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Manuscript Collection — Tibetan block prints and manuscripts Print E-mail
20/04/2008
The IOM Tibetan collection consists of a huge number of texts – by the end of 2016, more than 20,000 items (varying from big volumes to single folios) have been numbered and it will take several years more to complete the processing of the collection, the total number may exceed 30,000 of items. Without doubt, this is one of the biggest collections of Tibetan literature world-wide.

The very first Tibetan texts were brought to St. Petersburg around 1718 as a gift to the Russian Emperor Peter the Great from the Siberian governor M. Gagarin. They were found by Russian soldiers in a Dzungar monastery located on the shore of the Irtysh. This monastery was commonly named Sem Palat in Russian (meaning Seven Chambers), hence the city of Semipalatinsk, presently Eastern Kazakhstan. It was one of the fortresses founded by the Russians on their moving along the Irtysh. In late 1720, they founded Ust-Kamenskaya fortress and, a year later, another abandoned Dzungar monastery, Ablaikit, was discovered in a mountainous area relatively far from the fortress. Six folios from the rich Ablaikit library of Tibetan and Mongolian texts were first sent to St. Petersburg and one of them was skillfully reproduced in Acta Eruditorum, the academic magazine issued in Leipzig, thus being the first Tibetan manuscript published in Europe, in 1722. Many European scholars tried to translate it but the first successful translation was only made a century later, by famous S. Csoma Kőrősi. Around 1,500 folios were later transferred to St. Petersburg from Ablaikit but the bulk of them was in Mongolian, about 200 folios from an unknown version of Tibetan Kagyur having been recently identified [1]. During the 18th century, some more Tibetan texts were acquired by the RAS from D. Messerschmidt, G. Müller, P. Pallas, I. Jährig and other sources, including a number of manuscripts from Kalmykia that reflected its traditions of written Buddhist culture.

In the first half of the 19th century, two big collections of Baron P. Schilling von Canstadt were separately purchased. This outstanding person spent several years in Buryatia as a Russian official and during this time he bought many Tibetan texts and ordered some manuscripts to be produced by local scribes. For his technical assistance to the lamas of one of the Buryat Buddhist monasteries, he was even bestowed by them with a complete set of Derge Kagyur printed red. It was one of the earliest acquisitions of Kagyur in Europe. A little later, the Russian Orthodox Christian Mission in China managed to acquire an almost complete set of the Peking edition of the Tibetan Buddhist canon for the Russian authorities. The books were passed to the Library of the Asian Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, in 1860s, this entire library including many Tibetan books was given to the AM. In the 20th century, sets of Narthang Kagyur (10 copies, some of them incomplete) and Tengyur (3 complete copies) as well as incomplete sets of Cone Kagyur and Urga Kagyur (about two thirds of each) were also acquired. To sum up, the IOM RAS possesses now 5 various editions of Kagyur and 2 editions of Tengyur.

Another breakthrough in the formation of the Tibetan collection was made after the expeditions to Tibet by the eminent Russian Buryats G. Tsybikov who visited Lhasa and major Central Tibetan monasteries in 1899—1902, and B. Baradiyn who spent 1905—1907 in Labrang monastery in Amdo. Thanks to them, the AM obtained a great number of carefully selected texts, first of all sumbums of many Tibetan authors, mostly belonging to the Gelukpa order. The Tsybikov collection consists of 333 volumes most of which were printed in Lhasa by the scholar’s special order. Among its minor treasures there should be mentioned a small block print of the famous collection of songs by the Sixth Dalai Lama, its facsimile edition was made by L. Savitsky, in 1981 [2]. The Baradiyn collection consists of 169 volumes, mostly printed in Amdo. It is most probably the world’s best collection of texts written by Eastern Tibetan masters many of whom were ethnical Mongols.

In the 1910s, truly unique acquisitions were obtained thanks to Russian scholars, travelers and diplomats such as Academician S. Oldenburg, Consul in Ürümqi N. Krotkov, Academician S. Malov and Colonel P. Kozlov. Krotkov, closely coordinating his enthusiastic efforts at gathering local antiquities with Oldenburg, purchased about 220 Tibetan texts from Dunhuang and sent them to St. Petersburg. The scrolls that contain Aparimitāyurjñāna-sūtra and Hṛdaya-sūtra comprise the bulk of this collection, being supplied with 5 small pothi books that present some other Buddhist canonical and ritual texts. L. Savitsky published his catalogue of the scrolls only, in 1991 [3]. The pothi books have been studied by A. Zorin. Moreover, some Tibetan texts and fragments were identified in the IOM main Dunhuang collection brought by Oldenburg from his second expedition to Eastern Turkestan, 1914—1915. These fragments have been studied by several scholars from St. Petersburg and Japan [4].

