THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

24 posts categorized "Buddhism"

03 July 2020

New Projects Online - June 2020

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In recent weeks we have continued to put new collections online. Here is a summary of  four of the most recent projects to be made available.

EAP703 - Notary Books of Bahia, Brazil, 1664-1910

Until 1763, Bahia was the seat of the Portuguese colonial government in the Americas and a major sugar plantation economy based on African enslaved labour. Bahia received 33% of the Brazilian trade and 14.5% of the total. Being an administrative and economic centre, and until the late eighteenth century the most important port of trade in the South Atlantic, the production of documents in Bahia was intense. In Brazil, the Arquivo Público do Estado da Bahia (Bahia State Archives) is considered to be second in importance only to the National Archives in Rio de Janeiro.

This project digitised 1,329 volumes of Notary Books deposited at the Arquivo Público do Estado da Bahia. In total 306,416 pages were digitised as part of the project.

Project team digitising notary books
The EAP703 project team digitising the notary books in Bahia

The dates  for the volumes ranges from 1664 to 1910. They therefore include the first two decades of the republican and post-emancipation period. 

These documents represent perhaps the most dependable source for the study of the social and economic history of colonial and post-colonial Bahia up until the end of the 19th century. The notary books include records such as:

  • Bills of sale (for plantations, land, houses, ships, slaves, etc)
  • Wills and testaments
  • Inheritance partition
  • Power of attorney letters
  • Marriage
  • Dowry
  • Labour and business contracts
  • Children’s legitimisation papers
  • Slave manumission papers.
A notary book page
Livro de Notas do Tabelião [3 May 1680-19 Jun 1680] (EAP703/1/2/2)

 

EAP896 - Documentation of Endangered Temple Art of Tamil Nadu

EAP does not only fund the digitisation of manuscripts and documents that can be held in the hand. EAP supports digitisation of almost any at-risk historical material. The digitisation of temple art in Tamil Nadu is a prime example.

The rich cultural heritage of temple art in India is rapidly deteriorating because of vandalism, weather conditions, and practices such as burning camphor for ritual purposes. By digitising the artwork that adorns eight temples in Tamil Nadu, India, the EAP896 project team have helped preserve this art for research, enjoyment, and education.

Project Team Digitising a Temple Wall
The EAP896 project team digitising a temple wall

The drawing lines found on the temple walls represent abstract forms painted several centuries ago. In the evolution of human cognitive expressions, painting is a significant milestone. The paintings are essentially made up of lines and colours and the figures that are represented are mostly mythical.

Art on temple wall
Bodinayakkanur Zamin Palace, West Hall, North wall, top row (EAP896/1/2)

This project has resulted in a plethora of visually striking images.

 

EAP1150 - Fragile Palm Leaves Digitisation Initiative

In partnership with the Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation and the Buddhist Digital Resource Centre, this project digitised 300 Pali and vernacular manuscripts in Burmese script.

Bound palm leaf manuscript
Mhan nanḥ mahārājavaṅ tau krīḥ I (EAP1150/1/9, image 1)

Mostly created in the 18th and 19th century, these manuscripts contain approximately 1,000 discrete Buddhist texts on a variety of topics. These include:

  • Law
  • Poetry
  • Stories of the Buddha
  • Grammar
  • Religious rituals
A palm leaf manuscript
Mhan nanḥ mahārājavaṅ tau krīḥ I (EAP1150/1/9, image 15)

These manuscripts provide an invaluable primary resource for the study of Burmese and Theravada Buddhism, Pali philology, history, literature, regional codicology, pre-modern textual and scribal practices, and manuscript culture.

 

EAP1167 - Safeguarding Colonial Plantation Records of Malawi

This pilot project surveyed tea and tobacco plantation records from the colonial era in Nyasaland [Malawi]. The team located relevant records and created an inventory, which is available as an Excel spreadsheet.

A plan showing plots on a tobacco estate
Nchenga and Falls Dairy (EAP1167/1/11/1, image 1)

The team also digitised a sample of records from 13 estates (1922-1966), which are freely available to view. These include:

  • Title deeds
  • Legal agreements
  • Memoranda
  • Correspondence
  • Articles of association.

