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History of Indology at the IOM Print E-mail

Indology at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts

Indology in Russia and St.-Petersburg started to develop in the first half of the 18th century. Among the first academicians of the newly founded Academy of Sciences was T.-Z. Bayer, who came to Russia in 1726. Studying mainly the Chinese, Mongolian, Kalmyk, Manchurian and Tangut (Tibetan) languages, he was one of the first in Russia to study the “language of Brahmins”, i.e. Sanskrit, under the guidance of “Sonhhara” (i.e. Suhara), an Indian visiting St.-Petersburg at that time. As a result of these studies Bayer published two articles on the literature and grammar of these languages. In the second article samples of Sanskrit alphabet (Devanagari), printed with wooden cliches based on Bayer's own drawings were presented to the public for the first time in Russia, and a summary on the Dravidian (Tamil and Telugu) and some of the new Indian languages (Marathi, Gujarati, etc.) presented. In the 1730s, apart from Bayer, D.G.Messerschmidt (mainly interested in Punjabi and Tamil languages) was also engaged in studying of Devanagari and alphabet of the Dravidian languages.

Study of Sanskrit in Russia in the early years depended on the personal interests of individual researchers who explored the language incidentally, along with the mainstream of Oriental studies. This research pattern was observed in the first decade of the work of the Russian Academy of Sciences. We should first of all mention the name of F. Adelung (1768-1843), a honorary academician, who prepared a review of Sanskrit literature.

An important contribution to the study of Sanskrit was made by R. H. Lenz (1808-1836). He was the first who started to deliver free lectures on Sanskrit literature and comparative linguistics at St Petersburg University.

A direct successor to R. H. Lenz in studying Sanskrit was J. P. Petrov (1814-1875). The result of his activities was the work entitled Addition to the Catalogue of the Sanskrit Manuscripts in the Asia Museum of St.-Petersburg’s Academy of Sciences.

Prominent in the history of Oriental studies was the academic and pedagogical activity of Prof. K. A. Kossovich (1815-1883). The first Sanskrit-Russian dictionary was published under his guidance by the Academy of Sciences.

In the first half of the XIX century the Academy of Sciences became the main centre for Sanskrit studies. This period is marked by the name of Acad. O. N. Böhtingk (1815-1904). In 1887 he published the famous Grammar of Panini. Among his important contributions were publication of Vopadeva’s Grammar, the Hemachandra’s Dictionary of Synonyms (with his translation of it into German), Upanishads, Mricchakatika (The Clay Vehicle) – an ancient drama in German translation, and also a Sanskrit Reader. The ultimate point in the long-term work of O. N. Böhtingk was the creation of Sanskrit dictionaries published by the Academy of Sciences in Comprehensive (1852-1875) and Concise (1879-1889) volumes. These dictionaries marked an epoch in studying Sanskrit and were widely popular all over the world, known as “St. Petersburg’s dictionaries”. They served as a basis for all European Indology for an entire century and promoted the development of comparative and historical linguistics.

Indological researches at the Academy of Sciences in the pre-revolutionary period (before 1917) were conducted in two directions. The first - a linguistic one, reflected in publication of the above-mentioned Sanskrit dictionaries - provided important sources of Indian grammar literature and various Sanskrit texts.

The second stream in Indology was Buddhist studies. The founders of the academic approach to Buddhism were the Sinologist Acad. V.P.Vasilev (1818-1900), and the Indologist Prof. I.P.Minaev (1840-1890). The latter has produced a number of remarkable Russian Indologists who became later the most outstanding Orientalists of their time and continued his work. Two of them became academicians: S.F.Oldenburg and F.I.Stcherbatsky.

In addition to the northern Buddhism, which was the sphere of S.F. Oldenburg’s life-long academic interest, he studied Indian folklore, fairy tales and jatakas, worked on the publication of Sanskrit texts. S.F. Oldenburg paid particular attention to Mahabharata; he carefully read the entire epos under the guidance of an Indian in London. He was the initiator and permanent supervisor of the edition of a world-famous series, Collection of Original and Advanced Buddhist Texts under the title Bibliotheca Buddhica founded by him in 1897.

At the turn of the XIX and XX centuries intensive and comprehensive study of Central Asian cultures began. At that time, during S.F.Oldenburg's expeditions - to Turfan [1909-1910] and Dunhuang [1914-1915], old centers of Buddhist culture were discovered, new texts in Sanskrit and Tibetan languages found, and this initiated the intensive study of northern Buddhism.

Acad. F. I. Stcherbatsky (1866-1942) also worked in this area. His academic interests were steadily aimed at studying Indian philosophy, or more precisely, Buddhist logic, and also Buddhism itself. His studies were based on both Sanskrit and Tibetan sources. The proximity of the territory of Russia to the countries of the Buddhist region and rich information gathered by the activities of the Academy of Sciences in the field of Tibetan Buddhist literature have also influenced his choice.

Thus, from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, Sanskrit studies at the Academy of Sciences have been determined by the studying of Buddhist philosophy and culture. However, along with it the stream of research activities in the sphere of linguistics also continued. In this regard is worth noticing the work of the third of I.P.Minaev’s pupils, Prof. N.D.Mironov, who for many years explored Vedic literature (on the material of Rig-veda hymns). He worked on the description of Sanskrit manuscripts, part of which was collected and brought to Russia by the researcher himself. As a result of his work I.P.Mironov has prepared and published two catalogues of these manuscripts which are available both at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (the former St.-Petersburg’s Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences), and at the State Public Library.

