Re: [INDOLOGY] Charon's obols in Gandhāra?

Thu Mar 22 20:50:13 UTC 2018

    Thanks to Drs. Lusthaus and Huntington for the useful replies.

    I was not aware of the *Liudu jijing* parallel, and that is very
interesting. My initial impression of Kumāralāta's work was that many of
his stories were original pieces of fiction, but in the process of going
through them I have come to realize that many must indeed be literary
reworkings of older stories (just not famous stories, so it seems). I would
say, however, that if he chose to keep this one element in the story, it
may have have resulted culturally familiar to him.

    In the course of the afternoon I did find a very relevant passage in
Stein (Innermost Asia, II, p. 646) on Byzantine and Sasanian coins from the
Astāna cemetery in Turfan:

"Mashik claimed the distinction of having been the first to learn by
experience to look for coins of gold or silver placed in the mouths of the
dead, though his search was but rarely rewarded. That earlier pillagers had
not made the same discovery was proved by the fact that in none of the
tombs which we explored, and which Mashik stated that he had not himself
touched, had the skulls suffered the rude operaation by which he was wont
to ascertain whether they contained a coin.

The fact that out of the four coins actually found by us in the mouths of
Astāna corpses three are Byzantine gold pieces or imitations of such pieces
(Ast. i. 3. 023 ; 5. o8 ; 6. 03) and one a Sasanian silver coin (Ast. v. 2.
02) might naturally predispose us to connect this practice with the ancient
Greek custom of placing a coin between the lips of the dead as the fare due
to Charon, the ferryman of Hades. But the reference with which M. Chavannes
kindly supplied me in 1916 to a Buddhist story in the Chinese Tripitaka
suggests that the custom was not unknown in the Far East also [4]"

    The note is a reference to Chavannes, Cinq cents contes et apologues
extraits du Tripiṭaka chinois, I. p. 248, which is a translation of the
passage Dr. Lusthaus brought into the discussion. In what follows to what I
have quoted, Stein seems to be also a bit puzzled as to the western
connections of the practice. In any case the it is attested in Sasanian
Iran, and in all likelihood it is more closely connected with Sasanian
trade than with remote leftovers of Greek influence in Bactria. The
question remains, though, as to whether it is attested anywhere else in
ancient India or not.

    I will check Tusa's work, and thanks also for the fascinating account
of the Vietnamese funeral!



On Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 3:10 PM, Dan Lusthaus <prajnapti at> wrote:

> According to this website, gold coins are still sometimes part of the
> funeral ritual in Vietnam.
> "Often, the deceased person’s mouth is propped open so that visitors may
> drop in grains of rice and gold coins. The body is generally on a bed under
> a mosquito net. In some areas, a bunch of bananas are on the stomach of the
> dead person with the hope of distracting the devil from devouring the dead
> person’s intestines. Sometimes a knife is placed on the stomach as a weapon
> against the devil."
> Dan
> On Mar 22, 2018, at 3:43 PM, Dan Lusthaus <prajnapti at> wrote:
> Dear Diego,
> Hopefully someone else can provide information from material culture with
> more details or information on the coin in mouth burial, but you may be
> interested to know that the story you are citing from the *Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā
> *(大莊嚴經論 Da zhuangyan jing lun), tr. by Kumārajīva in the early 5th c CE,
> is a retelling of a jātaka that was translated centuries earlier into
> Chinese.
> 六度集經 Liu du ji jing (T.152), a Jātaka of a previous life of the Buddha in
> which he practices the six pāramitās.
> Translation by Kang Senghui 康僧會 (who was from what today is North
> Vietnam, descended from a Chinese Turkestan family): translated in 251 CE;
> the title would literally represent something like
> *Saḍ-pāramitā-saṃgraha-sūtra in Sanskrit. Sixth fascicle, item 68.
> 《六度集經》卷6:「「昔者菩薩,為獨母子,朝詣佛廟捐邪崇真,稽首沙門,稟佛神化,朝益暮[20]誦,景明日[21]昇,採識眾經。古賢孝行,精[22]
> 誠仰慕,猶餓[23]夢食。所處之國,其王無道,貪財重色,薄賢賤民。王念無常,自[24]惟曰:『吾為不善,死將入太山乎?何不聚金以貢太山王耶?』
> 於是斂民金,設重令曰:『若有匿銖兩之金,其罪至死。』如斯三年,民金都盡。王訛募曰:『有獲少金以貢王者,妻以季女,[25]賜之上爵。』童子啟母曰:『
> [26]昔以金錢一枚著亡父口中,欲以賂太山[27]王,今必存矣,可取以獻王也。』母曰:『可。』兒取獻焉。王[28]令錄,問所由獲金。對曰:『
> 父喪亡時,以金著口中,欲賂太山,實聞大王設爵求金,始者掘塚發木取金。』王曰:『父喪來有年乎?』對曰:『
> 十有一年。』曰:『爾父不賂太山王耶?』對曰:『眾聖之書,[29]唯佛教[30]真。佛經曰:「為善福追,作惡禍隨,
> 禍之與福猶影響焉。」走身以避影,撫山以關響,其可獲乎?』王曰:『不可。』曰:『夫身即四大也,命終四大離,靈逝變化,
> 隨行所之,何賂之有?大王前世布施為德,今獲為王,又崇仁愛澤[31]及遐邇,雖未得道,後世必復為王。』王心歡喜,大赦獄囚,還所奪金。」」(T.3
> 152.36b28-c22)
> [20]誦=習【宋】【元】【明】。[21]昇=升【宋】【元】【明】。[22]誠=進【宋】【元】【明】。[23]夢=蒙【元】【明】。[24]
> 〔惟〕-【宋】【元】【明】。[25]賜=榮【宋】【元】【明】。[26]昔+(母)【宋】【元】【明】。[27]〔王〕-【宋】【元】【明】。[28]
> 令=命【宋】【元】【明】。[29]唯=惟【宋】*【元】*【明】*。[30]真+(耳)【宋】【元】【明】。[31]及=被【宋】【元】【明】。
> The key passage, which is semantically similar to the *Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā* phrase
> but worded a bit differently, in the middle of the passage above is:
> 《六度集經》卷6:「昔以金錢一枚著亡父口中,欲以賂太山[27]王,今必存矣,可取以獻王也。』」(T3, 152.36c8-10.
> [27]〔王〕-【宋】【元】【明】。
> This is addressed by the prince to his mother.
> cheers,
> Dan
> On Mar 22, 2018, at 12:43 PM, DIEGO LOUKOTA SANCLEMENTE via INDOLOGY <
> indology at> wrote:
> ​  ​
> Dear list members,
>     I am working for my dissertation on Kumāralāta's Kalpanāmaṇḍitikā
> Dṛṣtāntapaṅkti, whose composition I believe can be reasonably placed in
> Taxila in the 3rd Century AD. Story XV
> ​in the collection contains an interesting reference, only extant in the
> Chinese translation, to what appears to be a burial and the placement of
> "Charon's obol" in the mouth of the deceased. In the story, one king Nanda
> has gathered all the wealth in the land and prostituted his own daughter; a
> young prospective john, desperate to find money to pay for her services, is
> told by his mother:
> ​​
>     汝父死時,口中有一金錢,汝若發塜可得彼錢以用自通
>     (Taishō IV.201.273a.2-3)
> ​"​
> When your father died, he had in his mouth a golden coin; if you dig his
> grave you can retrieve that coin and use it to achieve [your purposes]
> ​"​
>     (Cfr. also Huber's French translation: « Quand ton père est mort, on
> lui a mis dans la bouche une pièce d'or. Si tu vas dans son tombeau, tu
> trouveras peut-être cette pièce, moyennant laquelle tu atteindras l'objet
> de les désirs. », from Sûtrâlaṃkâra, Paris, Ernest Leroux, 1908, p. 85,
> lines 8-9)
>     Again, the Sanskrit is not extant for this portion. The later
> narrative makes clear that the coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased
> during a funeral ceremony.
>     In my understanding,
> ​the funerary usage of ​
> "Charon's obol" is limited to Greek and Roman antiquity (and of course
> hellenized areas of the M
> ​editerranean and the Middle East
>> ​, which may include Gandhāra to an extent​
> ). My question for the list members would be: is anyone aware of another
> occurrence of "Charon's obol" in Indian sources? From the point of view of
> archaeology,
> ​are there ​
> any graves
> ​known with any degree of certainty to be ​
> from historical times in the Greater Gandhāra area? Any coins ever found
> in graves? Buddhist sources do list burial as
> ​one possible​
> method of disposal of the dead, but otherwise it would seem to have been
> rare.
>     Any feedback on this topic would be greatly appreciated!
>     namaskaromi,​
>     Diego Loukota
>> ​ ​
> PhD Cand. - ​
>     Department of Asian Languages and Cultures - UCLA - 290 Royce Hall
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