 

These four projects include a diverse range of content types and span three continents across several centuries. Combined, they aptly showcase the rich diversity of EAP projects.

Look out for even more diverse projects going online in the weeks in months ahead!

11 May 2020

New projects online - April 2020

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We have another four new projects we can share with you this month that have recently been made available online. If you didn't read last month's blog you can see it here. It features projects from Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and the small Caribbean island of Nevis. On to this month's projects:

  • Pa'O religious and literary manuscripts from Shan State, Myanmar [EAP104]
  • records relating to the Tamil Protestant community of the Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka [EAP835]
  • colonial records from the French colony of Middle Congo (Republic of the Congo) [EAP844]
  • Sanskrit and Malayalam manuscripts from monasteries in Thrissur, Kerala, India [EAP1039]

EAP104

The manuscripts digitised during this project constitute the largest and most comprehensive Pa'O literary and religious studies resource outside of Pa'O regions in Myanmar and Thailand. The original manuscripts, a mixture of parabaik (accordion folded paper manuscripts), bound scrolls, and palm-leaf manuscripts, are owned by the Pa'O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library in Taunggyi, Shan State, Myanmar. The texts consist mainly of Pa’O interpretations of the Theravada Buddhist canon, though other particularly interesting manuscripts include those that document Pa'O dynasties and claims on important historical sites in contemporary Myanmar. There are 71 manuscripts in total, the majority of them in the Pa’O language.

Lokadippa lokavvat‘ phrekyam-600wide
Page from a manuscript - Lokadippa Lokavvat‘ Phrekyam [EAP104]

EAP835

The aim of this ‘pilot’ project was to survey the print and manuscript materials of the Tamil Protestant community of Jaffna in Sri Lanka. There is a wealth of material documenting this community and the role of missionaries from the UK and United States. The American Ceylon Mission press for example printed more than 500,000 evangelical tracts in a 17-year period leading up to 1840. Much of this is Tamil-language translations of American texts, but there are also significant amounts of material relating to Tamil epic poetry and literature, ethical treatises, pedagogical works, devotional literature, and many polemical essays on Saivism and Christian‐Saivite exchanges.


The project surveyed 10 institutional and 3 private archives. They digitised a sample of records including church record books, correspondence between Missions, lists of parishes, issues of St. John’s College Magazine, and more from 5 of these institutions. You can read the survey reports and lists on the project page, as well as see a sample of 27 records that were digitised.

Eap835-3-1-religious tract society600wide
EAP835/3/1 - Religious Tract Society

EAP844

This pilot project set out to locate and document colonial archives from the former French colony of Middle Congo, in present-day Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo. While archives in Brazzaville have been more widely studied, the archives in Pointe-Noire have largely been unknown and inaccessible to researchers.


Research was carried out in three main archives:

  • Archives Municipales de Pointe-Noire (integrated into the city's town hall)
  • Archives de la Préfecture de Pointe-Noire (APPN-CON)
  • Archives du Chemin de Fer Congo-Océan (ACFCO-CON)


A survey and inventory of some of the holdings are available on the project page. The survey explains the history and provenance of the archives and their collections, and should be used as the starting point for exploring them. The project team also digitised a small sample of 3 dossiers from the APPN-CON containing mostly colonial era administration documents. These feature a wide-range of topics including: the impact of WW2 in the area; smuggling networks; development of trade unions; the ‘messianic’ movements of Lassyism (Bougism); xenophobic outbreaks against Dahomean and Togolese immigrants; social life in the Loango region.


Just from this small sample alone, it’s clear that these archives may have wide research interest, especially considering the amount of material that is uncatalogued. The team also estimated an additional 2500 ‘boxes’ of archival material at APPN-CON that they were unable to survey due to the time restraints of this small project. There obviously may be much more to discover. Whilst the focus was on colonial era records the team also sampled the vast trove of postcolonial records found in the archives. APPN-CON’s archive of postcolonial documents was singled out for its “spectacular possibilities” for research. 

