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Lecture Series by Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi on Developments within Buddhism along the Maritime and I

The history of Buddhism, its philosophies and regional developments takes place against the backdrop of a world connected by maritime and inland trade. The spread of Buddhism is attested to in textual evidence as well as observed through the transmission of iconography and aesthetics.

Guest lecturer Professor Osmund Bopearachchi will give a two-part lecture series on exploring Buddhism along maritime trade routes of the Indian Ocean, and the spread of Gandhāran Motifs along the inland Silk Road. The lectures are hosted by the Centre of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong.

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Lecture 1 - The Indian Ocean Trade through Buddhist Iconographies

18 July 2019 (Thursday), 7-9pm Venue: CPD 3.04, 3/F, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU


The maritime trade is not limited to exchange of goods alone. In the ancient world deprived of passenger ships, cargo chips were the only mode of transportation in the Indian Ocean. Not only traders, but also Buddhist monks, nuns, philosophers, artists and diplomats as well travelled together; and as a result, not only goods, but also philosophical thoughts and iconographies were exchanged. Apart from the archaeological data and extremely useful textual evidence, the Buddhist iconography (sculptures, paintings and ex-votos) helps us to evaluate the dynamics of trade and the chronological and geographical orientations of routes. Almost all the important Buddhist sites in India, Śrī Laṅkā, Burma, Java and Thailand are inland and clustered around the big rivers flowing to the Indian Ocean and the prosperity and duration of their existence depended mainly on the dynamics of trade.

Lecture 2 - Bamyian, Kizil and Dunhunag Spread of Gandhāran Motifs along the Silk Road 19 July 2019 (Friday), 7-9pm Venue: CPD 3.04, 3/F, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU


Maritime and inland trade brought peoples of many cultures, languages, beliefs and aesthetic aspirations together. Traders and Buddhist monks, nuns, philosophers, artists and diplomats who travelled with them to distant lands were the mediators of these cultural interactions. Likewise, Buddhism was introduced to China at a very early date by enthusiastic travelling monks, who may have accompanied traders and caravaneers. Not only Buddhist philosophy, but also Buddhist iconographies were transmitted along the Silk Roads to Buddhist centres in Bāmiyān in Afghanistan, Kizil Caves in Xinjiang and Dunhuang in north-western Gansu Province in Western China. The events related to the life of Gautama Buddha or stories of his previous births (jatakas) were of Indian origin, but their iconographic rendering in a Chinese context have additions and omissions corresponding to the taste of the donors who commissioned them and of the artists who visualized them. Pious traders who sponsored these sumptuous mural paintings to acquire merits may have preferred stories where the ultimate sacrifice of the Buddha and Buddha-to-be are well-idealised.

About the speaker:

Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi is the adjunct Professor of Central and South Asian Art, Archaeology, and Numismatics, University of California, Berkeley and Emeritus Director of Research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (C.N.R.S.-E.N.S. Paris). He is a numismatist, historian, art historian and archaeologist. He holds a B.A. from the University of Kelaniya (Sri Lanka), and B.A. Honours, M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D. from the Paris I-Sorbonne University, and a Higher Doctorate (Habilitation) from the Paris IV-Sorbonne University. He has published twelve books, edited six books and published more than 150 articles in international journals. Going beyond the traditional approach of simply cataloguing coins, he has made an attempt to link numismatics with the sculptural and pictorial iconography. These attempts made him more and more interested in diverse art forms in ancient South Asia. The exhibition catalogues that he has edited and co-authored, international colloquia that he has organised and published and numerous research articles that he has written are the outcome of his deep-seated interest in Central Asian and South Asian archaeology, art and architecture. He is also the Director of the French Archaeological Delegation in Sri Lanka, in this capacity he has conducted many archaeological excavations and prospection in Sri Lanka since 1995.

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