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A New Kharoṣṭhī Document from Kucha in the Hetian County Museum Collection

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This article presents a previously unpublished Kharoṣṭhī document from the collection of the Hetian County museum in the Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Region, China. Although the document was in all likelihood found in the Niya area, its contents make clear that it stems from the ancient kingdom of Kucha. The document is formed by a sealed pair of tablets that out of conservation concerns have not been opened yet and an attached external tablet: this article will only deal with the contents of the latter, for which I provide transcription, a tentative translation, notes, glossary, and a tentative transcription of what is visible of the exterior surface of the main double tablet in appendix. The document can be firmly dated to the later half of the third century because it mentions a certain Sagamoi, who is well known from the Niya corpus. In spite of the brevity of the document and the uncertainties involved in its reading, the document provides many new bits of information, like the name of an early king of Kucha (Pitrṛbhakta), evidence that the term nuava was the ancient name of Shan-shan, and possibly Tocharian and Iranian words.

I would like to thank here Prof. Duan Qing 段晴 for the opportunity to take part in the project “Decipherment and Research on Non-Chinese Language Documents from the Southern Silk Route in Xinjiang” (新疆丝路南道所遗存非汉语文书释读与研究) funded by China’s National Endowment for the Social Sciences (project number 12&ZD179) that she coordinated, as well as for her constant support. I would also like to thank the participants of the Kharoṣṭhī seminar at Peking University in 2013–2014 (Zhang Xueshan 张雪山, Guan Di 关迪, Pi Jianjun 皮建军, Li Can 李灿, Wu Yunpei 吴赟陪, and Li Ying 李颖) as well as the participants in the “International Conference on Secular Kharoṣṭhī Documents” held at Peking University in December 2014, Profs. Ye Shaoyong 叶少勇, Saerji, Richard Salomon, Harry Falk, Ingo Strauch, Stefan Baums, and Dr. Andrew Glass for many insightful comments on the interpretation of this document. As it is de rigueur to say, any blunders are only mine.

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  1. 1.

    I indicate with this sign (\/) the interruption in the writing created by the notch in the tablet.

  2. 2.

    Or else aṭhami tre ime saheyaṃti “they must allow these three on the eighth night”?

  3. 3.

    The origins of the graph must be, however, ancient and stem in abbreviations that can be traced to Achaemenid Aramaic scribal practices, on which see Bailey 1950.

  4. 4.

    Originally from Aramaic ’lp “thousand”, then abbreviated to only lp, on which see the previous note.

  5. 5.

    p. 1006 of Volume II of the 中华书局 Zhonghua Shuju edition (hereafter = ZHSJ).

  6. 6.

    Mandarin Youliduo. The Chinese pronunciation in italics with an asterisk from here on is Later Han Early Middle Chinese (unless otherwise specified) as reconstructed in Pulleyblank.

  7. 7.

    Mandarin Bo Ba.

  8. 8.

    Both should be read in Mandarin bo2.

  9. 9.

    So Hansen 2012:75. It is true though that between the sixth and seventh centuries, the Chinese annals mention a series of kings whose names share the initial element *suəvha:t 蘇伐 (the preceding is reconstructed Middle Chinese; Mandarin sufa) which can be convincingly equated with Tocharian B swarn[a]-, corresponding to Sk. suvarṇa ‘gold’. No elements traceable to—bhakta are to be found in these names.

  10. 10.

    p. 1696 in volume III in the ZHSJ edition.

  11. 11.

    It seems unlikely that this garrison is the same military agricultural colony that the general Suo Mai 索勱 established in Loulan as told in Section XIV of Book II of the sixth century Commentary on the Scripture of Waters (Shui jing zhu 水經注) by Li Daoyuan 酈道元. Stein and Chavannes place this event at least a century earlier (Stein 422–423).

  12. 12.

    T 2087.945c.14-15.

  13. 13.

    Vol. 3, p. 2397 in the ZHSJ edition.

  14. 14.


  15. 15.

    Mandarin Changgui.

  16. 16.

    Mandarin Weituqi.

  17. 17.

    Vol. 3, p. 2859 in the ZHSJ edition.

  18. 18.