Eap844-600wide
Example of a document digitised for the EAP844 project

EAP1039

This pilot project produced a survey of 238 of the 800 palm leaf manuscripts held in four monasteries that constitute the Hindu monastic complex of Thrissur in Kerala, India. This collection contains rare unpublished Sanskrit and Malayalam works, especially in the field of non-dualist philosophy (Advaita-Vedānta), Kerala history and hagiography. It therefore constitutes an invaluable resource for the study of the religious and social history of Kerala in the pre-modern times. 54 of these manuscripts were digitised and are now available to view online.

Eap1039-600wide
Example of a document digitised for the EAP1039 project

27 January 2020

Buddhism on the ground

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A manuscript in Sanskrit and Newari, showing how to set up an altar. EAP790/1/1

A European scholar of Buddhism, Edward Conze, once said of Buddhist monks that "they are the only Buddhists in the true sense of the word." He went on to say that life outside of the monastery was "incompatible with the higher levels of the spiritual life." This prejudice might be less common these days, but it has influenced generations of scholarship, and limited the kinds of Buddhism that scholars have studied.

Along with thinking that monks are the only true representatives of Buddhism, there has been a tendency to see the ethical and philosophical teachings of the Buddha as "pure" Buddhism, and everything else as falling away from this ideal. So rituals, chanting, storytelling, the making of amulets and casting of spells, have often been neglected in the study of Buddhism.

This attitude has started to change in recent years, but where are we to look for a different story of Buddhism? I would suggest that some of the best resources are projects that have been funded by the Endangered Archives Programme. For example, over the last seven years, the scholar Shanker Thapa has been digitising and cataloguing the personal manuscript collections of Nepalese tantric practitioners known as Vajracharyas

The Vajracharyas are family lineages, who pass down traditions of Buddhist tantric empowerment and meditation, and services to the local community, such as rituals for protection and prosperity. The image above is from a manuscript belong to Mr Gyankar Vajracharya, who lives in Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley. It shows how to set up an altar for a ritual. Another page from the same manuscript shows the nagas, serpent spirits who live in river and lakes, and are responsible for rainfall. Buddhists have provided the service of making rain to their local communities for centuries. 

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Manuscript page showing nagas, or serpent spirits. EAP790/1/1

This manuscript, along with the others in Gyankar Vajracharya's collection, which he generously allowed to be digitised, help us to understand the repetoire of a Buddhist ritual specialist in the Kathmandu Valley. 

Another EAP project has worked with a very different group of Buddhist ritual specialists, in the Pin Valley in India, some 1000 km northwest of Kathmandu. Between 2012 and 2015 the documentary photographer Patrick Sutherland worked with these ritual specialists, called Buchen, to document their practices, their books, and the other material culture of their profession. The Buchen offer rituals for healing, protection and exorcism, and also teach Buddhism to villagers through story, music and dance.

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Thangka of the life story of Padmasambhava EAP749/2/2/2

One of the Buchen is Meme Chettan Dorje. He worked with Sutherland to document his whole collection of manuscripts, paintings, and ritual implements. As  storytellers, the Buchen use the biographies of Buddhist heroes and saints to impart religious messages to their audience.

The Tibetan painting, or thangka above shows the story of Padmasambhava, a legendary master of miracles who is said to have established Buddhism to Tibet. In Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava is both an example of the state of enlightenment itself, and a culture hero. The thangka is used by Meme Chettan Dorje to tell stories for the childhood of Padmasambhava. The figure of Padmasambhava is in the middle, surrounded by illustrations of key events from his life. When telling these stories, Meme Chettan Dorje uses a metal pointer to point to specific parts of the thangka.

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A metal pointer. EAP749/2/3/8

The Buchen's storytelling is based on Tibet's rich literary tradition. This 19th-century manuscript contains one of several version of Padmasambhava's life story. The worn state of the manuscript, including the repair written with a modern pen, clearly shows that all of Meme Chettan Dorje's objects are part of a living tradition, made to be used.

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A manuscript containing the life story of Padmasambhava. EAP749/2/1/1

In traditional collections, these three objects - painting, implement and manuscript - might well end up in three different institutions, with the connections between them almost entirely erased. This collection is different because it comes out of working directly with representatives of the living tradition. Both of these two EAP collections show how it is possible to document a tradition in a way that is more true to those who practice it, whether as an insider or an outsider to the tradition itself. Whatever Edward Conze once said, there are many kinds of Buddhism and many ways of being a Buddhist. 

