Blue and White Ware Mantras: Sanskrit Inscriptions on Ming Ceramics

7.00pm Thursday, 13 June 2019
Visitors’ Briefing Room, Level 1
National Library Building
100 Victoria Street
Singapore 188064

Blue and white porcelains decorated with Sanskrit letters started being produced in large numbers during the Ming dynasty. The letters on these porcelains spell out mantras in a language once spoken by many Asian elites. For instance, Sanskrit was still used in the Malay Archipelago up to the fourteenth century, and it is said to have been spoken at the founding of Singapore. But few people who traded with the Ming could have made sense of the mantras on their ceramics, which were written in the ornate Ranjana/Lantsha script. And yet Ming ceramics with mantra motifs have been found in at least six shipwrecks from Southeast Asia. Were these blue and white ware mantras purely ornamental, or were they meant to speak to someone, somewhere? This talk will decipher the Sanskrit letters on porcelains in selected public collections and discuss their wider significance.

About Dr Iain Sinclair

Dr Iain Sinclair is a Visiting Fellow at Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He studies the art, history and literature of Asia using primary sources in classical languages. His current research explores religious exchanges between the Malay Archipelago and Indo-Himalayan region during the tenth to fourteenth centuries. He obtained his PhD from Monash University (2016) and had published on subjects such as ritual, iconography, portraiture, manuscripts and Hindu-Buddhist civilisation.

This talk is free and open to the public, SEACS members and their guests. No RSVP is required but seating is limited and on a first-come-first-served basis. The program will begin at 7pm promptly and end at approximately 8.30pm. Parking is available in the National Library basement carpark and the closest MRT stop is Bras Basah.

Plate with Sanskrit script and lotus blossom decorations in underglaze blue, Wanli reign (1573-1619), Ming dynasty, Taipei National Palace Museum Collection
Stem cup with Sanskrit letters, Xuande Period (1425-1435), Ming dynasty, Taipei National Palace Museum Collection