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Making Land Sacred: Inscriptional Evidence for Buddhist Kings and Brahman Priests in Medieval Bengal1

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AbstractIn research on premodern South Asia, land-grant inscriptions have typically been mined for historical and geographical data. This article suggests that copperplate land-grant inscriptions may also provide an overlooked source of evidence for ideas about sacred space within and between South Asian religions. It focuses on inscriptions recording the granting of land by Buddhist kings to Brahman priests in medieval Bengal, and it hones in on the literary, oral, ritual, and performative elements of the inscriptions in relation to the spaces delineated by acts of granting. Drawing upon broader theoretical discussions concerning gift-giving in relation to economies and exchanges of religious prestige and royal power, it attempts to offer new perspectives towards gift-giving and the economy of the sacred in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. In the process, it attempts to draw out some of the broader ritual and “religious” implications of what is typically treated as an “economic” transaction – namely, the transfer of land from royal to priestly control, which forms the heart of the copperplate’s function and formation.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies201 Claudia Cohen Hall (Logan Hall), 249 S. 36th StreetThe University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 19104–6304bfleming@sas.upenn.edu

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2013-01-01
2016-12-11

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