Further reading

  • Edward Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, originally published 1951. Modern edition: Dover Publications, 2003.
  • Shanker Thapa, Newar Buddhism: History, Scholarship and Literature, Nagarjuna Publications, 2005.
  • Patrick Sutherland, Spiti, the Forbidden Valley, Network Photographers, 2010.

Post written by Sam van Schaik, Head of the Endangered Archives Programme

04 November 2019

Rare Buddhist Sanskrit Manuscripts from Rural Kathmandu and the Hill Areas of Nepal

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Among all the ancient languages, Sanskrit excels as being used in the greatest number of written works. Sanskrit is used for mainly Hindu and Buddhist manuscripts, covering medical manuals, literature and astrological works.

Two single manuscript pages placed one above the other. Each text has rows of Sanskrit.

Example of Buddhist religious stories

Nepal is the centre of Sanskrit Buddhist manuscripts, written in a variety of Newārī scripts on tree bark, palm-leaves and paper. The manuscripts are sources of profound knowledge. Nepalese Buddhist manuscripts are the only original extant sources of Mahāyāna Buddhism and has made the study of Mahāyāna Buddhism in Sanskrit possible. The texts are rare and often in a bad state due to natural and man-made conditions. The Endangered Archives Programme has supported the digitisation of these manuscripts through several projects:  EAP676, EAP790 and EAP1023. These grants have helped the exploration and digitisation of Buddhist manuscripts held in private collections and have been the first extended attempt to made public a significant number of these privately-owned manuscripts.  Sanskrit manuscripts in Nepal are treated as sacred items having great religious value. They are not merely material objects but regarded as emanations of deities in which life is inserted through performing a ritual called Nyāsa [placing or inserting] led by Vajrācaryā priests.

Two long manuscript pages. One placed above the other. Each page has two holes roughly splitting the text into three sections. These holes are used to tie the manuscripts together.

Early example of a manuscript written on paper

EAP1023 has digitised 478 Sanskrit manuscripts in twenty-eight collections. They were written between the tenth and eighteenth centuries. They are rare and still highly valued in Newār households in Nepal. All the manuscripts were recovered from Buddhist families and the owners are all very keen to preserve them.

The types of manuscripts in this collection include: Sūtra (canonical scripture), Tantra, Kathā (stories), Vidhī (rituals) and Buddhist chronicles. Those endangered ancient and medieval specimen discuss various religious themes as well as guide to perform rituals.  

The story literature in Buddhism is divided into Jātaka tales (the previous lives of the Buddha) and Avadāna (noble deeds). This collection contains several Avadāna stories including rituals texts. Some interesting manuscripts in this collection are copies of the Sūtra of Fivefold Protection (Pañcarakṣā Sūtra). The five Sūtras are Āryamahāpratisarā, Mahāsahasrapramardinī, Mahāmāyurī, Mahāmantrāṇusārinī and Mahasitavatī.

Pañcarakṣā and Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras were widely written and recited during the medieval times in Nepal. Pañcarakṣā Sūtra is believed to bring auspicious moments and bring protection from bad planets, evil souls, calamities, diseases, effects of poisons and so on. This text has five individual Sūtras. Five individual deities are emanated from the five Sūtras, each having special powers. Their influence is highlighted in the narrative descriptions of each Sūtra. Traditionally, the Pañcarakṣā Sūtra is written in golden, silver or organic homemade black ink. This collection also has the earliest dated Nepalese paper manuscript belonging to the twelfth century. From the Buddhist viewpoint, this collection is invaluable.

A single manuscript page. Gold writing with a colourful depiction of the Buddha in the centre.

Illustrated examples of  the Pañcarakṣā with writing in gold

A single manuscript page. Gold writing with a colourful depiction of the Buddha in the centre

Two pages of a manuscript a significant corner of each page is missing an burn marks are clearly visible.

