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Ancient Talang Tuo Inscription Tells of A Bountiful Park and Well Being for All Creatures

Louis Constant Westenenk

On November 17, 1920, just 8 months after becoming the Resident of Palembang, the Dutch diplomat Louis Constant Westenenk found himself at the foot of Bukit Seguntang, in the village of Talang Tuo. His foray here with his entourage led to a stunning discovery of an ancient stone tablet.

Named after the village where it was found, the Talang Tuo Sanskrit inscription is a significant Srivijaya archaeological find from the 7th century. It provided valuable insights into the early development of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. It is also one of the world's oldest inscriptions that speak of the environment.

For those new to the history of Southeast Asia, Palembang was the capital of Srivijaya, a Buddhist kingdom that ruled much of the western Indonesian Archipelago from the 7th to 13th century CE and controlled many maritime trade routes, including the Strait of Malacca.

The inscription was discovered in excellent condition, displaying clearly engraved scripts. It measures 50 cm × 80 cm and is made of stone. It bears the date 606 Saka, which corresponds to March 23, 684, and the text is written in the Pallava script (which later evolved into the Tamil and Grantha script) in old Malay language.

The inscription provided valuable information with regards to the establishment of the Śrīksetra park, which was commissioned by Sri Jayanasa, the founder of the Srivijaya empire. The intention of the King was to promote the well-being of all living beings residing in his kingdom.

It records the construction of a Buddhist monastery and a number of stupas at Talang Tuo. The inscription also contains prayers and expectations, which clearly portray Buddhist teachings, including a reflection on the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajñāpāramitā) sutras.

The inscription is significant for a number of reasons. First, it provides the earliest evidence of the presence of Buddhism in Sumatra and demonstrated that the Srivijaya empire was a powerful and sophisticated Buddhist kingdom. It also indicated the important role that Srivijaya played in the spread of Buddhism in the region.

Secondly, it shows that the Perfection of Wisdom sutras were already being studied and propagated in Southeast Asia by the 7th century.

Thirdly, it's use of Sanskrit suggests that Srivijaya was part of a wider Buddhist network that stretched across Asia. The Srivijaya period coincided with the flourish of the Nalanda tradition (5th to 12th century CE), a Buddhist philosophical and educational lineage that traces its origins to the ancient Nalanda University in Bihar, India. Nalanda was a renowned center of learning and attracted diverse community of scholars from all over Asia, making significant contributions to Buddhist philosophy, logic and other fields of knowledge.

In addition to its religious significance, the Talang Tuo inscription is also of great artistic and cultural importance. Carved on a number of large stone slabs, the inscriptions are a masterpiece of Southeast Asian art. It provides a valuable glimpse into the artistic traditions of the Srivijaya empire.

According to the French historian George Cœdès (1886-1969), the translation provided below represents the full Talang Tuo inscription:

On 23 March 684, on this day the park named Śrīksetra was created under the order of Sri Baginda Śrī Jayanāśa. His Majesty's intention is (as follows): May all (plants) planted here, coconut tree, Areca catechu, Arenga pinnata, sagoo, and all kinds of trees, the fruits, be edible, as well as haur bamboo, waluh, and pattum, et cetera; and may all other plants (together) with dams and ponds, and all of good deeds that I have (contributed) be enjoyed by all creatures; the ones that can move around and ones that cannot, and may this be the best path to achieve happiness.

If they are hungry, or (in) need of rest during their journey, may they find food and drinks (here). May all the orchards (the harvest) be abundant. May all kinds of animals that they (keep) be fertile, and also their slaves. May misfortunes not befall upon them, and (their bodies) not be tortured (due to lack of) sleep. What ever they do, may all the planets and stars favour their fortunes, and may they be spared from sickness and old age.

And may all subjects be loyal and devoted, also may all their friends not betray them, and may their wives be faithful. Moreover, wherever they may be, may there be no thieves, or (meet) people of violence, killers and adulterers. Next to all these (good wishes), may they have (faithful) friends; may they be born with the thought of Bodhi and friendship from (the) three Ratnas [Sk: jewels, referring to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha].

And may they always (act) generously, follow (the) rules and (have) patience; may they grow (in) strength, diligence, knowledge of all kinds of arts; may their attention be focused, (may they) have knowledge, good memory and intelligence. May they have tenacious thought, with diamond body like the Mahāsattvas with incomparable power, glorious and (be able to) remember their previous lives, with complete senses; (may they have) fully (beautifully) formed, happy, smiling, calm, pleasant voice - (like) the voice of Brahmā. May they be (born as a) man, with (their) very existence (a blessing); may they become the vessel of cintamani sacred stone [a wish-fulfilling jewel], have power of (overcoming the cycles of) births, power over karma, power upon (moral) stains, and may they finally achieve the perfect and grand (spiritual) enlightenment.

Consisting of 14 lines, the inscription was initially translated by Van Ronkel and Bosch, whose findings were published in Acta Orientalia[1]. Since its discovery in 1920, the inscription has been preserved in the National Museum of Indonesia in Jakarta, cataloged under the inventory number D.145.

The Talang Tuo Inscription Stone is a valuable resource for scholars of Southeast Asian history and culture, and it is a must-see for anyone interested in the history of Buddhism in the region.



1. Ronkel, S. Van, "A Preliminary Notice Concerning Two Old Malay Inscriptions in Palembang (Sumatra)",


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