Whitney Cox wc3 at SOAS.AC.UK
Wed Feb 23 11:57:38 UTC 2011

Dear Arlo,

I second Tim's interest in this great topic, and I look forward to hearing
what your student turns up.  I can add a few references to what have already
been mentioned: Michael Willis has recently discussed the imprecatory
formulae found in Gupta and post-Gupta copperplates; see his The Archaeology
of Hindu Ritual (Cambridge, 2009), pp. 84-88.  Especially interesting here
are his comments (esp p. 86 and nn. 27-29) on the locus of attribution to
these stereotypical verses in the Mahābhārata's Āśvamedhikaparvan.

I largely agree with Tim's suggestion that these imprecations are very often
given in Sanskrit, even in otherwise non-Sanskrit grants: very broadly,
there's a magical efficacy to the use of the language (or to tatsama
vocabulary in vernacular texts, as Tim suggests) here that would reward
further scrutiny.  It is, however, not always the case that curses must be
couched in Sanskrit, as the title Karashima's article (for which I would
appreciate the reference) would seem to indicate.  I'm very much an amateur
in Southeast Asian materials, but there is the fascinating case of the
Telaga Batu inscription of ca. 686 CE edited by de Casparis in his Selected
Inscriptions for the 7th the 9th Centuries AD (Masa Baru, Bandung: 1956),
pp. 15-46.  This very insteresting record (and forgive me if this is common
knowledge among Indonesianists)  takes the form of a nāga-headed stele that
ends in a spouted ledge, the text of the inscription is a sort of loyalty
oath that was evidently meant to be recited prior to drinking water poured
down the incised surface of the record.  Such anyway was de Casparis'
interpretation; some of the philological details of his reading were
questioned by K. Adelaar (in "The relevance of Salako for Proto-Malayic and
for Old Malay epigraphy." Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 148
(1992), no: 3/4, Leiden, 381-408), but not his overall interpretation of the
inscription's unusual magical function.

Finally, in addition to verbal curse formulae, there are instances of
inscribed curse-images, as well.  An example of this can be seen in, e.g.
the Rajapura plates of Madhurāntakadeva (edited by Hira Lala, EI 9: 23, pp.
174-181, and esp. plate iii b facing p. 179).  This particular image is of
what the editor rather mildly describes as "a woman purused by a donkey"; it
is poorly executed, but obviously and deliberately obscene.

I am copying this message to Daud Ali, who is not on the list but who has
worked on both the Telaga Batu record and the curse-images.  He may have
much more to share with you.



2011/2/23 Arlo Griffiths <arlogriffiths at>

> Dear colleagues,
> One of my students at the University of Indonesia is writing her MA thesis
> on the topic of curse-formulae in ancient Indonesian inscriptions, against
> the background of similar formulae observed elsewhere in Southeast Asian as
> well as in Indian epigraphy.
> I have been surprised at how little the usual epigraphical handbooks
> (Sircar, Sivaramamurti, Salomon) say about curses/imprecations, especially
> if one is interested in vernacular expressions besides the formulae in
> Sanskrit. A keyword search 'curse/'imprecation' in other Indological
> handbooks (e.g. Kane's History of Dharmasāstra) also does not yield much.
> Dr. Emmanuel Francis has kindly supplied to me pdfs of a paper by N.
> Karashima ('New imprecations in Tamil Inscriptions and Jāti Formation'), a
> few pages from the Introduction of K.V. Ramesh, Indian Epigraphy Vol. I
> (1984), and a few pages from A. Krishnan's 'Literature and Epigraphy of
> Tamil Nadu' (1998). This is all very helpful.
> My student is interested in the Sanskrit/vernacular distinction, in the
> question whether curse-formulae occur by themselves or paired with
> benedictions, in the particular elements of threat used in curse formulae
> (different kinds of hells, types of corporeal punishment or acts of
> bestiality the sinner will undergo, dangerous animals he will
> encounter, classifications of types of sins assimilated to the sin of
> disturbing a land-donation, etc.), and in interpretations of the function of
> these formulae in land-grants (or arguments that might help her to formulate
> her own interpretations).
> May I ask whether anybody can help me obtain further secondary literature
> and/or (collections of) specific curse formulae, especially those expressed
> in vernacular languages, to address the themes outlined above? Many thanks
> in advance.
> Best wishes,
> Arlo Griffiths(EFEO/Jakarta)


Dr. Whitney Cox
Department of the Languages and Cultures of South Asia,
School of Oriental and African Studies
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG

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