A copy of the Pañcarakṣā Sutra, there looks as if there has been fire damage to the manuscript

Written by Dr. Shanker Thapa, Professor of History at Tribhuvan University and grant holder for EAP1023, EAP790 and EAP676.

14 December 2017

A project from Bhutan

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On 17 December 1907, Ugyen Wangchuk, the first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King), was crowned and the Kingdom of Bhutan has marked this day ever since as its National Day.

The British Library has some photographs of Ugyen Wangchuk when he was crown prince dating from 1905, which were taken by John Claude White, the Political Officer of neighbouring Sikkim. The image of him wearing the traditional Raven Crown and the order of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire is perhaps the most reproduced photograph of the ruler, but it is the one in more relaxed dress and surrounded by his family, that has, for me, more appeal.

Photograph of Ugyen Wangchuk wearing the crown and traditional Bhutanese dress.

Photo 20/(1)

Ugyen Wangchuk with his family.Photo 20/(25)

To mark this anniversary, I thought I would highlight EAP039. This project was awarded in 2005, the very first round of grants  and took place at Gangtey Gonpa. The monastery was founded in 1613 by Gyalse Pema Thinley, the grandson of the saint Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) who was the most important Buddhist born in Bhutan and who discovered the hidden texts concealed by the 8th century Indian monk Padmasambhava.

The monastery underwent major renovation, beginning in 2000 and lasting for eight years. The Endangered Archives Programme project was independent to the refurbishment of the building but ensured the safety of the important Nyingma tradition manuscripts housed at the monastery. Below are some photographs of the village, the manuscripts beautifully wrapped and stored and the monks concentrating on the digitisation project. As the location lacked a reliable electricity supply, the team worked outside when photographing these precious texts, which were a funerary tribute to the founder of Gangtey.

We wish everyone in Bhutan a very happy National Day.

Buildings of Gantey with mountains in the distance.On the road to Gantey.

Close up of a manuscript, including the title page.An example of one of the manuscripts.

Monks digitising in the courtyard of a monastery.Monks at work.

Manuscripts wrapped up in saffron coloured cloth.Bundles of manuscripts waiting to be digitised.

 

Further Reading:

Aris, M (1994) The Raven Crown Chicago: Serindia Publications

03 July 2017

New collections online - June 2017

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 We have three new collections available to view on the Endangered Archives Programme website: a collection of Newārī medieval manuscripts from the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal; an archaeological photographic archive from Romania; and finally the archive of the Dominican Monastery of Santa Rosa, Santiago, Chile.

EAP790: The Melvin Seiden Award: Digital documentation of endangered medieval manuscripts in individual and Vihāra collections from various Newār settlements in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

The main focus of this project was to digitise rare medieval Sanskrit manuscripts as well as rescue those threatened by the earthquake of 2015. Nepal is home to significant collections of Sanskrit as well as Hindu manuscripts, with the Newār people having contributed enormously to the development of literary culture in the country. In vernacular Newārī the manuscripts are called ‘Thyasaphu’ and are not merely handwritten texts, but an object of veneration and part of their religious lives. The Buddhist Vajracharyas and Shakyas, and Hindu Karmacharyas from the Newār communities, were directly concerned with manuscript writing, recitation and performing rituals. In spite of the manuscripts’ importance, few are aware of their literary heritage and little attention has been paid to preserve and disseminate the manuscripts despite their religious and historical significance. Newar families still own manuscripts but unfortunately, most of the precious manuscripts are left to decay and are often now in poor condition. An inability to read the scripts and/or language, or little knowledge of the subject matter, has restricted people from reading these medieval manuscripts.

The project team were able to digitise 21 separate collections consisting of 687 manuscripts. In total over 28,000 images were produced. These included religious manuscripts related to Buddhism and Hinduism, literary works, medical texts, records of events, and other secular texts. These are important records for Buddhist and Hindu Newārs to perform religious duties and also for scholars of Newār Buddhism, Vajrayana rituals, Hinduism, the Vajracharya priests and practitioners and others. Throughout the project, workshops and programmes were organised to train staff and local stakeholders, including those from the Newār community, to search, catalogue and digitise the manuscripts.

