30 January 2012

Sanskrit Manuscripts at Cambridge University

The University of Cambridge embarked on an exercise of 'linguistic archaeology' late last year, launching a project to survey their extensive collection of India and Nepalese Sanskrit manuscripts. Most of these are Buddhist. Some 2000 birch-bark, and palm-leaf manuscripts were collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and not all have been properly catalogued. The manuscripts themselves date from as far back to the 9th century - making them amongst the oldest surviving India manuscripts. Because there has previously been no systematic survey of all the texts it is possible that some treasures may lie waiting to be discovered.

The project includes plans to digitise some of the texts and make them available via Cambridge University's Digital Library, which recently added images of Isaac Newton's papers. I think everyone is hoping for a renaissance of Sanskrit studies at Cambridge, and perhaps also for Buddhist studies (CU presently offers no separate courses in Buddhism).

Last Friday I attended an informal talk by visiting scholar Harunaga Isaacson and saw pictures of some of the manuscripts. I felt privileged to be amongst such illustrious scholars (people who are fluent in Sanskrit and the many variations of the scripts). I will try to add updates about the project as it goes.

Image and text borrowed from the University of Cambridge Website. Their account of the project is here: Powerful Words.

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