Manuscripts of the Sanghāta have been recovered not only in Gilgit, but in Khotan, northern Pakistan, Dunhuang, Chinese Turkestan and other sites in central Asia along the silk route. The lack of substantial caches of Sanghāta manuscripts on the Indian subcontinent does not preclude their circulation there. India’s monsoon climate is notoriously hard on the palm-leaf and birch-bark on which manuscripts were written, and those Sanghāta manuscripts that have survived were all found in drier zones to the north.
Although the Sanghāta circulated first in Sanskrit, it was subsequently translated into all the major languages of Buddhist communities to the north, northwest and east of India: Khotanese, Chinese, Sogdian and Tibetan. This translation work took place over the course of the fifth through tenth centuries of the common era. The very first translation that we know of was from Sanskrit into Khotanese.
The Khotanese translation of the Sanghāta is the oldest translation into a vernacular language that we have. The Sanghāta had been translated into Khotanese sometime before the middle of the fifth century CE. Fragments of varying lengths survive in 27 manuscripts of the Sanghāta in Khotanese.
Khotanese is an Indo-Iranian language that was spoken by a vibrant Buddhist community centered in Khotan. Khotan was an important city on the ancient trade routes linking Northwest India and China - a route that was also crucial for the flow of Buddhism to Tibet. Khotanese Buddhists had an un-acknowledged but noteworthy impact on Buddhism in Tibet. Although Samye Monastery, built in 787 CE, is widely celebrated as the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet, half a century before then, in 725 CE, seven monastic communities of Khotanese monks were established in Tibet - including one monastery in Lhasa - for Khotanese monks who had arrived as refugees in Tibet, after an anti-Buddhist ruler gained power in Khotan. Additionally, the Tibetan alphabet was based on the Khotanese adaption of the Indian Gupta script. To read more about these and other important interactions between Tibet and Khotan, click here. To find out more about Khotanese Buddhism, click here.A beautiful edition of the existing Khotanese version of the Sanghāta was published in 1993, with an English translation of the Khotanese and corresponding Sanskrit. (There are major portions of the Sanskrit missing from the Khotanese version.) This major effort by Giotto Canevascini, was the first link in a chain that brought the Sanghāta back into active circulation. This fine hardback edition is hard to find, but can sometimes be purchased online. Another option for ordering this book may be pursued by clicking here (with free delivery in the UK.)
Incidentally, the publishers of this book very kindly granted their permission for the English translation from the Khotanese in this text to be photocopied and distributed free of charge to a group of students in Wisconsin in 2002. These were the very first copies of the Sanghāta in English to be recited, and the only copies used for recitation in English until the present translation from the Tibetan was prepared.