Manuscripts with illustrations of snakes.EAP790/1/1 - Puja Vidhi [17th century]

Manuscript with several yantra diagramsEAP790/1/82 - Mahalakshmi, Bagalamukhi and Sarva Sambhagyesvari Yantra [18th century]

Page from an illustrated manuscriptEAP790/17/1 - Svasthani Vrata Katha [19th century]

EAP816: Selective digitisation and preservation of the photographic archive of the ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest, Romania

The ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology’s photography archive provides a unique source of information for archaeological research and monument recording and restoration between 1880 and 1925 in Romania. Large numbers of archaeological sites and monuments, then surviving across Romania, are represented in a vast array of excavation, exploration and restoration photographs, covering all periods from the earliest farming communities to the pre-industrial centuries of the last millennium. Many of the archaeological sites and landscapes represented in the photographs, along with a host of medieval churches and many villages, were totally destroyed during and after the two World Wars. The majority of the earliest material focuses on the Romanian Black Sea area, a region called Dobrogea, the richest region of Romania in terms of its archaeological heritage. It also used to be the most ethnically diverse region of Romania and until the end of World War I was one of the most rural and arid. Many of the photographs shed light on the ethnic diversity of the region, nowadays hugely different, and on the unaltered landscape of the area, much changed due to the huge communist agricultural programmes of the sixties and seventies, which included erasing to the ground entire villages along with their churches and traditional field systems. Archaeological artefacts – pottery, sculptures, metal objects – are also represented, along with other items of major historical importance: objects of religious art, paintings, sculptures and fabrics, many of them subsequently destroyed or lost, sometimes plundered by German, Russian or other troops during the wars that have affected Romania in the past 150 years. The on-site images include extremely beautiful local ethnographic photographs and rural landscape images depicting a world long gone, especially in the Black Sea area, populated by a wide mix of differing nationalities in the period before WWII.

Page from a book illustrating a stone carving.

Photograph of a village with stone and wooden tower.EAp816/1/4 - Tropaeum Traiani

Photograph of embossed metal artifact.EAP816/1/2 - Pietroasa treasure

EAP821: Documentary heritage at risk: digitisation and enhancement of the archive of the Monastery of Dominican nuns of Santa Rosa, Santiago, Chile

This project catalogued and digitised the archive of the Dominican Monastery of Santa Rosa, one of the four oldest and most important archives of female writing of Chile. Founded in 1680 as a Beguine convent, it later became a monastery in 1754. The Dominican sisters of the monastery were characterised by their cultural and intellectual life which is reflected in the documents digitised as part of the archive. This is a unique set of documents as the testimonies of women from this period have been preserved in few other places in Chile. Among the files are valuable diaries and autobiographies such as that of Dolores Peña y Lillo, which highlights the features of regional and local female idiosyncrasies. These documents are a great resource for scholars and contribute to research, study and dissemination of the model of female education at that time, based on the intellectual culture, crafts and arts. The project team digitised 107 volumes in total consisting of over 27,000 images.

Handwritten page.EAP821/1/1/1 - Life and Virtues of the Servant of God Father Ignacio García of the Society of Jesus, by Fr Francisco Javier Zevallos [17th century-19th century]

Page from illustrated manuscript.EAP821/1/1/71 - Prayers for the Rosary of the Holy Mass [19th century]

Illustrated page.

EAP821/1/1/87 - Maps and drawings related to the cloister and Church of the monastery Dominicans of Santa Rosa in Santiago [18th century]

21 February 2017

What does one gift to the Dalai Lama?

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Ever wondered what one would give to the new Dalai Lama if one had the opportunity to attend his enthronement ceremony?

  Cover page of an archival file

This file (1939-40), over 200 pages long, provides a chronological and detailed account of the planning and sourcing of gifts, articulated concerns and queries about culture, customs, and protocol, and vivid travel descriptions of the journey from Gangtok (Sikkim) to Lhasa (Tibet), for the infant Tenzing Gyatso’s official enthronement as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.  

Recognised as the official reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1939, his enthronement ceremony as the next Dalai Lama was scheduled for 22 February, 1940 in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. In Sikkim (which had close relations with Tibet, spiritually, culturally, economically, and familial), officials were deciding what gifts to send to Lhasa for the occasion, and who would represent the Sikkim State at this auspicious and once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.

