Making Merit by Making Buddhist Tablets: Inscribed Dedicatory Inscriptions on King Aniruddha’s Clay Tablets | A Talk by ML Pattaratorn Chirapravati, PhD
About this lecture
Present-day Buddhist tablet makers in Myanmar continue to inscribe traditional Burmese dedicatory inscriptions on the back of tablets. Why is this tradition still practiced? Even though donative inscriptions were commonly made on Buddha images, mural paintings, and manuscripts in India and China, they were not popular on tablets. Why did donative inscriptions on tablets become popular in the Pagan period? How did the practice begin, and what was its purpose? Although King Aniruddha invented neither the making of Buddhist tablets nor donative inscriptions, he actively used tablets in acts of merit-making and was the first Burmese king to include donative inscriptions that proclaim devotion to Buddhism and the first to ritually stamp tablets with his own hands. He also stated clearly that his goals were to accrue merit and share the merit with others, and to realise liberation or Buddhahood. This unique practice continues in Myanmar from Aniruddha’s time until the present day.
This paper first focuses on the making of tablets in Myanmar by King Aniruddha (r. 1044-77 CE) of Pagan, and then traces the origin of his practice of inscribing names and dedicatory inscriptions on them.
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About the speaker
ML Pattaratorn Chirapravati is an art historian who specialises in Buddhist art and Southeast Asian art visual cultures. She has published extensively on ancient Buddhist art, e.g., Votive Tablets in Thailand: Origin, Styles, and Uses (Oxford University Press, 1997) and Divination Au Royaume De Siam: Le corps, la guerre, le destine (Presses Universitaires de France, 2011). She co-curated two major art exhibitions at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, entitled The Kingdom of Siam: Art from Central Thailand (1530–1800) and Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma (1775–1950). She is a faculty member in the Art Department and former Director and Vice Director of the Asian Studies Program at California State University, Sacramento. She is also former Head of Studies, Division of Arts and Humanities at Yale-NUS College (Singapore).