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South Asian Manuscripts at the Library of Congress

Gandhara scroll

Gandhara scroll. 1st century B.C.-1st century A.D. Library of Congress Asian Division.

In 2003, the Library of Congress acquired a scroll written about two thousand years ago in Gandhara, an ancient Buddhist region located in what is today the northern border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This birch bark scroll, or the “Gandhara scroll” as it is known around the Library of Congress, is one of the world’s oldest Buddhist manuscripts. It is also safe to say that the Gandhara scroll is one of the most complicated and fragile items ever treated at the Library of Congress. The scroll dates roughly between the first century BCE and first century CE, and consequently, it provides an outstanding specimen of the newly rediscovered Buddhist literature in the Gandhari language. In 2019, the scroll was digitized. It is currently viewable online.

The Library's Gandhara scroll is a Buddhist teaching in which the Buddha describes the lives of thirteen buddhas who came before him, his own birth and enlightenment, and the coming of the future buddha, Maitreya. In November 2018, Dr. Richard Salomon (University of Washington) gave a lecture in the Asian Reading Room on the Library’s Gandhara scroll and its significance to our understanding of early Buddhist literature: “One Buddha, 15 Buddhas, 1,000 Buddhas.” A study of the scroll is also part of his 2018 publication on the ancient Buddhist literature of Gandhara in translation.

For more on the scroll's content, conservation, and unusual arrival at the Library of Congress, see this entry on the Library's 4 Corners of the World blog from July 2019.