[INDOLOGY] Sanskrit manuscripts in St. Petersburg

Michael Hahn hahn.m at t-online.de
Fri Mar 28 18:54:29 UTC 2014

Dear members,

I cannot help but report my experiences with the Oriental Manuscript
Library in St. Petersburg. In the early seventies I wished to consult
the rather recent paper manuscript of Candragomin's Sisyalekha which had
been edited a long time ago by the Russian scholar Minaev. So it was not
an unpublished manuscript. The Ms. consists only of only 7 or 8 folios.
I filed my request, received a positive response and instead of a
payment I was requested to send a copy of my Tibetan textbook, which I
gladly did. After two months I received a letter informing me that my
request was now being taken care of. After another 2 months I was
informed that the Ms. had now been sent to the photographic department.
After another two months: The film has now been prepared. After another
two months: The film has now been sent to the forwarding section. After
another two months, twelve in all, I received the microfilm. Although
the whole situation had a strong kafkaesk touch I was really lucky and
happy: My request was indeed fulfilled.  And it had been worthwhile to
wait: Although the original palm leaf manuscript from which the Russian
copy was prepared (by Amrtananda!) is still available (now published in
my book "Invitation to Enlightenment")  it is obviously stronger damaged
than it was two centuries ago. So a few gaps could indeed be filled. Now
these were the days of the Cold War, of general paranoia and a highly
developed bureaucracy, not to speak of the lack of the technical
facilities we are enjoying nowadays. What else to expect!

Therefore it came as a big surprise that a second rather innocent
attempt to get a manuscript from St. Petersburg ended in a failure,
less than 10 years ago. Among the collections there is an unpublished
niti work called Subhasitarnava. It is about 200 years old, comprising
more than 300 (small) pages and written in the Bengali script and
according to Böhtlingk very faulty. It was completely exploited by
Böhtlingk for his "Indische Sprüche", either by giving its variant
readings or presenting all those stanzas that cannot be found elsewhere.
So the content of the Ms. is fully available. For reasons not to be
elaborated here it thought it desirable to make the text accessible as
a whole. Since I am rather familiar with the genre by several editions
of niti texts I thought I could execute the task without too much
effort. I filed my request which was never officially answered. Only
unofficially I received the information that my request had been
discussed, but that it was decided that the manuscript should not be
given to a foreigner. I was really shocked. In my naïveté I had assumed
that I would be doing a favour not only to the specialists in the field
but also to the owner of the manuscript. So it obviously deemed the
authorities  better to let the Ms. slumber for another 200 years than
to show it to the impure eyes of a foreigner. Are we still in the

By the way: I already saw the manuscript because all (?) the Sanskrit
manuscripts from St. Petersburg were microfilmed by the IGNCA. It can
even be consulted there, but of course not published. Again: Why are we
doing the laudable job of preserving manuscripts by microfilming them?

I am fully aware that many of our colleagues have made the same
experiences at different places in the world. So this is nothing
special. Nevertheless I think it is useful to mention them from time to
time. Perhaps the restrictive attitude can slowly be changed. And it
just occurred to me: Instead of naming (and blaming) the institutions
that are not so helpful (in some kind of "black list") wouldn't it be
worthwhile to compile a "white list" of the more cooperative institutions?
Fortunately there are many of them.

I apologize for my long letter.

Michael Hahn

Prof. Dr. Michael Hahn
Ritterstr. 14
D-35287 Amoeneburg
Tel. +49-6422-938963
Fax: +49-6422-938967
E-mail: hahn.m at t-online.de
URL: staff-www.uni-marburg.de/~hahnm

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