produced written sources survive from this period, these two epigraphic corpora—but especially the Cambodian one—have been exceptionally well studied, at least by the standards that prevail for the Indic epigraphic record as a whole: between the 1880s and the present day, a good twelve-hundred have been published and translated into French, and served as basis for the erection of the entire historiography of these two ancient realms. But further inscriptions are still discovered every year, and at a rate that outstrips publication.
And new discoveries can cause us to make radical adjustments to the historiography.

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Task-force D. Other Textual Sources (Dominic Goodall, Florinda de Simini)

This is not a regional task-force, since manuscripts (particularly of Sanskrit and Prakrit works) spread across the entire region of study. We shall mainly consider two types of source: works of prescriptive literature produced by the Śaiva traditions and courtly literature (kāvya). The bulk of the corpus of extant literary sources produced by the various currents of Śaivism in the first millennium of the common era belongs to Tantric Śaivism, which began to crystallise in the 5th and 6th centuries. Almost all of this literature primarily informs us about theological doctrine, metaphysical speculation, engagements with other philosophical schools, yogic practices and an evolving body of rituals, with special emphasis on one particular extremely complicated rite: that of salvific initiation. But there is an important and until very recently almost wholly neglected collection of nine Sanskrit works that is rich in information about the practices of a devout Śaiva laity, and this includes information about the layout and functioning of āśramas, as well as on the interactions between the community of initiates and their lay supporters: this is the Śivadharma collection, whose two earliest texts are now held to date to the 6th and 7th centuries.

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