Calligraphic Magic

Abhidhamma Inscriptions from Sukhodaya


  • Peter Skilling École française d’Extrême-Orient, Bangkok



Abhidhamma, Pali inscriptions of Thailand, Pali liturgy, Pali heart formulas, Sukhodaya/Sukhothai


The article presents five fifteenth- to sixteenth-century Pali inscriptions from Sukhodaya, Thailand. Three of them are engraved in the Khom alphabet on large square stone slabs, with considerable attention to format; they seem to be unique in Thai epigraphy. Two of these carry extracts from the Abhidhamma; the third gives a syllabary followed by the recollection formulas of the Three Gems. The other two epigraphs are written not on stone slabs but are inscribed on small gold leaves; they contain the heart formulas of the books of the Tipitaka and the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. The exact find-spots and functions of the slabs and gold leaves are not known. I suggest that they are the products of widespread and enduring Buddhist cultures of inscription, installation, and consecration, as well as of customs of condensation and abbreviation that have have been intrinsic to Thai liturgical and manuscript practices up to the present.

Author Biography

Peter Skilling, École française d’Extrême-Orient, Bangkok

Peter Skilling retired from the French School of Asian Studies (EFEO) in 2016. He is a special lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, an honorary member of the Siam Society, Bangkok, and in 2017 he was elected an honorary fellow of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai. His expertise spans Sanskrit, Pāli, Thai and Tibetan literature, and South and Southeast Asian Buddhism, and he has published works including Mahāsūtras: Great Discourses of the Buddha. Texts. Critical editions of the Tibetan Mahāsūtras (2 vols, 1994 and 1997, Pali Text Society), Beyond Worldly Conditions (edited, 1999, Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation), Pāli Literature Transmitted in Central Siam (with Santi Pakdeekham, 2002, Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation), Pāli and Vernacular Literature Transmitted in Central and Northern Siam (with Santi Pakdeekham, 2004, Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation), Buddhism and Buddhist Literature of South-East Asia: Selected Papers by Peter Skilling (2009, Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation), How Theravāda is Theravāda? Exploring Buddhist Identities (co-edited, 2012, Silkworm).


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How to Cite

Skilling, P. (2018). Calligraphic Magic: Abhidhamma Inscriptions from Sukhodaya. Buddhist Studies Review, 35(1-2), 161–187.