Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

Textual and visual odds and ends from India, Tibet, and around.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sa skya - A second Dunhuang?

I could find next to nothing in 'western' media about the book treasure found recently at Sa skya. Last time I visited the place (these are pictures from one year before that) there were major renovation works going on and someone told me there that a new building is being raised not very far away from the 'Southern Fortress' to house the monastery library, "in order to make it available to scholars". It is a bit difficult to imagine how moving the books a few hundred yards away is going to solve that problem and I still don't know of anyone having produced an overview of this collection, let alone seen it.

The English sites produced in China (see this for an example) praise the collection as a 'second Dunhuang'. Although there is nothing to suggest that there are Old Tibetan documents here as well, the comparison might be apt if one is to believe the information about the sheer size of the hoard.

Among the long forgotten books I mentioned yesterday I also found this gnas yig of the Sa skya monastery, published in 2004:

The contemporary author, Sa skya Blo gros rgya mtsho, includes this picture of the little known library (apparently still in the state that Sankrtyayan might have seen it):

The meticulous description of sacred items found in the monastery follows the old tradition of gnas yig's and dkar chag's (as of places). While these modern descriptions can be of a lesser quality than the classical ones, they are nevertheless immensely useful, if only to establish what has gone missing. On the subject of books (under a heading "Sgo rum dpe khang chen mo") our author says i.a. (p.63.):

gzhan yang gser chos skya chos 'dres pa sogs pod sum brgya | Ba ri ba | Mal lo | Dkon mchog rgyal po | 'Khon dge bcu pa | Gnam kha'u pa | Sa chen yab sras | chos rje Sa paṇ rnams kyi gzigs dpe rgya dpe 'dres pa stong phrag gcig dang gsum brgya so bzhi bzhugs |

Furthermore, there is a medley of three hundred golden-letter and ink-letter religious volumes and [another] medley of one thousand three hundred and thirty-four, personal books (gzigs dpe?) and Indian manuscripts (rgya dpe) of Ba ri [lotsā]ba, Mal lo[tsāba], Dkon mchog rgyal po, 'Khon dge bcu pa, Gnam kha'u pa, the great Sa skya patriarchs and their descendants, and the lord of the doctrine Sa[ skya] paṇ[ḍita].

What is interesting about this passage is the exact number '1334'. Someone must have counted it, otherwise there would be something like 'about a thousand'.

Here is but a mere fragment of the books collected at Sa skya from the chapel where the patriarchs' remains are kept:

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Blogger kellner said...

Very interesting (as always in your weblog)! Incidentally, in a small exhibition at our department that brings together Sankrtyayana's travelogues, watercolours by Kanwal Krishna and contemporary photographs of the sites by Kazuo Kano (2007), there is also a photograph of the building that (I believe) you refer to as the "library", see here. As the caption shows, we tried to find out more about the building and its purpose, but did not succeed. I think it was Kazuo (or was it Anne Macdonald?) who told about it being called "Sakya University". I see in your photographs that you have one from a still earlier stage in the construction process. Do you know more about this?

1:25 pm  
Blogger PDSz said...

Yes, this is definitely something new. It appears to be on the site of the 'Northern Fortress' which was totally destroyed (see some pics in the album I linked it). But as far as I can remember the building they referred to as 'library' was a modern building and on the other side of the 'Southern Fortress' on a street perpendicular to the street of the main entry. Of course, they might have changed their mind in the meantime, or my informer was not correct.

By the way, google analytics shows me that someone ended up on my blog searching for 'Birgit Bardo'- thought you might find this funny. Thanks for the comment!

3:23 pm  
Blogger PDSz said...

linked in] \emend, linked it \post, sorry.

3:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look here

to see what Michael Henss says about the libraries at Sakya Monastery. Or to quote from it:

"The enormous book treasures at Sakya were so far never investigated, especially the corpus of Sanskrit manuscripts, “one of the last ‘hidden’ treasures of Asia”. [30] When in 1926 the Indian scholar Rahula Sankrtyanana (1893-1963) “discovered 25 bundles of palm-leaf Sanskrit manuscripts” in the “Manuscript chapel” (Phyag dpe lha Khang) on the upper storey of Sakya monastery, “the whole floor was covered with a thick layer of dust about one-third of an inch”. [31] While in 1961 about 250 manuscripts were brought from Tibet to the Minority Palace library in Beijing and in the successive years many more from various monasteries were gathered in Lhasa (Potala and Norbulingka Palaces, of which some are now in the Tibet Museum), Sakya is still by far the largest monastic repository of Tibetan and Indian manuscripts. At present the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences in Lhasa is working on a project for an inventory of the Tibetan written and xylographed books in Sakya. And only recently all these early manuscripts were moved from the huge 13th century book-shelves in the Lha khang Chen mo to a separate library hall built in the traditional Tibetan Sakya style in 2004 opposite the southern front of the main monastic complex."

11:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:09 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

In a very old article on the Ngor-pa sect, contained in the only issue of the journal Wind Horse, which was reprinted as the book Wind Horse, R. Davidson said, on p. 83 that

"The sGo-rum was especially dedicated to the storage of materials relating to the Sa-skya Gon-ma , and for three years Nor-chen applied himself to reading the three thousand volumes retained therein."

(Sorry, but I left off the diacritics on Gong-ma and Ngor-chen.)

What this is saying is that the works by the first five masters of the Sakya of the 11th-13th centuries were kept in this place called the Sgo-rum. Any idea about this?

Davidson also says that the Sgo-rum was the oldest building in Sakya, built by 'Khon Dkon-mchog-rgyal-po (1034-1102) himself.


6:36 pm  
Blogger PDSz said...

Unfortunately I don't have the book at hand just now. Sounds plausible, the picture also has the feeling of a 'cave-ish' room. My Tibetan guide also said that the entrance to the room where the books were kept was somewhere behind an altar (!?). Be that as it may, I'm even more interested where these books are now and will become of them. Archived? Made public? So nice to dream a little.

Thanks for the comment! Are there any new posts coming along your side?



8:36 pm  

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