Entre Nous: Andrea Acri on Esoteric Buddhist Networks along the Maritime Silk Routes

February 22, 2016

On Monday, February 15, 2016, Andrea Acri, Visiting Assistant Professor at School of Historical Studies, Nalanda University discussed his upcoming book with the title: “Esoteric Buddhist Networks along the Maritime Silk Routes, 7th–13th Century AD.” Acri is also a Visiting Fellow at Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre (ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute), Singapore.

Acri talked about how in the Indic (Post-Gupta) Mediaeval period, coastal and hinterland polities spread over the vast geographical expanse, were connected through a web of entrepots linking the Indian Ocean/Bay of Bengal to the South China Sea/Western Pacific Ocean. He conceptualises this as the ‘Maritime Asia’. According to him, these cosmopolitan locales acted as crossroads of political power, mercantile entrepreneurship, and centres of learning, worship, and pilgrimage where institutionalised esoteric forms of Hinduism and Buddhism coexisted alongside esoteric/Tantric trends. He demonstrated through his findings that from the early 7th century, Esoteric Buddhist masters, texts, and icons travelled far and wide across Asia through multiple centres of diffusion in both the Indian Subcontinent and the outlying (so-called) ‘peripheries’.

Entre Nous: Andrea Acri on Esoteric Buddhist Networks along the Maritime Silk Routes

His talk gave a historical overview of the networks of agents who circulated eastwards and westwards along the ‘Maritime Silk Routes’, transferring—and thus transforming—varieties Esoteric Buddhism. He also made an argument for the important role played by the ‘Southern’ regions—such as Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian Archipelago—in the genesis and propagation of Esoteric Buddhist cults, texts, and iconographical motifs across Asia.

Entre Nous (“Between Us”) is a forum for critical but friendly conversations during which members of the University community (faculty, students, and other interested members) present work-in-progress related to the study of culture and nature broadly conceived. Talks are for approximately 30 minutes followed by discussion.

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