Sikkim’s 11th Chogyal, Tashi Wangyal Namgyal (r.1914-1963), chose to send his eldest son, Crown Prince Kunzang Paljor Namgyal (1921-1941), and the British decided to send Basil Gould (Political Officer, Sikkim), who would have been more familiar with the cultures of the region.

  Type-written letter.

It seems Gould took it upon himself to write to the headmaster of Bishop’s Cotton School (Shimla) where Crown Prince Paljor was studying, informing the school of the Prince’s impending absence – and rather comically, it seems he felt that “…the condition of a boy’s teeth” was a “very important matter”!

  Hand-written receipt.

Meanwhile, the Chogyal’s office set to work brainstorming gifts to offer the new Dalai Lama, sourcing them from various vendors from Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and the Army and Navy Store, Calcutta. The gifts included, among other items: A pair of sporting rifles; a 12ft tiger skin; a clock; a writing attaché case, a silver tea set, a pair of binoculars, and a pair of English ponies — the latter evidently caused quite a bit of trouble in their procurement as the file goes on to illustrate!

Typewritten letter.

The Chogyal’s eldest brother, former Crown Prince Tsodag Namgyal (1877-1942) had been removed from the line of succesion by the British in the mid-1890s and had been living in Tibet ever since. His son, Jigme Sumtsen Wangpo Namgyal, was a big support in the Chogyal’s endeavours to pay respects to the Dalai Lama, and it has been interesting to see how little the political interference and geographical borders seem to have affected the strength of family ties.

On 22 January, 1940, the Chogyal writes to his nephew, Jigme Sumtsen, to inform him that due to Prince Paljor’s young age and the anticipated harsh winter weather, Sikkim will instead send the Pipon of Lachen1.

  EAP880_HHDL-5_DSC00925 resized

The Chogyal asks his nephew to guide Pipon Sonam Wangyal in the elaborate, and oftentimes confusing, protocol of Lhasa aristocracy, and informs him that he is sending a tea set to Jigme Sumtsen in advance, as a token of his appreciation. 

On the 24 January, the Pipon sets off for Lhasa with four orderlies and arrives 13 days later on the 6 February, 1940. 

Meanwhile, the Chogyal accompanied by Prince Paljor and Princess Pema Tsedeun had left for Delhi to attend the investiture ceremony of the Viceroy of India. On their way back they visited Varanasi and Bodhgaya on Buddhist pilgrimage, and the correspondence between Chogyal and his nephew continued despite the hurdles of distance and difficulty of communication deriving from constant travel in early 20th century India. 

  Handwriting in Tibetan with an envelop and a royal seal.

These beautifully articulated, and oftentimes endearing letters, exchanged between uncle and nephew provide windows of insight into both mundane and courtly life of the era. The latter wonderfully illustrated with Jigme Sumtsen reporting to the Chogyal about the ceremony’s success, the reception of the gifts from Sikkim, and reference to the official letters of acknowledgement that are being carried back across the Himalayas by Pipon Wangyal.

Close up of Tibetan writing with seal.

But where does one find a pair of English ponies on the Indian subcontinent in 1940? With the start of summer, the search began in earnest, and queries were sent out to Kalimpong, Calcutta, Bombay, and eventually to the Punjab, requesting information on ponies of a certain height and colour.

The Chogyal’s brother-in-law, a Bhutanese known as Raja Sonam Tobgay Dorji (1896-1953) was based in Kalimpong, and he along with Sergul Tsering (Sikkim’s Vetinary Inspector) travelled to Calcutta, where on the 9 September, after visiting various stables across the city, they found a promising young pony at Dum Dum stable. One down!

From there, on the 13 September, the Veterinary Inspector took a 200 rupee advance and continued on to a firm in Punjab which had a reputation of breeding good English horses, and there he was able to procure the second horse for 1,500 Indian rupees.

  Typewritten letter.

EAP880_HHDL-10_DSC00930 resized

By early October, the horses were sent up to Lhasa, again with the logistical help and facilitation of Jigme Sumtsen, and presented to the Dalai Lama’s office. Jigme Sumtsen’s letters back to the Chogyal indicate that the officials in Tibet were both impressed and very happy with the horses, and that above and beyond, they were the tallest horses in the stables of the Potala Palace!

