The Jataka inscriptions at Zha lu monastery (panels 9–35)

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Project Data

On several visits to Zha lu Monastery (Central Tibet) between 1996 and 1998 the project leader was able to take large-scale photographs of an extensive cycle of inscriptions found on the outer walls of the monastery’s great circumambulatory corridor (skor lam chen mo) which encloses the assembly hall and its adjacent chapels. Of the original 103 inscrip¬tion¬al panels, 95 are still extant. Combined with mural paintings, they consist of excerpts from a work generally known by its short title Skyes rabs brgya pa (lit.: ‘[The text] containing hundred [tales of] previous lives [of the Buddha]’). This text is made up of two parts:

1) The same Tibetan translation of Aryashura’s Jatakamala (Sanskrit; lit. ‘Garland of tales of previous lives [of the Buddha]’) that has also come down to us in the five presently available Tanjur (lit. ‘Translated treatises’) collections (i.e, the Tanjur collections of Cone [C], Derge [D], Ganden [G], Narthang [N] and Peking [P]); 2) A (Tibetan) composition by the third Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje (1284–1339) comprising another 66 Jatakas and a concluding description of the main events in the life of Buddha Shakyamuni.

Historical sources and the style of the paintings suggest that the whole cycle of inscriptions and illustrating paintings was completed shortly before 1334, the year Bu ston compiled what has frequently been called the “editio princeps” of the Tanjur.

The first eight panels, rendering the prologue and excerpts from the first seven tales of Aryashura’s Jatakamala, were edited, translated into German and subjected to a detailed text-critical analysis in a monograph that was published in 2005 (K. Tropper: Die Jataka-Inschriften im skor lam chen mo des Klosters Zha lu). This analysis also took account of a xylograph (Z) of the Skyes rabs brgya pa, whose blocks were carved in 1542/43 and are now kept in the Sman rtsis khang (‘Institute of Medicine and Astronomy’) in Lhasa. As could be shown, the inscriptions in Zha lu and Z both preserve correct original readings in places that have become corrupt in all five Tanjur versions. They are thus valuable witnesses for getting closer to the original wording of the Jatakamala’s Tibetan translation. The results of the text-critical study also show that the evidence of these inscriptions and Z is crucial in those places where the two branches of the Tanjur tradition (i.e., CD and GNP) attest different readings and the Sanskrit text does not allow a decision to be made.

The present project aims to prepare an edition, an English translation and a text-critical analysis of panels 9–35, thus completing the study of the panels that render excerpts from Aryashura’s Jatakamala.

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