A 7th Century Record of a Gateway to India: The First Chapter of Xuanzang’s “Datang Xiyu ji” (“Record of the Western Regions”)

A 7th Century Record of a Gateway to India: The First Chapter of Xuanzang’s “Datang Xiyu ji”
(“Record of the Western Regions”)
Max Deeg, Cardiff University


This talk is based on my research and translation of the famous monk-traveller Xuanzang’s “Datang Xiyu ji”, “Record of the Western Regions of the Great Tang”. I will focus on the first chapter (fascicle / juan) of the “Record”, which comprises the “description” of places along the Northern Silk Road from Kuča to Kāpiśī. In the first part of the talk, I will briefly introduce the “Record”, discuss its value as a source for historical studies and problematize a naïve reading of the text as a “documentary” of a journey. I am particularly critical of a conflation of the “Record” and Xuanzang’s biography which has led to a number of wrong assumptions about the nature of the text and the “history” of its author. As a case study I will then present and discuss Xuanzang’s “description” of Bāmiyān and its famous colossal Buddha statues to show how a deep and contextualized reading of the text asks for a careful reinterpretation of and interdisciplinary approach to the “Record”.



Max Deeg is Professor in Buddhist Studies at Cardiff University, United Kingdom. His research focus is on the history of Buddhism and its spread in and through Asia and on Buddhist narratives. He has published on the Chinese “pilgrim records” (Faxian, Xuanzang, Yijing, etc.) and is, at the moment, preparing a multi-volume translation and commentary of the “Record of the Western Regions”.

Bamiyan Buddhas Burnes and Xuanzang

The Buddhas of Bāmiyān and Xuanzang

An Ancient Merchant’s Journey from India to Alexandria in Roman Times
Steven E. Sidebotham, University of Delaware


This presentation traces the journey of an imaginary merchant (named Demetrius Petosiris) conveying a cargo from southern India to Alexandria in the Roman period. Our Demetrius never existed. Yet, someone like him did and while nobody probably ever travelled from southern India all the way to Alexandria in a single trip, Demetrius’ “journey” reflects one that several individuals would have made to transport a similar cargo along the maritime and overland caravan trade routes that linked southern India to Alexandria.

The lavishly illustrated power point presentation draws on the archaeological experiences of the presenter. Starting in Arikamedu, on the southeastern coast of India, Demetrius travels to Pattanam/Muziris on the southwestern coast of the subcontinent. From there he voyages to Qana’/Kani on the Indian Ocean coast of Yemen and changes ships for the difficult voyage up the Red Sea to Berenike. He spends some time in Berenike visiting old friends and recovering from his journey before crossing the desert to Quft/Koptos on the Nile. From there he travels down the Nile to Alexandria where he transfers his cargo to a colleague who will carry it to Ostia. Our story of Demetrius, exhausted by his long and arduous journey, ends with his recuperation in his friend’s Villa of the Birds in Alexandria.



Steven Sidebotham is a professor of archaeology and ancient history at the University of Delaware USA. He has been an active field archaeologist since 1972 and has engaged in fieldwork, both on land and underwater, in various capacities in 11 countries (Italy, Greece, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and India). He has been co-director of the Berenike Project since its inception in 1994.



Sidebotham obrazek
A female head made of local stone from the Isis Temple


New Ruins in an Old Context: The Buddhist Site of Toplukdong (Domoko) in Khotan (7th–9th c. CE)

(Erika Forte, Kyoto University)

Among the archaeological discoveries of the last decades in the oasis of Khotan (Xinjiang, China)—a thriving Kingdom along the southern branch of the Silk Road in the 1st millennium CE—the remains of the Buddhist monastery in Toplukdong, near Domoko, have provided new relevant insights for the study of Buddhist material culture of Ancient Khotan in the 7th-9th centuries CE.

This lecture offers an analysis of the excavated structures and presents an art historical assessment of the ancient monastic site, in view of the larger archaeological panorama of Buddhist remains of the oasis.



Professor Erika Forte teaches Art and Archeology of Eastern Central Asia at the Institute for Research in Humanities at Kyoto University as well as Chinese Art History and Chinese History at the Institute for Liberal Art and Science at the same university. From 1997 to 2005, she was a permanent member of the joint Italian-Chinese Archaeological Excavation Project on the Buddhist site of the Fengxiansi monastery in Longmen (Luoyang, PRC). Currently, her research focuses on the Khotan region.


Forte Photo DomokoPhoto by Erika Forte

Lost Buddhist Culture Reflected in Tocharian Literature
(Hiromi Habata, International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies in Tokyo)

The Central Asian expeditions around the beginning of the 20th century brought us valuable manuscript fragments from the ruins along the Silk Road. The manuscripts are written in a variety of languages, among which the existence of unknown languages has attracted the attention of scholars. One of the unknown languages is called Tocharian, after the monumental decipherment of the language by the German scholars: Emil Sieg and Wilhelm Siegling. The Tocharian fragments reveal not only the lost valuable language of the Indo-European family, but also the lost Buddhist culture which flourished in the region of Kucha. Tocharian literature contains a variety of genres and also shows a range of Buddhist cultural dimensions. Besides the canonical texts in Sanskrit and Tocharian, Tocharian Buddhism conspicuously transmits to us the popular cultural heritage, such as Buddhist theatre and music.


Hiromi Habata, Prof. Dr. phil. habil.
She researched at LMU Munich and at Leipzig University after her study of Indology at Hokkaido University and at the University of Freiburg. Since 2020, she has been Professor at International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies in Tokyo. Her publications include: Die zentralasiatischen Sanskrit-Fragmente des Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra, Marburg 2007; A Critical Edition of the Tibetan Translation of the Mahāparinirvāṇa-mahāsūtra, Wiesbaden 2013; Aufbau und Umstrukturierung des Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, Bremen 2019; Olav Hackstein, Hiromi Habata, Christoph Bross: Tocharische Texte zur Buddhalegende, Dettelbach 2019.


Habata Manuscript

Manuscript of the Tocharian Araṇemi-Jātaka (B77)

Bodhisattva Becomes Shiva: On the Trans-Himalayan Cult of Lokeshvara Worship and its Reinterpretation in Pre-Modern Times

(Diwakar Acharya, University of Oxford)

Avalokiteśvara or Lokeśvara is one of the Bodhisattvas and one of the main deities of Mahāyāna Buddhism. There is a long history of his worship across the Himalayas in Nepal and Tibet, and myths relate Lokeśvaras worshipped in the four major shrines found along the Nepal-Tibet trade route as four brothers. However, since last three hundred years and more, Lokeśvara in the Nepal Valley has been widely identified as Macchindranath (Skt. Matsyendranātha), a deified Śaiva teacher, responsible for rain and prosperity in the Nepal Valley (now called Kathmandu Valley). Though educated Buddhists still worship the deity as Lokeśvara, the rest identify him otherwise. In this talk, I will present the history of Lokeśvara worship across the Himalayas in Nepal and Tibet, discuss the phenomenon of Lokeśvara’s equation with Śaiva deities in the Nepal Valley by the local rulers and elites in the 17th century.

Professor Diwakar Acharya is an eminent scholar focused on religious and philosophical traditions of South Asia and the early history of the region, particularly Nepal. He is the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics at the University of Oxford, which is among the most prestigious academic positions. Since 2014, he has been an Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Indian Philosophy, the leading journal in its field.


Macchindranaths chariotThe chariots of Rato Macchindranath and Minnath at Lagankhel, Patan, Nepal


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