Digital cameras and Sanskrit MSS

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at ucl.ac.uk
Thu Feb 15 05:20:51 EST 1996


Many years ago in a small MSS library in Nadiad, I was refused
permission to photograph a MS.  I asked whether I could nevertheless
copy it out by hand.  That was no problem.  So I sat down and spent a
couple of days writing the thing out.  Everyone was very kind and
friendly, and at tea breaks etc., we got to know each other a bit.  An
old fellow who could speak a little Sanskrit was brought in, so that was
nice too.

At the end of copying, I folded up my stuff, and said how delighted I
was to have the MS, etc.  Everyone was pleased.  I said that there
might, however, have been some errors in my copying.  Everyone agreed,
sadly.  I asked whether I could take some photos of the MS, so that I
could correct any errors I had made.  No problem.  So I shot the MS.

But I took *so* much more away with me than the photos.  I had read the
text, had notes, and had friends.


The main points I wish to draw out from this experience are that in MS
work, personal relationships are very important (and nice).  And
low-tech is often better.  Why not copy out a MS by hand, instead of
toting about all this ridiculous high-tech stuff that just frightens
everyone, causes trouble, and doesn't promote your understanding of the
text or the social milieu in which the text might have been created and
transmitted?

As I get more experience with this business, I get more sympathy with
cranky curators in provincal Indian libraries who don't respond well
when we zoom in with our Hassleblads and six-week visas, claiming to be
scholars of Sanskrit. Surely everything about this fast-food approach
belies our stated intent of deepening our understanding of Sanskrit
culture?

Dominik Wujastyk,





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