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The Collection of Tibetan Manuscripts and Block Prints Print E-mail
03/12/2010

The Collection of Tibetan Manuscripts and Block Prints at the IOM RAS

The Brief History of the Formation of the Collection of Tibetan Manuscripts and Block Prints

At the collection of manuscripts and old-printed books kept at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences the Tibetan collection has its special place, basically thanks to its huge amount: the inventory books compiled mainly in 1973—1975 fixed data of around 20 500 items most of which consist of several treatises or even books and this number did not cover a lot of unprocessed texts that are to be numbered in the forthcoming years. No doubt, this is one of the biggest collections of Tibetan literature world-wide.

The first portion of Tibetan texts was brought to St Petersburg in the 1720s from the ruined Ablai-yin Kyit monastery on the Irtysh river. Some more Tibetan texts were later passed to the Academy by academicians G. F. Miller (1705—1783) and P. S. Pallas (1741—1811) who explored, each in his own time, Siberia and visited the Buryats who inhabited the region around the Selenga river. The initial stage of collecting of Tibetan texts resulted in a list of the acquired documents compiled by Pallas’ assistant I. Jährig. It included 12 Tibetan texts as well as 12 Tibeto-Mongolian bilingual texts.

The collection was considerably replenished in the first half of the 19th century when two big collections of texts were purchased in 1835 and 1841. Both of them belonged to baron P. Schilling von Canstadt (1786—1837) who gathered a lot of Oriental books and curiosities while at work as a governmental officer in the Siberian region. The Tibetan part of his library consisted of both xylographs bought from Buryat monasteries and manuscripts composed by Buryat monks on his orders. Perhaps, the most valuable part of it (especially for that period) was the entire set of Bka’-‘gyur published in Sde-dge. More...

The Catalogues of the Collection of Tibetan Manuscripts and Block Prints

The collection of Tibetan manuscripts and block prints remain basically uncatalogued. The prerevolutionary editions contain nothing but lists of Tibetan texts kept at the Asiatic Museum (AM), without any serious descriptions. The edition of 1847 prepared by academicians J.Schmidt and O. von Böhtlingk is closest to the modern concept of the academic catalogue. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the number of texts kept at the AM increased very quickly and, since the academic curators who had to process new texts were unable to keep up, the compilation of an academic catalogue proved to be impossible.

The first serious description of a small but most important part of the Tibetan collection was the following:

Vorobyov-Desyatovsky V.S. The Collection of Tibetan Documents on Wood Gathered by S.E.Malov [Коллекция тибетских документов на дереве, собранная С.Е.Маловым], in - Uchenye Zapiski Instituta vostokovedeniya, 1953, t. VI, p. 167-175.

Much later, in 1995, M.I. Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya published a survey of this collection and other Tibetan MSS dating from the 8th to 11th century -

Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya M. Tibetan Manuscripts of the 8—11th centuries A.D. in the Manuscript Collection of the St Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies // Manuscripta Orientalia. Vol. 1, No 1, July 1995. Pp. 46-48.

The Tibetan scrolls from Dunhuang were catalogued by L.S. Savytsky -

Savitsky L.S. The Description of Tibetan Scrolls from Dunhuang Kept at the Institute of Oriental Studies, the USSR Academy of Sciences [Описание тибетских свитков из Дуньхуана в собрании Института востоковедения АН СССР]. Moscow, Nauka GRVL Publishers 1991. 128 p.

The catalogue, although valuable, does not contain the data of some scrolls found later, and therefore needs revision.

In early 1990s, the Institute agreed with the ACIP (Asian Classics Input Project), the US organization aimed at preserving Tibetan literary heritage, to initiate the compilation of an e-catalogue of Tibetan block-prints and manuscripts. For this purpose, a group of three Tibetan monks from Sera Mey Monastery, India, came to St Petersburg. The work eventually stretched over 14 years and, although the project was officially completed in March 2008, it resulted in a database marred by extensive limitations. It can be used for the search of some treatises kept at the Institute but has many errors and can by no means claim to be a comprehensive and systematic catalogue of our collection. Such an academic catalogue is to be compiled by the current curators of the collection, Dr A.V. Zorin (who initiated the project in 2007) and Dr S.S. Sabrukova (from 2008). (More about the cooperation with ACIP...).

Check also the list of names of Tibetan authors whose writings are represented in the collection of the IOM RAS (in accordance with the first 100,000 entries of the data-base compiled by the ACIP crew).

A brief illustrated description of the collection of Tibetan manuscripts and block prints

This chapter will be revised as the collection is processed.

I

First there are the editions of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon, consisting of two large collections of texts mostly translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan. They are called Bka' 'gyur (the Buddha’s words) and Bstan 'gyur (later treatises considered as commentaries on the Buddha’s words).

The formation of the canon took many centuries and was not centralized, with the result that the editions made in various places throughout Tibet are not quite identical in respect of their structure and contents.

The IOM RAS has several editions of the canon. More....

The Holding of Pictures from the Tibetan and Mongolian collections

Collections of Tibetan and Mongolian manuscripts and block prints are supplied with the holding of pictures formed mostly from acquisitions made during the 1930s through 1950s. The majority are pieces of Buddhist art created in the territory of Buryatia, which provenance is shown by their style. However, the iconographic technique, structure (both artistic and material) of icons, and their contents are in harmony with Tibetan patterns, primarily the Sino-Tibetan (or ‘International’) school of iconography developed by the Dge lugs pa Sect. Due to the absence of any documents concerning the obtaining of the bulk of the pictures it is impossible to ascertain for sure the place in which they were produced. It is quite probable that some icons have Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, or Kalmykian origin. More...

