The Institute of Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies (Ulan Ude, Buryatia) affiliated with the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences is a holder of a unique collection of oriental writings that comprises dozens of thousands of manuscripts and printed folios. This wealth is in the custody of the Institute's Center of Oriental Manuscripts and Woodcuts. Suffice if we say that the Tibetan part of the stock numbers something like 100,000 items, and the Mongolian one - around 6,000. All that in the teeth of the sad happenings of the 1920s and 1930s when the powers that be mounted a ruthless struggle against religion and had a larger part of monastical libraries sacked and ravaged, together with their precious books, manuscripts and other relics of spiritual culture. Still and all, oriental scholars managed to salvage part of these treasures during their archeological expeditions east of Lake Baikal. This is a priceless heritage indeed. Dr. Tsymzhit Vanchikova, a historian heading the Center, has supplied details in her interview for the newspaper Nauka v Sibiri (Science in Siberia).
Since time immemorial Buryat Buddhists have been exchanging books with their brethren abroad. These books were brought to Buryatia by monks and pilgrims for datsans (Buryat monasteries) and wealthy believers. Now and then rural commoners chipped in to buy just one book for all. There was a custom in Buddhist countries to copy the divine sutras (sacred canons) by hand, for it was believed this work added to people's deserts in this earthly world. Many big monasteries ran printeries of their own, where they produced books, calendars and other pieces of literature for their own needs in the form of woodcuts and wood-engravings by the method of xylography. Such publishing activities unfolded in Buryatia, too.
Our Tibetan and Mongolian collections include editions of the 18th century, though most date back to the 19th and early 20th century. These are canonical Buddhist writings, commentaries, ritualist books, eulogies, hymns and odes. There are also texts used during the officiation of divine services at datsan monasteries as well as texts and manuals for tuition at monastic schools. Such schools taught ten disciplines: philosophy, grammar, logic, technology, medicine, poetics, stylistics, synonymy, astronomy and choreography. The level of learning among the best-educated monks was rather high.
Buddhist books are mostly in the shape of manuscripts or woodcuts wrought on elongated sheets (the first Buddhist texts were scripted in India on palm leaves, whence hails the tradition of using elongated paper sheets). Books were always revered in the East. Religious writings were wrapped in costly silken fabrics, decorated with silver, engravings, and precious stones. Letters were often put down on black paper in ink or dyes made from valuable minerals. Such rarities are still there in Mongolia, and this is quite natural: early in the 20th cen-
tury that country had as many as 800 acting monasteries; between 1911 and 1921 Mongolia was a theocratic state in which secular and religious power was all in one.
As to secular, lay literature, it is much diverse and includes the earliest Buryat historical records: lives, genealogies, biographies tales and legends. Quite a few writings deal with medicine and grammer; such treatises go along with poems and parables. There is a great number of dictionaries compiled by Buryat lamas (priests or monks) or else brought in from Tibet and Mongolia. These are multilingual dictionaries (like the Sanscript-Tibetan-Mongolian one), Tibetan glossaries along with encyclopedic and specialist vocabularies on different sciences.
The documents of the late 19th-early 20th cent, include maiden editions of periodicals: newspapers and journals, and the first prints of Mongolian and Buryat periodic press. Many of the archival materials were rendered in Old Mongolian because all Mongolian peoples (Buryats, Kalmycks, Khalkha-Mongols) used one written language.
Dr. Vanchikova went on to say that the principal job of the department she is in charge of is to give a circumstantial description of the collections and bring the most precious relics within scholarly reach. Work has been completed on a catalog of Tibetan writings on Buddhist philosophy due to be published in several volumes in India. Our archival fund will soon complete work on sorting out the personal archives of Sergei Baldayev, the Buryat folklore student. He has written down a wealth of materials - epic narratives, songs, legends, riddles, fairytales, and all. We are translating into Russian a bulky work on the history of Tibet's medical schools, and on the history of the Buddhist church (from the Old Mongolian and Tibetan letters). We are compiling digital copies of our collections to enable a broad spectrum of scholars access to all our documents. Our Center is doing its utmost to give a second lease on life to rare books and other priceless relics in our custody - make them "talk" loud and clear, Dr. Vanchikova said in conclusion.
V. Makarova, "Second Life of the Written Monuments of the East", Nauka v Sibiri (Science in Siberia), No. 28, 2007
Prepared by Sergei MAKAROV
About · News · For Advertisers · Donate to Libmonster
Libmonster ® All rights reserved.
2014-2023, LIBMONSTER.COM is a part of Libmonster, international library network (open map)
Keeping the heritage of the United States