Classical heritages

Thu Mar 19 22:42:19 EDT 2009

The statement "If you walk into almost any brahman home, there's an almira
somewhere that's packed with MSS." is grossly exaggerated. It applies to a
few homes of brahman families in traditional areas.
> Further to Richard's comments, I heard David Pingree say in conversation
> that there might be 30 million Sanskrit manuscripts in the world today, if
> one took into account all the MSS in private collections.  Unfortunately,
> I never asked him how he got that figure (did anyone else hear this
> estimate from him?).  The National Mission for Manuscripts
> ( works with a figure of seven million, if I
> remember correctly.  NAMAMI has conducted surveys, the results of which
> are here:
> I find the results raise questions for me: the numbers of MSS seem rather
> low.  Maybe they are only looking at non-library repositories?  There are
> other questions: In 2004-5, in Bihar, Orissa and UP, 650,000 manuscripts
> were documented in about 35,000 repositories.  That means each repository
> had 18.6 MSS.  Nobody has that few MSS.  If you walk into almost any
> brahman home, there's an almira somewhere that's packed with MSS.  I would
> estimate 100-500 MSS is typical of a domestic collection, with numbers
> easily rising to a couple of thousand.  For example, during a visit to the
> Alwar branch of the RORI a few years ago, I took some notes about donated
> MS acquisitions added subsequent to the Maharaja's palace collection:
> Donor 			Number of MSS
> Pt Poorna Malji			200
> Pt Laxmi Kantji			200
> Pt Ram Dattaji			335
> Sarvashir Pt Pitamer Das	60
> Nandan Lalji Misra		42
> Ramesh Chandraji Bhargava	144
> Thakur Chiddu Singh		59
> Shankar Lalji			104
> Pyare Lalji Sharma		5
> Amarnathji Sarasvat		166
> Pt Shiv Dattaji			500
> The Peterson catalogue lists 2478 MSS in 1892; by 1985 there were 6711
> MSS, of which 1687 were by donation by the above-listed gentlemen.
> Again, there are lots of open questions here.  What is the demographic of
> pandits or families willing to donate their MSS to RORI?  What are the
> social pressures to do so, or not to do so?  Is it meritorious?  Is it
> more meritorious to throw MSS into a river (as documented by Prof. KT
> Pandurangi in his 1978 booklet "The Wealth of Sanskrit Manuscripts in
> India and Abroad" (  Are
> there large, undonated collections?
> One valuable policy of the RORI branches is that they put the name of the
> donor pandit on a large label on top of the almira with his MSS. A sense
> of identity, continuity and family pride is preserved in this way.  It
> might seem a small thing, but it's important.
> Final point for now: rough calculations based on collection-wide
> statistics for MS corpora such as those documented in VOHD show that MSS
> having dated colophons number about 15% of a typical collection, and that
> I've shouted that statement because it is so extraordinary.  It is
> explicable as the result of two historical facts.  First, the destruction
> of MSS preceding this date.  (Pingree, again, said that a paper Sanskrit
> MS physically lasted about 200 years.)  Second, the advent of widespread
> printing in the second half of the nineteenth century, leading to the
> demise of the scribal profession.
> If Pingree's 200 year figure is roughly right, the majority of surviving
> paper Skt MSS have about 20 years left before disappearing just from old
> age.
> Best,
> --
> Dr Dominik Wujastyk

Frits Staal

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