DHĀRAṆĪ, magic spells in the Buddhist Mahāyānist and Tantric (esoteric) traditions.

i. In Khotanese.

ii. In Sogdian.



Introduction. Dhāraṇīs are, explained traditionally as “(capacity) to hold (Skt. dhṛ-) in memory”; shorter spells are called mantras. In the Buddhist Sanskrit texts dhāraṇīs can be recognized readily because they are often introduced by tad yathā (syād yathā) “thus” and end in svāhā “Hail!” Elements constituting dhāraṇīs are invocational formulae of the type “homage (namo) to so-and-so,” vocatives of various Buddhas’ names, and imperative verb forms or meaningless onomatopoetic syllables. Dhāraṇīs were incorporated into Mahāyāna sutras from early times, e.g., chap. 21 (dhāraṇī-parivarta) of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka (the Lotus Sutra), chap. 9 of the Laṅkāvatāra, or chap. 7 (Sarasvatī-parivarta) of the Suvarṇabhāsottama-sūtra (Sutra of Golden Light). In the later Tantric tradition numerous shorter texts were composed with such dhāraṇīs as their main part. Such texts are referred to as dhāraṇīs (not to be confused with the dhāraṇīs or mantras proper, which form the central part of them), as sūtras, or as dhāraṇī-sūtras.

Since dhāraṇīs are more often transcribed than translated, it is not surprising that we have few dhāraṇīs in the Khotanese language. What we have are translations from Sanskrit of either known or unknown originals. Some may be local compositions by the Khotanese, but their dhāraṇī part is written in Sanskrit in Khotanese spelling as are the translations. The following are examples of such texts.

Texts with known originals. 1. Anantamu-khanirhāradhāraṇī-sūtra (Inagaki). 2. Aparimitāyuḥ-sūtra. The transliteration given in Bailey (V, pp. 243ff.) omits the repetition of dhāraṇīs. Copies of Tibetan and Chinese translations of this sutra were mass-produced in Dunhuang under Tibetan rule. The latest count indicates the existence in various collections of 842 copies in Chinese (288 in London, 29 in Paris, 509 in Beijing, 11 in Kyoto, 5 in Taiwan), and 1899 copies in Tibetan (660 in London, 657 in Paris, 313 in Bejing, 218 in Japan, 51 in St. Petersburg). More copies in the Tibetan version are reported to remain unclassified in the India Office Library (Ueyama, pp. 438f.). 3. Jñānolka-dhāraṇī. The manuscripts of the Petrovsky collection have been published in facsimile by R. E. Emmerick and Vorob’ëva-Desjatovskaja (plates 2-6). The whereabouts of the folio in Japan (first published in facsimile in Seiiki Kōko Zufu 2, 1915, and transliterated from a reproduced photo in the wrong order in Bailey, V, pp. 313f. as Otani 1-2) is unknown. 4. Sumukha-(dhāraṇī) sūtra. Following R. E. Emmerick (1979) two fragments of the Sanskrit text have been published together with corrresponding Khotanese passages (Bongard-Levin and Vorobyova-Desya-tovskaya, 1980-81 and 1986a; see also idem, 1986b). Emmerick has published another fragment of the Sanskrit Sumukhadhāraṇī from the Crosby collection in the Library of Congress (1986).

Texts without known originals and given provisional titles. 1. Amṛta-prabha-dhāraṇī. 2. Avalokiteśvara-dhāraṇī.

Texts found with other Khotanese texts but not translated into Khotanese. 1. Buddhoṣṇīṣa-vijaya-dhāraṇī. This popular esoteric text is at the beginning of the long scroll Ch. c. 001 (lines 1-11 in Bailey, V, p. 368; a few more syllables can be read on pl. CXLVI in Stein) at the British Library (Ind. Off.). 2. Kauśika-prajñā-pāramitā (see Conze, 1973, pp. 157ff.). The Sanskrit text in Khotanese spelling includes the dhāraṇī (Bailey, V, pp. 356ff) and two more fragments (probably scribal exercises; Bailey, III, pp. 102, 118). 3. Sitāta-patra-(dhāraṇī-)sūtra. The Sanskrit text with many dhāraṇīs in Khotanese spelling is found in two manuscripts (Bailey, V, pp. 359ff, 368ff.).

Other texts originally containing dhāraṇīs are, e.g., the Adhyardhaśatikā (Conze, 1973, pp. 184ff.), the Prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya-sūtra (Skjærvø, 1988), and the Vajracchedikā (Kumārajīva’s Chinese version), although extant Khotanese versions do not extend to the dhāraṇī part.

See also BUDDHISM iii.



H. W. Bailey, Khotanese Texts, Cambridge, 1945-63.

G. M. Bongard-Levin and M. I. Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya, in Indologica Taurinensia 8-9, 1980-81, pp. 45ff.

Idem, in Peredneaziatskiĭ Sbornik 4, Moscow, 1986a, pp. 156ff.

Idem, Indian Texts from Central Asia (Leningrad Manuscript Collection), Bibliographia Philologica Buddhica Series Minor 5, Tokyo, 1986.

E. Conze, The Short Prajñāpāramitā Texts, London, 1973.

R. E. Emmerick, A Guide to the Literature of Khotan, Tokyo, 1979.

Idem, in G. Bhattacharya, ed., Deyadharma. Studies in the Memory of Dr. D. C. Sircar, Delhi, 1986, pp. 165-67 (with two plates).