    For this interpretation of the title, see Wilkinson 79.

  19. 19.

    p. 132, register a in the ZHSJ edition.

  20. 20.

    Vol. 3, p. 2255 in the ZHSJ edition.

  21. 21.

    Vol. 3, p. 2356 in the ZHSJ edition.

  22. 22.

    Chavannes 1921:537–545 provides edition and French translations of the Chinese documents from Niya, whereas those of Loulan are also edited and translated in 1913:§754, §907, §922 etc.

  23. 23.

    For recent surveys that tend to advocate for and against this hypothesis, see respectively Hansen 2012:25–55 and Hitch 2009.

  24. 24.

    I thank Prof. Stefan Baums for suggesting both this reading and the reference.

  25. 25.

    I owe this information to Professor Melanie Malzahn from Vienna, who through personal communication (April 7, 2014) shared with me her opinion on this passage from her expertise in the Tocharian language.

  26. 26.

    All this information I have gathered from Adams 1999, aware of the criticisms that have been waged against this work.

  27. 27.

    Likewise, a = ṣä does in fact resemble Kharoṣṭhī ṣa.

  28. 28.

    See Glass 2000:67. jh/z occurs in Indic words only in an intervocalic position, like daza = dasa ‘slave’.


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Appendix: Preliminary Transcription of the Outer Surface of the Central Double Tablet

Appendix: Preliminary Transcription of the Outer Surface of the Central Double Tablet


  1. 1.

    saṃvatsare 10 x x x ti x x x x 3 taṃ kālo kuci x x x x x va putra //pitrṛbhaktena kaṃru x ha –i –i sa s[t]i –i x x x ṣo x x x x x vya x

  2. 2.

    ku\( \acute{\text {v}} \)anaṃmi ive ri x sa x x x x x x x x x mayi[r]i x x x x x tayi nama teṣaṃ //artha ye aṃnata ima divi le x x ye va re x abhave x x ga -ga x bhava x

  3. 3.

    -o x na dhi ha ga śa –u x x x x ta pa x –i x x x x li ma […] u ma sya //x ma diśaye anu x dhitu […] ta kṣi x x x

  4. 4.

    […] ku\( \acute{\text {v}} \)anaṃmi […] //śata –i –i x k- x x x x x otarati x x x x x pa –ai ka

  5. 5.

    x x x x –ā x x x x x x x x x –u x x x x x x x x x x //x x x x x x x x x x ya sagamoyasa x x -ya

  6. 6.

    x x pu x x po ta x x x x x […] ti –i ma [..] //kālo yo ca yo va x x x x x x x –i yo i x x x x x x

  7. 7.

    x x x pra x ye x x x x –i […] ya x x ya //ve de x x x x x x x x x te va sta –i x x x x x x x

  8. 8.

    […] maharayasa –u x x //taṃ za la x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x ga x x x x


  1. 1.

    x x x prati x x –u x r[x]a x x x mapitaṃ za te i tva na taṃ pra bh-//x x x x x ri x ha x […]

  2. 2.

    x x u x x lihitaga x x ta pu x x keṃ lo taṃ kālo aṃtariya ? pru ta śa //x tāna kṛta maya tivi(ra).

Glossary (The order of the letters follows that of the Brahmī alphabet, with s and z after s)


Sk. aṣṭamī “the eighth [night of a fortnight]”


(3) Cmp. Buddhist Sk. -antarīya “other than, further” and Skt. antara “proximate, interior” but also “mediate, distant” (!). Buddhist Skt. antarika does seem to mean, though, “neighboring”


(3) Sk. aṣṭa ‘eight’


(2) Meaning unknown. See discussion above


Sk. √as “to be”; (1) asti third-person singular present; (2) siyati third-person singular optative (Sk. syāt)


see √as


Sk. eka “one”; (3) ike nominative-accusative plural (Sk. nominative plural eke)


see ika-


Sk. pronominal base im- “she, he”; (3) ime nominative-accusative plural (Sk. masculine nominative plure ime)


(1) Sk. utpādita “issued”, past passive participle of the causative of ut-√pad “come forth”. See the discussion above


(3) Sk. eva “precisely, only”


