India: Rare Buddhist manuscript Lotus Sutra released

National Archives of India The Lotus Sutra was discovered in 1931

A rare Buddhist manuscript, discovered by cattle grazers in 1931, has been released in book form in India.

The Lotus Sutra was found in Gilgit region, now in Pakistan.

The document, which dates back to 5th century, is perhaps the only Buddhist manuscript discovered in India.

Believed to be one of the most revered Buddhist scriptures, it represents the discourse delivered by Buddha towards the end of his life.

The Gilgit Lotus Sutra is kept at the National Archives of India in the capital, Delhi.

'Important find'

The book - a facsimile edition which is an exact replica of the manuscripts - will be launched by the National Archives jointly with the Institute of Oriental Philosophy and Soka Gakkai, a Japan-based non-governmental organisation recognised by the UN.

"This will help greatly to preserve the rare documents for posterity and make them available for future research," Prof Mushir-ul Hasan, Director General of National Archives of India, said.

The manuscripts were discovered in a wooden box in a circular chamber inside a Buddhist stupa by cattle grazers who brought the box to the Wazir of Gilgit.

The Wazir of Gilgit sent it to the Maharaja of Kashmir in Srinagar.

The document was studied by Hungarian-British archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein who announced the important find to the world.

Officials at the National Archives say the ancient manuscripts managed to survive for centuries because they were written on the bark of the bhoj (birch) tree which does not decay and were kept in the freezing sub-zero temperatures of the Gilgit region.

The Lotus Sutra is one of the most sacred scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, which is strongest in Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia.

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