Whitney Cox wc3 at SOAS.AC.UK
Wed Feb 23 17:10:17 UTC 2011

I posted this a few hours ago; I think that perhaps it didn't go through to
the list since it contained multiple addresses.  Re-posted, with a few typos
corrected.  Apologies to anyone seeing this for the second time.


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 interesting 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 pursued 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.




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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