The Pairi Daiza Collection of Sanskrit Steles: Buddhism in the Medieval Kingdom of Dali (Yunnan, China)
Contributor(s)UCL - SSH/INCA - Institut des civilisations, arts et lettres
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AbstractThe Pairi Daiza Park (in Brugelette, Belgium) exhibits an exceptional collection of more than 150 ancient stone steles engraved with inscriptions, coming from the Chinese province of Yunnan. Written in a variant of the Indian nāgarī script known as siddham, all these inscriptions display, in full or in part, a specific version of the Sanskrit text called Uṣṇīṣavijaya-dhāraṇī, viz. the ‘Incantation of the Most Victorious Diadem [of Buddha]’, together with, for most of them, one or two human figure(s), three animal figures of the Chinese zodiac (representing one of the four cardinals), optional Chinese or Sanskrit (bīja) symbolic characters, and, in a few cases, a figure of the Buddha or of some other Buddhist deities. This collection, quite unique, is an extremely valuable resource for the study of the peculiar religious and funerary practices and beliefs heritated from the medieval kingdom of Dali (10th-13th centuries), the population of which was ethnically not Chinese. It sheds new light on a nearly unknown episode in the history of Far-Eastern Buddhism, and also contributes to trace more precisely the spreading of the Uṣṇīṣavijaya-dhāraṇī throughout Buddhist Asia where it became very popular from the 7th century onwards.