On Air: Sanskrit Manuscripts in the Cambridge Digital Library

The first fifteen entries of the Sanskrit manuscripts catalogue are now available on the Cambridge Digital Library platform of the Cambridge University Library. Different criteria lie behind the choice of the manuscripts described in this first release. The main aim is to provide an overview of the variety and richness of the Sanskrit manuscripts collections.

The representativeness of the manuscripts is the first aspect we have taken into consideration. The core of the collections consists chiefly of Nepalese manuscripts, collected in Nepal by Daniel Wright and Cecil Bendall during the last decades of the 19th century. Accordingly, seven items are manuscripts that were either written or kept in Nepal (Add.875 Suvarṇaprabhāsa, Add.1277 Aparamitāyudhāraṇīsūtra, Add.1396.01 Raghuvaṃśaṭīkā, Add.1578 Devīkavaca, Add.1611 Avadānaśataka, Add.1688 Pañcarakṣā, Or.149 Sekanirdeśapañjikā).

Moreover, manuscripts belonging to different South Asian religious traditions have been selected. An important section of the collections consists of Jaina manuscripts, therefore this release includes two important Jaina works (Add.1765 Kalpasūtra and Or.127 Tattvārthādhigamasūtra), and one manuscript of a general brahmanical affiliation, but written in a Jaina milieu (Add.2329 Bṛhatsaṃhitā). Brahmanism is represented by two manuscripts of Vedic texts, the Ṣaḍviṃśabrāhmaṇa (Add.908) and the Maitrāyaṇīyopaniṣad (Add. 1103). The strong presence of Buddhist manuscripts in the collections is reflected by five items (Add.875, Add.1277, Add.1611, Add.1688, Or.149), representative of both Mahāyāna and Tantric Buddhism.

Manuscripts of texts belonging to different literary genres have been also included. Alongside a manuscript of a hitherto unpublished commentary on Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṃśa (Add.1396.1), one may also find a manuscript of the Yājñavalkyaśikṣā (Add.1936) and a very old palm-leaf manuscript of Yaśodhara’s Jayamaṅgalā, the most important commentary on Vātsyāyana’s Kāmasūtra (Add.2251.1).

Other criteria for the choice are the writing material and the script employed. Besides palm leaf and paper manuscripts, also one specimen of a birch-bark manuscript and two Nepalese manuscripts on black paper (nīlapattra) have been included. As to the types of handwriting, different Nepalese scripts are represented, as well as Devanāgarī–both in its standard and its Jaina variant.

Last but not least, two specimens of illuminated manuscripts have been chosen, a very old palm-leaf manuscript of the Pañcarakṣā (Add.1688, dated to the middle of the 11th century) and a beautifully illuminated paper manuscript of the Kālpasūtra (Add.1765, dated to the 15th-16th century).