views updated


Aśvaghoṣa (ca. 100 c.e.) was a Sanskrit poet and dramatist. As is the case with nearly all the writers of ancient India, legend and fictional anecdote take the place of biographical fact, but the association of Aśvaghoṣa with the Kushan king Kaniṣka is at least chronologically possible.

Aśvaghoṣa is the author of two long poems, among the earliest extant in Sanskrit: Buddhacarita (Acts of the Buddha) and Saundarananda, about the conversion of the Buddha's half-brother Nanda. Fewer than half of the twenty-eight cantos of the Buddhacarita survive complete in the original Sanskrit, bringing the story only as far as the Buddha's enlightenment, but Tibetan and Chinese translations preserve the entire work. Only fragments survive of Aśvaghoṣa's nine-act play, Śāriputraprakaraṅa (The Matter [or Drama] of Śāriputra) about the conversion of ŚĀriputra and MahĀmaudgalyĀyana, later to become two of the Buddha's main disciples. Of the other works attributed to Aśvaghoṣa, only the fragments of another drama are likely to be his.

The profound knowledge of brahmanical lore displayed in his writing supports the Chinese tradition that he was born a brahman and only later converted to Buddhism. Conversion is the main theme of two of his works and also figures prominently in the third. His avowed purpose in writing was to win converts to the Buddha's teaching by the charm of his art and the intensity of his conviction. Aśvaghoṣa's fame as a writer and the legend of his life contributed to his renown in East Asia and resulted in a number of works, such as the Awakening of Faith (Dasheng qixin lun), being falsely attributed to him.

See also:Sanskrit, Buddhist Literature in


Johnston, E. H., ed. and trans. The Saundarananda of Aśvaghoṣa, 2 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1928 and 1932.

Johnston, E. H., ed. and trans. The Buddhacarita or, Acts of the Buddha. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993.

Lüders, Heinrich. "Das Śāriputraprakaraṅa, ein Drama des Aśvaghoṣa." In Philologica Indica. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1940.

Peter Khoroche