Idem and Vorob’ëva-Desjatovskaja, Saka Documents VII. The St. Petersburg Collection, Corpus Inscrip. Iran., pt. II, vol. 5, Plates VII, London, 1993.

H. Inagaki, The Anantamukhanirhāra-Dhāraṇī Sūtra and Jñāna-garbha’s Commentaryt, Kyoto, 1987.

P. O. Skjærvø, in A Green Leaf. Papers in Honour of Professor Jes P. Asmussen, Acta Iranica 28, Leiden, 1988, pp. 157-71.

M. A. Stein, Serindia. Detailed Report of Explorations in Central Asia and Westernmost China, Oxford, 1921, repr. Delhi, 1980.

D. Ueyama, Studies of the Buddhists of Dunhuang, Kyoto, 1990 (in Japanese).




No dhāraṇī in Sogdian script has so far been encountered in Turfan MSS; those found among the Tun-huang MSS are:

1. Nīlakaṇṭha-dhāraṇī in Brahmi (47 lines) and its interlinear transcription in Sogdian script (60 lines) by the same scribe (Or. 8212 [175]; de la Vallée Poussin and Gauthiot); it is imperfect at the beginning by three phrases. According to Lévi, the dhā-raṇī is identical with that of Sahasrabhujāryā-valokiteśvara (T[aishō] T[ripṭaka] XX, no. 1061), which in turn is almost the same as Nīla-kaṇṭhāvalokiteśvara’s dhāraṇī (T.T., XX, no. 1111; cf. the Sogdian title given in the text 1-LPw δsty ʾʾryʾβṛʾwkδʾyšβr nyṛknt nʾm tʾrnydhāraṇī named thousand-handed Avalokiteśvara Nīlakaṇṭha”; on the Skt. and Tibetan versions see Wu chi-yu, pp. 67-68; Tsukamoto et al., pp. 129-30). This dhāraṇī is followed by a short, unidentified mantra named wyspw ʾʾγδʾk δβrʾynʾk δrzyʾwr ptsrwmhṛdaya mantra fulfilling all the wishes.”

2. Dhāraṇī of the Amoghapāśahṛdaya-sūtra, which is imperfect at the end, occupies lines 202-33 of P[elliot Sogdien] 7 (Benveniste, pp. 93-104); it is known from line 229 that the MS belonged to a man named kryʾn (Skt. kalyāṇa). Among the extant versions of the Amoghapāśahṛdaya-dhāraṇī in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese (cf. Meisezahl, 1962; Meisezahl, 1965; Emmerick; and Tsukamoto et al., pp. 123-26), the shorter ones, i.e., those found in T.T. (XX, nos. 1093-94) and in a Sanskrit MS from Tun-huang are close to the Sogdian.

3. Kṣitigarbha-dhāraṇī, contained inP 18 (Benveniste, pp. 200-01). This dhāraṇī (28 lines) is similar to the dhāraṇīs found in T.T. (XX, no. 1159B) and a Tun-huang Chinese MS S.4543. An interesting feature of this text is that Skt. -l- is sometimes transcribed with -rr- in Sogdian script.

4. Sixteen unidentified dhāraṇīs found in P 8 (Benveniste, pp. 105-17); P 8 (lines 61-62) names itself ʾʾryʾβrʾwkδyšβr pwtystβ mxʾstβ 100 ʾštʾ nʾm swtr γwβtyʾkh pwstk (= Avalokiteśvarasyanā-māṣṭaśatakastotra-sūtra). They are short spells against troubles and misfortunes preceded by homage to Avalokiteśvara. The first four are also found in P 8bis, which is another copy of the same text.

Three more mantras in Siddham script are quoted in P 14 and 15 (Benveniste, pp. 137-41). They are Fo pu san mei yeh chou (P 14, 30; T.T. XX, p. 204a), Ch’u hu shên chou (P 15, 14; T.T. XX, p. 191a), Ching shui chên yen (P15, 15; T.T. XVIII, p. 595a). The prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya-mantra is translated into Sogdian in P 16, 19-21 (cf. Benveniste, p. 143; Bailey, pp. 936-37).



H. W. Bailey, “Irano-Indica, IV,” BSO(A)S 13, 1951, pp. 920-38.

E. Benveniste, Textes sogdiens, Paris, 1940.

R. E. Emmerick, “Amoghapāśahṛdaya,” EIr I, pp. 979-80. S. Lévi, in JRAS, 1912, pp. 1063-66.

R. O. Meisezahl, in Monumenta Nipponica 17, 1962, pp. 265-328.

Idem, in Mikkyogaku mikkyoshi ronbunshu, Koyasan, 1965, pp. 179-216.

Taishō Tripṭaka, ed. J. Takakusu and K. Watanabe, Tokyo, 1924-32.

K. Tsukamoto et al., Bongo butten no kenkyu IV. Mikkyo kyoten hen, Tokyo, 1989.

L. de la Vallée Poussin and R. Gauthiot, in JRAS, 1912, pp. 629-45.

Wu chi-yu, in Contributions aux études de Touen-houang III, Paris, 1984, pp. 55-75.


(Hiroshi Kumamoto, Yutaka Yoshida)

Originally Published: December 15, 1995

Last Updated: November 22, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 4, pp. 356-358