[INDOLOGY] Manuscripts in India

Adheesh Sathaye adheesh1 at gmail.com
Mon Jan 5 19:02:43 UTC 2015

Dear Prof. Delire and colleagues: 

When it comes to manuscript research in India, I have found that YMMV, as the net slang goes ("your mileage may vary”). But I should say that Prof. Delire's experiences at the particular institution he mentions do more or less match mine. 

Despite what has been reported on this list, it is indeed possible to get access to manuscripts in India and Nepal, but, at least based on my experiences over the last 3 years, through quite a lot of trial and error, I have learned that it requires tremendous patience, luck, connections, sensitivity, and an understanding of South Asian interpersonal relations for your quest to be successful. Most of all, I have found, it requires the ability and willingness to communicate in either Hindi or, better yet, the regional language, rather than English. I can’t stress this enough.

Waltzing into a library unannounced, with no references, rattling off English only, and expecting on-demand service from these libraries will generally only conjure up anti-Western reactions from their custodians, many of whom are not trained Sanskritists, not English-medium educated, and not particularly interested in philology. So, hearing your demands, they will suddenly have quite a few meetings to attend or holidays to observe, and be available only two days after your flight home. Or you will have had to fill out a number of forms in advance, and to have secured a number of letters of reference that you do not have, or to pay fees at an office that is located on the other side of town and is just about to close for the weekend. At the same time, if one is too modest, too passive, or too accommodating, then they will also not take you seriously and you’ll again find yourself waiting in vain for them to show up at work in the morning. 

It obviously shouldn’t be this tricky to do research, but it is what it is, at least for now. For an excellent resource on how to navigate the current minefield of manuscript libraries in South Asia, you should consult Kei Kataoka’s fantastic website: 

I do have more specific and concrete experiences and strategies for the major institutions I’ve visited, but I prefer not to discuss the details in public out of respect to these libraries, and with hopes that together, with their cooperation, we might be able to address the ailment that is at the root of this problem, of which our shared frustrations and bad experiences are simply surface symptoms. 

I hope you can indulge my sharing a few quick thoughts I’ve been having on the matter; Profs. Pollock, Witzel, and others have published pages and pages of erudite, well-informed, and masterly reflections about philology in South Asia, based upon lifetimes of experience that I do not hope to match, having only begun searching for manuscripts in late 2011. But several basic issues to me lie at the heart of why going to, say, SBL in Benares cannot possibly be as gratifying as going to the BL in London. One, there is the matter of internal politics at each and every institution in India, which makes it so that the ground rules change every few months, along with the directors and funding concerns of said institutions. Two, there is the deep and widening divide between South Asian scholars of Sanskrit and those in Europe, the US, Asia, and Australia. I don’t know what we can do about either of these problems, apart from hoping for the best! 

But in combination with these two issues is a third, which I hope we can find strategies to alleviate, and this is the fact that these libraries, with of course a few notable exceptions, are completely isolated both from each other and from Indological scholars (both South Asian and foreign) apart from the ones who actually go and work there regularly. And so manuscript libraries have become islands unto themselves, unaware except through hearsay of what kinds of policies other libraries employ, and then coming up with their own ad-hoc methods of handling photocopy/photography/scanning requests. Aside from causing us great frustration, this isolation also makes their policies more vulnerable to the debilitating internal politics that plague such public institutions across India, and increases personal feelings of distrust that arise when a foreign scholar jets in for a couple of days, asks for a ton of materials, and then leaves, never to be heard from again. 

This is a problem that, I think, can be solved.
One idea is to create an active network of direct, peer-to-peer communication between selected “premier” manuscript libraries across South Asia, (while avoiding the centralized Delhi morass of the IGNCA and its various Missions), led by directors and dedicated staff members at these libraries, but without any central power authority. This also would need a number of committed South Asian and international scholars who would like to help to create this network (both digitally through servers and the like, and in terms of encouraging and maintaining personal communication between librarians and staff) and to work towards establishing a unified policy and perhaps even a kind of "library card” that can work across the participating institutions that might make it easier for Indological scholars to do their research and for the libraries to function more smoothly. Perhaps the World Sanskrit Conference in Vancouver in 2018 might be one venue where this could happen.

I am sure that there are other ideas out there, and I imagine many folks are already working on this problem. It would be great to know of them! And it would be wonderful if, taking the opportunity of the fresh start of the new year, we might be able to share these ideas and begin to formulate an actionable strategy to alleviate the frustrations of Prof. Delire, myself, and others.

With all best wishes, 


Dr. Adheesh Sathaye
Dept. of Asian Studies
University of British Columbia
408-1871 West Mall
Vancouver BC CANADA V6T1Z2
adheesh at mail.ubc.ca 
+1. 604.822.5188

> On Jan 5, 2015, at 05:42, by way of Jean-Michel Delire (jmdelire at ulb.ac.be) <jmdelire at ULB.AC.BE> wrote:
> Dear members of the Indology list,
> I am in Mumbai nowadays and have been in Pune recently, and I am wondering if it is still possible to obtain copies of Sanskrit manuscripts in India. The Asiatic Society is now asking 5000 rps for photographying one page of a Ms. That is approximately 70 Euros and I doubt any European library is asking such an amount. In some German libraries, recently, I could take photos for free. On the other hand, other Indian places are much cheaper, but the work must be made by the staff and sometimes it is simply not done. By instance, I have ordered copies of Mss. at the BORI, Pune, in 2013 and I am still waiting for some, even though I have visited Pune two weeks ago and asked Mr Bapat to complete the work as soon as possible. I am phoning him every day and he promises, but nothing comes out. I suppose some of you have experienced the same.
> Best regards,
> J.M.Delire, Lecturer on Science and Civilization of India, University of Brussels
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