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Fall Term 2016



Tuesday, September 13, 2016, 5 pm
Failed Missions: Early 20th Century Searches for Sanskrit Manuscripts in Tibet
Birgit Kellner, Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia, Austrian Academy of Sciences
180 Doe Memorial Library

First page of ms of Kamalaśīla’s 3rd Bhāvanākrama

First page of ms of Kamalaśīla’s 3rd
Bhāvanākrama. The manuscript was given
to Agvan Dorzhiev by the 13th Dalai Lama,
and ended up in the Asiatic Museum of the
Academy of Sciences in Leningrad.
(E. Obermiller in Journal of the Greater
India Society,
2/1, January 1935). It was
published in facsimile in Moscow in 1963.1

In the late 19th century, scholarly interest in Sanskrit manuscripts as sources of authority on ancient India gradually came to expand to Tibet. Information that such manuscripts might be found in the land of snows transpired from reports of travelers in pursuit of knowledge on Indian literature as well as Buddhism, notably the Bengali scholar Sarat Chandra Das and the Japanese monk Ekai Kawaguchi. More or less simultaneously with the large expeditions to Central Asia led by Stein, Pelliot and Grünwedel/Le Coq, several attempts were made to organize search missions in order to catalogue Sanskrit manuscripts in Tibet — by Emil Schlagintweit from Prussia and Theodor Stcherbatsky from Russia. British Orientalists also requested that the Younghusband mission to Tibet should “collect” Tibetan literature as well as Sanskrit materials for their libraries. What do these ultimately failed missions — and the specific ways in which they have been reported and represented — tell us about the status of Sanskrit manuscripts in the early 20th century, especially of those that were suspected in Tibet?