Projects aimed at the study and preservation of Tibetan texts kept at the IOM RAS

The two major projects of the curators of the Tibetan collection, on which Dr A.V. Zorin and S.S. Sabrukova are working closely together, are as follows:

  • the complete processing and numbering of the collection
  • the compilation of an academic catalogue.

The optimization of the preservation of Tibetan texts is another important part of our work. This includes the following aspects:

  • putting together of all parts of the collection in a single storage space (made during 2006/08)
  • regular dusting
  • returning to the traditional use of cloth book covers for the preservation of Tibetan books (More…)
  • improving of technical and material conditions of the preservation of the texts.

Currently there is a research project, run by Dr A.V. Zorin:

  • The study and translation of an unique scroll dated supposedly to the 13th century and containing ritualistic texts on the cults of Mahakala and Vishnu Narasimha (the project was supported by the Russian Foundation for Humanities in 2008/09, the transliteration of the text was made by Dr S.S. Sabrukova and edited by A.V. Zorin).

Moreover, Dr A.V. Zorin processes the IOM’s holding of pictures from the Tibetan and Mongolian collections, in cooperation with the IOM’s conservators, L.I. Kriakina and T.F. Yakovleva, and photographer S.L. Shevelchinskaya. The work's objectives are -

  • the compilation of the inventory book of the holding (both paper and digital),
  • the compilation of the illustrated catalogue of the holding; the first part of the project supported by the Grant of the President of the Russian Federation was completed in 2009 and resulted in a DVD-ROM containing the data on 1300 painted icons (of thang ka and tsa ka li types) kept at the IOM RAS,
  • partial restoration.

The account of the current work at the Tibetan collection

The following is the account of the work started from 2006 when A.V. Zorin was appointed an academic curator of the collection of Tibetan manuscripts and block prints. The text is based on the official papers prepared every year for the IOM’s authorities.

2006

  • All unrelated literature was removed from the storage rooms; related professional books and issues were gathered as the reference library of the Tibetan Section of the Institute’s Department of Manuscripts and Documents;
  • an initial topographic map of the collection was compiled; work was started on bringing of the Tibetan texts that had been kept in various parts of the Institute to two major storage rooms of Tibetan collection;
  • some parts of the collection that had never been processed were initially sorted.

2007

  • the initial holding of icons (625 items) was checked and its inventory input into an e-form (the project was supported by the St Petersburg Scientific Center, accomplished in cooperation with L.I. Kriakina);
  • the reference library was catalogued;
  • the Tibetan parts of the P.K. Kozlov collection and the Dunhuang Collection were checked; particularly, an unique scroll numbered as Дх-178, consisting of 8 long folia that had once been glued together, was put in the correct order, which allowed us to start research into this ancient collection of ritualistic texts on the cults of Mahakala and Vishnu Narasimha; two scrolls found among the unprocessed texts were added to the Dunhuang collection;
  • 158 volumes were wrapped with new cloth book covers acquired from our friends; a part of the remaining old book covers were washed and reused.

2008

  • 158 volumes were wrapped with new cloth book covers acquired from our friends; a part of the remaining old book covers were washed and reused;
  • the bringing together of all Tibetan texts from other parts of the IOM’s building to the storage rooms of the Tibetan collection was completed;
  • a part of the remaining old book covers were washed and reused; 382 volumes were wrapped with new cloth book covers acquired from our friends and from Dr A.V. Zorin;
  • the study of the scroll Дх-178 supported by the Russian Foundation for Humanities was started (the project of RFH, 2008, No 08-04-00128а).

2009

  • 2,000 items were processed;
  • 156 piles of separate folia, all in all 54,400 ff, were processed, 1,579 complete texts were sorted out (in cooperation with Dr N.S. Yakhontova, senior researcher at the Department of Central Asian Studies);
  • the digital Catalogue of thang ka and tsa ka li icons from the IOM’s collection was compiled by the collective of authors (More…).

Our Friends

It proved difficult to draw any outsiders to help an academic institution from Russia. Most valuable are the contacts we have managed to establish. The help has been directed towards a gradual change of non-effective methods of preserving of the texts (they were placed between cardboard sheets or inside old cardboard boxes) with a traditional method based on the use of book-covers made of cloth. For the sea of texts that is our Tibetan collection that would take many years. We are glad to list the names of the people who found it possible to help us with this project:

  • Svetlana Mergaliyeva, the USA, - 100 book-covers of middle size, 2007;
  • Julia Pema Gutman, the USA, - 28 book-covers of middle and small size, 2007;
  • Mr Tinley, Moscow/Minsk - 30; 362 book-covers of middle size, 2007, 2008.

We will be happy when the list is enriched with new names.

More about the preservation of Tibetan books...

Facsimile editions of Tibetan texts kept at the IOM RAS

Below follows the list of editions (regrettably, far from being numerous) with the links to the relevant web pages (the list is in chronological order):

Dr Alexander Zorin

(English text is proofread by Simon Wickham-Smith)

Last Updated ( 03/12/2010 )

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