On June 15, 1914, S. Malov purchased 57 wooden slips with Tibetan inscriptions that had been originated from the Tibetan fort of Miran nearby lake Lobnor, now the territory of Xinjiang province, PRC. In the 7th — 9th centuries, here went the border of the Tibetan northwest expansion. The texts written on the slips are military and administrative reports from that remote time. A few pioneering papers on them were written by V. Vorobyov-Desyatovsky and M. Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya [5].

About 100 Tibetan manuscripts and block prints brought by Kozlov from the dead city of Khara Khoto are of great academic and historical importance. Here we find one of the earliest dated Tibetan block prints (1157), a small bound book with prayers. The catalogue of Tibetan Khara Khoto texts is to be prepared in the forthcoming years. Another important item that must have been originated from Khara Khoto, a scroll with a collection of fierce Tantric ritual texts relating to Mahākāla and Viṣṇu Narasiṅha was included officially into the Dunhuang collection. The facsimile edition of the scroll was recently published [6].

In the mid-1920s to late 1930s, the Tibetan collection grew rapidly. The collections of Oriental texts gathered at the Kazan Spiritual Academy closed by the Soviet authorities in 1921 were later passed to the AM. Sustainable collections of doctrinal literature were brought by A. Vostrikov and E. Obermiller from their long academic stays in Buryat monasteries. The collection of the Institute of Buddhist Culture that existed in Leningrad for about 3 years being headed by Th. Stcherbatsky was passed, together with all the AM collections, to the Institute of Oriental Studies newly founded in 1930. After all the Buddhist monasteries and temples in Buryatia were closed and ruined during the 1930s, several thousand Tibetan texts, both originating from abroad and produced in prolific Buryat Buddhist centers such as Aginsky Datsan or Egituysky Datsan, were brought to Leningrad and preserved in the Institute of Oriental Studies. They included various Prajñapāramitā texts, Sūtra of Golden Light, Gzungs bsdus, Five Treatises by Maitreya, Lamrim literature, incomplete sets of numerous sumbums, medical and astrological literature, etc., etc. About a thousand texts from Buryatia were first stored at the Museum of Religion and Atheism, Leningrad but, in 1956, they were also passed to the Institute. Moreover, the State Public Library gave the Institute a number of Tibetan texts, including the set of Sakya kabum, in 1948. Many more minor sources for obtaining Tibetan texts during the first half of the Soviet era could be mentioned. There have been no significant changes in the amount of texts kept since the late 1950s.

Apparently, a considerable collection of the Tibetan-styled Buddhist icons, of both thangka and tsakali types, as well as other painted and printed artefacts came to the Institute from Buryatia in the 1930s. They mostly reflect artistic tastes and cultic routines of Buryat Buddhist monasteries. Some tsakali icons are made in a primitive way, perhaps in the 1920s to early 1930s when the lamas already faced great pressure and had to leave their monasteries so it could be difficult to find professional artists to produce tsakali cards needed for some basic rituals such as consecration rites. Three thangkas made by Chinese masters were brought to Leningrad by B. Vladimirtsov from Beijing in 1927. The jewel of the collection is a handwritten album of three hundred deities produced by some Buryat artists for Schilling von Canstadt around 1830. This album is very well known thanks to Oldenburg’s edition in the Bibliotheca Buddhica, in 1903.

The history of cataloguing of the Tibetan collection is long and complicated. The first list of Tibetan texts gathered in the RAS by the end of the 18th century was made by I. Jährig (published 1796) but it was far from complete [7]. The fuller picture can be reconstructed from archival documents compiled by I. Busse (1798) and J. Schmidt (1828) [8]. In 1847, Schmidt and O. von Böhtlingk published the catalogue of the Tibetan texts kept at the AM [9]. Some appendices to the catalogue were later issued by A. Schiefner [10]. In the late 1920s, A. Vostrikov processed the expanded Tibetan collection, this work being continued by his second wife N. Yaroslavtseva-Vostrikova, in 1931—1937. The Stalinist purges and World War II stopped this process for a long time. In the 1970s, a group of L. Savitsky, M. Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya and E. Ogneva ran a very complicated project at processing the collection that had become so vast and, at the same time, completely mixed up after a series of moves from one place to another. The work was successful in many respects but was not accomplished. In 2007, we started a new project aimed at complete numbering of the entire collection, producing its academic catalogue and e-catalogue with digitized archives. Before it is done, the data base compiled by the ACIP team in the 1990s to 2000s can be used to search for some texts preserved in the IOM RAS.