After the October revolution, the further development of traditional stream of Russian Indology continued. Bibliotheca Buddhica text-edition project continued to flourish. Around it were focused the efforts of most outstanding academics of both West and East: Prof. Sylvain Levy (France), Prof. De la Vallée-Poussin (Belgium), Wogihara (Japan), M.Walzer (Germany), F.I.Stcherbatsky and O.O.Rosenberg (Russia).

On the initiative of Oldenburg and Stcherbatsky, the first Buddhist exhibition in Petrograd (St Petersburg) has been opened on August, 24th, 1919, during which Oldenburg, Stcherbatsky, Rosenberg, Vladimirtsov delivered public lectures.

On the initiative of Oldenburg and Stcherbatsky the series Sources of Indian Philosophy (Pamyatniki Indijskoy Filosofii), conceived by them back in 1914 and approved by the Academy of Sciences, was resumed. For this purpose Vacaspatimishra’s works on all Indian philosophical systems, the basic treatises of the Nyaya system, seven treatises of Dharmakirti, Dignanga’s works on logic and Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakosha containing the system of original Buddhism have been selected.

In the first years of the Soviet rule there was an urgent need for Sanskrit textbooks. In 1923 on the initiative and under supervision of F.I.Stcherbatsky the Russian translation of the G.Bühler textbook was done. This textbook created from the point of view of the Indian grammatical tradition, is still used in the study of Sanskrit at St Petersburg State University and other universities of the country.

In the plans of the Institute of Oriental Studies (reformed in 1930) emphasis was placed on new subjects, in particular the economies of the East. Among the issues demanding exploration on the basis of Sanskrit sources, in addition to traditional topics were publishing of the major Indian treatises on history, economy and the political system of ancient India. At the same time begins the work on the Kautilya’s treatise Arthashastra, which has been interrupted and renewed only in 1938 (the Russian translation of entire Arthashastra was finished only in 1959). In the same 1938 a student of F.P.Stcherbatsky and A.P.Barannikov, M.A.Shiryaev (1887-1952) undertook a work on the new translation of the Laws of Manu.

In 1939 on the initiative of A.P.Barannikov, who by then was director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, the Russian academic translation of Mahabharata, the major epic monument of ancient India, into Russian was launched. The work on the translation of the first book, Adiparva, continued with considerable breaks during the war, first under the blockade of Leningrad and then in Tashkent where the Institute was temporally evacuated to. The translation of the first book appeared only in 1950, edited by A.P.Barannikov.

After a long break the translation of the second book of Mahabharata, Sabhaparva, was prepared and published in 1962, and the work on the translation and research of Mahabharata continued. In 1964 the translation and study of the fourth book of this epos, Virataparva, have been completed; it was published in 1967.

Particularly worth noting is V.S.Vorobyov-Desyatovsky (1928-1956) who, possessing rare abilities and talent, deep linguistic training and broad academic horizons, in a relatively short period of time, managed to write a number of very valuable papers. Being a member of the Department of Oriental Manuscripts, V.S. Vorobyov-Desyatovsky successfully dealt with the study of Central Asian manuscripts, continuing the tradition started by S.F.Oldenburg. He reviewed the Indian collection and published an article about it - The Collection of the Indian Manuscripts Kept at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. V.S. Vorobyov-Desyatovsky showed particular interest in exploring manuscript collection comprising of collections of N.F.Petrovsky, P.K.Kozlov, S.F.Oldenburg and others, and containing unique handwritten materials of the 1-9th centuries in Sanskrit, Sakai, Kachin and Tibetan. Work on the description and preparation for publication of a number of interesting documents unfortunately remained unfinished. With his death also stopped his passionate research into hybrid Sanskrit, notable for its abnormal inflectional forms. V.S.Vorobyov-Desyatovsky's work on the description and study of Central Asian manuscripts is today continued by M.I.Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya.

Together with M.I.Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya, the work on Buddhist Sanskrit manuscripts was conducted by E.N.Temkin and V.G.Erman.

Today at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts the work continues on the academic translation and study of the major source of the Indian culture, Mahabharata. S.L.Neveleva and J.V.Vassilkov have published the Russian translation of the nine books of Mahabharata (books 3, 8, 10, 14, 17 and 18). The work on the book 12 till 2007 was led by M.I.Petrova.

V.P.Ivanov, Indologist and linguist, works on the Indian philosophical and linguistic tradition, studying Bhartrihari’s treatise Vakyapadiya. He is preparing the translation of the second book of this treatise. In 2007 he started his research on the Hindu Yoga and Tantra tradition.

Buddhist Studies are carried on now by a group of scholars such as V.I.Rudoy, E.P.Ostrovskaya, T.V.Ermakova and S.H.Shomakhmadov.

Composed by Dr S.H.Shomakhmadov

In drafting the article some materials were kindly provided by S.L. Neveleva, and also the book The Asiatic Museum — the Leningrad Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences (Moscow 1972) was widely used.

(Translated by Dr V.P.Ivanov; proofread by S. Wickham-Smith)

Last Updated ( 26/08/2008 )

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