ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Buddhist monasteries and geographies of disease, health and wellbeing: an archaeological perspective


Shaw Julia - University college London, Institute of Archaeology, London, United Kingdom


05 – Health, disease and epidemics: multidisciplinary perspectives on the socio-ecology of medicine in pre-modern South Asia


 The paper examines ways in which early Indian Buddhist monasteries responded to contemporary ecological public health challenges of disease, pestilence, pollution, & provided for the physical & mental wellbeing of monastic & neighbouring lay communities, through analysis of internal architectural & spatial organisation, & the geographical positioning of monastic complexes within the broader socio-ecological landscape.In addition to evidence for monasteries as loci for direct forms of medical practice, it assesses archaeological & textual proscriptions regarding the relative configuration of monasteries & habitational settlements, & what the resultant social distancing between monastic & non-monastic communities tells us about wider patterns of health-maintenance & the control of epidemics. Evidence for water harvesting & management practices are assessed both as forms of public health control as well as reflections of early Buddhist environmental ‘ethics’ & ecological worldviews as illustrated by archaeology & relevant textual & artistic narratives. Evidence for Buddhist knowledge of both cultivated & ‘wild’ animals, plants, & their respective ecological zones, including monastic horticulture & garden traditions, & direct engagement with the products & technologies of upland forests & lowland agriculture, offer novel ways of locating medico-environmental products, worldviews & practices in early monastic places, landscapes & visual art forms.