The IOM Tibetan collection is a great source for the scholars of Tibetan books produced in Central Tibet, Amdo, Beijing, Mongolia, Buryatia and Kalmykia. Fragments of Ablaikit Kagyur, 18th century Kalmykian manuscripts, several rare editions of Gzungs bsdus produced in Tibet, Beijing and Mongolia, sets of Kagyur and Tengyur, wonderful Tsybikov and Baradiyn collections, ancient texts from Miran, Dunhuang, Khara Khoto, a rare manuscript of the 5th Dalai Lama’s Secret Biography (identified and presented by V. Uspensky in the 1990s), skillful Buryat manuscripts purchased by Schilling von Canstadt are just a few treasures to be mentioned here. Some prints are found in a huge number of almost identical copies showing very clearly the sacred place of books as embodiments of the Buddha’s word in traditional Buddhist culture. The IOM Tibetan collection in its entirety is, without doubt, a precious gathering that has preserved a great share of cultural heritage of the Tibetans, Mongols, Buryats and Kalmyks.

Alexander ZORIN


[1] Helman-Ważny A., Kriakina L, Zorin A. "The First Tibetan Leaves Acquired by the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences: Conservation Issues, Contents and Paper Analysis", in Written Monuments of the Orient, 2. Moscow: Vostochnaya literatura, 2015, p. 61—76; Zorin A. "The History of the First Tibetan Texts Acquired by the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in the 18th Century", in Journal of the International College for Postgraduate Buddhist Studies, Vol. XIX, 2015, p. 1—43.

[2] Tshangs-dbyangs-rgya-mtsho. Dolcet Songs [Цаньян Джамцо. Песни, приятные для слуха]. Fascimile edition of the xylograph and manuscript, critical text, translation from Tibetan and notes by L. S. Savitsky. Moscow 1983. (Pamyatniki pismennosti Vostoka, LXXI).

[3] L. Savitsky. Opisanie tibetslih svitkov iz Dunhuana v sobranii Institute vostokovedeniya AN SSSR. Мoscow 1991; Zorin A. "The Collection of Dunhuang Tibetan Texts Kept at the IOM RAS", in Dunhuang Studies: Prospects and Problems for the Coming Second Century of Research. St. Petersburg: Slavia Publishers, 2012, p. 365—367.

[4] E.g. Iwao K. "A Newly Identified Fragment of the Tibetan Royal Annals in St. Petersburg", in New Studies of the Old Tibetan Documents: Philology, History and Religion: Old Tibetan Documents Online Monograph Series vol. 3. Tokyo: Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, 2011, p. 245―255.

[5] Vorobyov-Desyatovsky V. "Kollektsia tibetskih dokumentov na dereve, sobrannaya S. E. Malovym", in Uchenye zapiski Instituta vostokovedeniya, 1953, t. VI, p. 167―175; Vorobyova-Desyatovskaya M. "Tibetan Eighth-Century Documents on Wood from Miran", in Manuscripta Orientalia. Vol. 3, No 1, March 1997, p. 9―13.

[6] Buddhist Ritual Texts as Represented in a Tibetan Manuscript from the 12th Century [Буддийские ритуальные тексты: по тибетской рукописи XIII в.]. Facsimile ed., transliteration by A.V.Zorin and S.S.Sabrukova; tr. from Tibetan, Introduction, Notes and Appendix by A.V.Zorin. Moscow, Nauka - Vostochnaya literature 2015. 241 p. (Pamyatniki pismennosti Vostoka; CXLVI).

[7] [Jährig J.] "Über die Mongolischen Bücher der hiesigen akademischen Bibliothek", in Journal von Russland. Jahrgang III, Bd. II, St. 9, März 1796, S. 126—128.

[8] Walravens H., Zorin A. “Two Archival Documents on the Tibetan and Mongolian Texts Preserved at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences by the End of the 18th Century and Not Included in J. Jährig’s Catalogue”, in Zentralasiatische Studien, 45 (2016).

[9] Schmidt I. J. und Böhtlingk О. Verzeichniss der Tibetischen Handschriften und Holzdrücke im Asiatischen Museum. St. Petersburg, 1847.

[10] Schiefner A. "Nachträge zu den von O. Böhtlingk und I. J. Schmidt verfassten Verzeichnissen der auf Indien und Tibet bezüglichen Handschriften und Holzdrücke im Asiatischen Museum", in Bulletin historico-philologique de l’Académie Imp. de Sсiences de St. Pétersburg. T. V. N 10, S. 1—9.

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