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Hidden Stories: Books Along the Silk Roads

Videos About the Objects

Lectures and conversations relating to objects in Hidden Stories: Books Along the Silk Roads.

Click here for videos on Micro-CT in the exhibition. 

A Buddhist Sutra for Protection

Pañcarakṣā (pronounce: "pancha-rak-sha") means “five protectresses” or “five protector goddesses.” This particular Pañcarakṣā Sūtra belongs to the Newari Buddhist tradition in Nepal and protects users from a range of illnesses and calamities including snake bites, defense from torments of hell, safety during sea journeys, and protection against pestilence - particularly appropriate for a global Covid pandemic. Join Jinah Kim (Harvard University), Alexander O’Neill (SOAS University of London), and Sarah Richardson (University of Toronto) as they explore the production and use of this living text in which the Pañcarakṣā are embodied and are called upon by those seeking protection.

A brief overview of the Buddhist Pañcarakṣā Sūtra (11 minutes).

Conversation with Jinah Kim, Alexander O’Neill, and Sarah Richardson, discussing the production and use of a Nepalese Buddhist Pañcarakṣā Sūtra (1 hour).

The Kammavācā: A Buddhist Ordination Manuscript from Myanmar

Trent Walker (Stanford University, Ho Center for Buddhist Studies) and Luther Obrock (University of Toronto) explore a Burmese Kammavācā (pronounce: ‘ka-ma-wa-jah’) manuscript on loan from the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. The Kammavācā is a highly ornamental book, made from cloth, clay, gold, and pigments and lacquered to a high shine. This one is used in the Buddhist ordination ceremony for new monks entering the monastery within the Theravāda tradition in Myanmar.

Conversation between Trent Walker and Luther Obrock exploring the Kammavācā Manuscript from Myanmar in the exhibition (35 minutes).


Trent Walker briefly discusses the Kammavācā and its use in the Buddhist ordination ritual (6.5 minutes).

Trent Walker briefly discusses the making of the Kammavācā manuscript (6.5 minutes).

Three Ethiopian Christian Objects

Ethiopian manuscripts scholar Eyob Derillo (British Library), in conversation with Melissa Moreton (IAS, Princeton), explores three Christian Ethiopian objects in the Hidden Stories exhibition – including an amulet scroll made for a female patron who is named in the text. Derillo contextualizes these objects and explains how they are used historically and today by modern-day Ethiopians, part of a long-standing tradition of manuscript production and use in Ethiopia that dates to the earliest centuries of the Christian era. The cloth-covered manuscript with carrying case, amulet scroll used for healing, and bookstand are on loan from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.

Brief introduction to the Ethiopian Christian objects in the exhibition with Eyob Derillo of the British Library (3 minutes).

Conversation between Eyob Derillo and Melissa Moreton exploring the Ethiopian Christian objects in the exhibition (45 minutes).

A Baptismal Register from Mexico City

David Fernández (Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Toronto), in conversation with Suzanne Conklin Akbari (IAS, Princeton), discusses an 18th-century baptismal register recording names and baptism dates of Indigenous children in the Mexico City parish of San Sebastian. In the colonial period, Catholic Church parishes kept separate record books for communities of Indigenous, African, Spanish, and mixed descent. These details provide insight into the social history of a diversity of communities in the period.

Brief introduction to the Mexican baptismal register in the exhibition with David Fernández of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Toronto (4 minutes).

Conversation between David Fernández and Suzanne Akbari exploring the Mexican baptismal register in the exhibition (22 minutes).

Two Islamic Amulets (15 minutes)

Humans have sought protection from pain, harm, and negative forces since time immemorial. In Muslim lands, invocations to God and verses from the Qur’an are believed to be especially protective, and so appear on various objects over the centuries. Art historian Christiane Gruber (University of Michigan) explores two such amulets in the Aga Khan Museum collection, made to safeguard their owners and wearers: a tiny 11th-century Egyptian printed sheet of paper and a large 19th-century Iranian talismanic chart inked on gazelle skin. Their Arabic-script written and geometric contents also appear on coins, arms and armor, and talismanic shirts, revealing a larger material urge to bring spiritual blessings in close proximity to—and, at times, even absorption into—the physical body.

“That the prefecture may be tranquil”: A Thousand-Year-Old Buddhist Print from Dunhuang (41 minutes)

Curator Wen-chien Cheng (Royal Ontario Museum), Jessica Lockhart (Head of Research at the Old Books New Science Lab, University of Toronto), and Amanda Goodman (Professor of Religion and East Asian Studies, University of Toronto) discuss a 10th-century Buddhist prayer sheet from the region of Dunhuang, China. Dunhuang was a key point along the trading routes of the Silk Roads and is also home to spectacular Buddhist caves, known as the Mogao Caves, which were active between the 4th and 14th centuries. These caves contained a vast amount of Buddhist art as well as a hidden library of texts in more than twelve languages. The prayer sheet, part of this hidden library, is one of several dozen surviving prints commemorating a summer festival held at the site in the year 947 CE. Goodman and Lockhart describe its history and explain how current scientific techniques can help us understand historical objects. This important print is featured in the Aga Khan Museum exhibition “Hidden Stories: Books Along the Silk Roads”.

The Gwalior Qur'an with Art Historian Marika Sardar (9 minutes)

A Closer Look: Three Islamic Prayer Books (2 minutes)

A Closer Look: Qur’an Case and Talismanic Chart (2 minutes)

You can find more videos on textiles, manuscripts, and other related topics here