A place name?; (2) Oriyaṃmi locative singular “in Oriya (?)”


see Oriya-


(1) Sk. kāruṇya “kindness, mercy” with intrusive anusvara. Please see discussion above


(1) Sk. kāla “time”: accusative taṃ k[ā]laṃ and hybrid accusative-locative taṃ k[ā]laṃmi (on which see Burrow 1937:§80) are standard phrases in Niya that mean “at that time”; taṃ kālo is unusual but undoubtedly related


(1) Kucha, compare Early Middle Chinese *Kuwdzi 龜茲 (Mandarin Qiuci). Kucha has been the name of the area since Han times. Chapter 28b of the Book of Han (Han shu 漢書) describes a township in the Shang 上 prefecture (modern Shaanxi province) called also Qiuci 龜茲. Based on this and on commentarial literature, Yu 2013:29 suggests that Chinese settlers originally from this area gave the name to Kucha during Western Han times


Please see discussion above


(3) Sk. kṛta “made”, past passive participle of √kṛ “to do”

ku v anaṃmi

Niya Prakrit kuhani, khvani, khuvan[eṃci] “citadel, capital”; (2) kuvanaṃmi locative singular

khaval g a

(2) Meaning unknown; please see discussion above


(2) Sk. tataḥ “therefore”


third person pronominal base, akin to Sk. tad; (1) taṃ masculine-neuter accusative singular “that”; (2) tasya genitive singular “of him, his”; (2, 3) te nominative-accusative plural “those”


see ta-


see ta-


see ta-


Sk. tri “three”


Sk. √da “to give”; (3) diyaṃti (usually spelled deyaṃti) third-person plural optative “let them give”. It is unlikely, although possible that it corresponds to the Sk. passive base dīyante “are given”. See Burrow 1937:§100


(2) Sk. datta “given”


(3) “gift”


see √da-


Sk. divasa “day”, see discussion above; (1) divyāse locative singular “in the day”


(1) Sk. devaputra, made from the elements deva “god” and putra “son” = “son of a god”. Although the compound occurs in Sanskrit, it is not usually a royal title and probably this usage is due to influence from either Western or Chinese imperial epithets


(2) Sk. nāma “[by] name”


(1) “[national] of Shanshan”, from Nuava “Shanshan”. See the notes to the translation for the possible etymology


(2) Sk. paśavaḥ “animals, sheep”, nominative plural of paśu “domestic animal”. In the Niya usage this form occurs as a pluralia tantum


Personal name of the king of Kucha, whose elements correspond to Sk. pitṛ “father, ancestral spirit” and bhakta “devoted” = “devoted to the father” or “devoted to the ancestral pitṛ spirits”; (1) Pitrṛbhaktena instrumental singular. Please see the discussion above


Sk. māsa “month”; (1) māse locative singular “in the month”


see masa-


(1) Sk. mahārāja “great king, maharaja”


(3) Sk. rājya “kingdom” and tasuca, a term of probably indigenous origin (akin to Tocharian B tā[s] “place, consider” + agentival suffix -uca?) that indicates an official rank with unknown functions (Burrow 1937:94)


(2) Sk. vaṇij, vaṇija “merchant”


Sk. vastavya “resident”


(3) Unknown meaning; the phonetic structure suggests an Iranian origin. I have very tentatively assumed it is a proper name. Please see discussion above


(2) Sk. ṣaṭ “six”


(1) Sk. saṃvatsara “year”; (1) saṃvatsare locative singular “in the year”


Sk. √sah “tolerate, have patience with, let pass, be lenient”; (3) saheyaṃti 3rd person singular optative “let them be lenient towards (?)”


See √sah


see √as

s a

(1) Sk. saḥ nominative form of the 3rd person masculine pronoun

S a g amoi

Personal name; (1-2) Sagamoi nominative singular; (3) Sagamoyasya genitive singular

S a g amoyasya

see Sagamoi


Unknown meaning, possibly of Iranian origin. Please see discussion above

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Loukota, D. (2020). A New Kharoṣṭhī Document from Kucha in the Hetian County Museum Collection. In: Li, X. (eds) Non-Han Literature Along the Silk Road. Silk Road Research Series. Springer, Singapore.

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