Photograph album. Top photograph shows four men stand next to two horses, bottom photograph shows the stables.,

Among other highlights, this file illustrates the frugality of expenditures with meticulous financial accounts of the trip, including the Pipon’s monthly payment (70 rupees; plus 50 rupees for warm clothes); the cost of the travels; and his use of the 50 allocated letter papers, 50 envelopes, 1 pencil, 2 penholders and a pocket book. It includes beautifully written letters from Tibet on handmade parchment paper, and gives insight into the workings of the Sikkim Palace’s administration, as well as the nature of their relationship with both Tibet and the British Empire.

So, if you ever find yourself in a position where you need to present gifts at an enthronement ceremony, this archive might be just what you need...

1. Lachen is a wide valley village in North Sikkim known for its unique system of local community governance, known as the ‘Dzumsa.’ The rotating head of the Dzumsa is refered to by the title ‘Pipon’ (and interestingly, this form of local governance is still practiced today with semi-autonomy within the wider state adminstration).

Written by

Pema Abrahams, grant holder for EAP880

08 June 2016

New collections online - May 2016

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Last month we put three new collection online - EAP689, EAP700 and EAP727

EAP689: Constituting a digital archive of Tamil agrarian history (1650-1950) - phase II

This project, digitising vulnerable documents relating to Tamil agrarian history, is a continuation of the earlier projects carried out in the same region – EAP314 and EAP458.  The project aimed to enhance the work already accomplished by visiting some of the locations identified in these earlier projects, as well as new locations, and digitising a variety of vulnerable documents held in private homes in Tamil Nadu.  36 new collections were digitised, bringing the total number, including those from previous projects, up to 74 collections in total. The sizes of the 36 new collections digitised vary from one single document to over a 300 documents per collection. The 36 collections comprise 135 different series which cover a wide variety of genres and topics such as: folk songs, poems, hymns, horoscopes, astrology, sorcery, nikantu, tamil lexicon, medicine, harvest accounts, land lease, land settlements, land partition, land dispute, land record, tax and temple accounts. judgements from the colonial courts and local judicial assemblies, petitions over land dispute, sale, punishment for communication with excommunicated persons, marriage agreement and caste integrity, compensation to families after self-immolation of widows, security rights (kaval), right to access water for agriculture from the lake, dowry details, business communications and accounts with Burma, film pamphlets.

A copper plate with writing in white etched into the plate.EAP689/6/1/1 - Agreement for temple renovation - Copper-plate

Letter with decorative borderEAP689/21/2/4 - Invitation Letters - Paper [1912-1931]

Cover of a book showing illustrations of animals and people.EAP689/27/1/53 -Music Guide book PB 53 [1939]

EAP700: Preservation of the manuscripts of the Jaffna Bishop's House (1850-1930)

The central aim of this pilot project was to digitise, preserve and disseminate the rare French manuscripts and other documents kept in the Jaffna Bishop’s House in Sri Lanka. These manuscripts are becoming more and more vulnerable to human and natural disasters and merit urgent digitisation for posterity. Jaffna, in the northern part Sri Lanka, inhabited by the Tamil ethnic minority since the independence of Sri Lanka (1948) has been subject to serious ethnic, cultural and political conflicts. One of the most tragic events was the burning of the Jaffna Public library along with its 97,000 volumes of books and manuscripts on 1 June 1981. The Jaffna public library was considered one of the biggest in Asia.

This collection of manuscripts has escaped the bombings and shelling of past decades. They have been stored in wooden cupboards in a reinforced room of the Bishop’s House adjoining the Cathedral, in a strategically sensitive district of Jaffna City. They are, however, highly vulnerable due to their age and their current condition of poor storage, insect infestations, occasional human mishandling, humidity and other natural and environmental disasters. Some of them are in such a fragile state that they are unable to be handled.

These manuscripts and documents are part of the collections of the Catholic mission in Sri Lanka and cover a wider geographical area including the Jaffna peninsula, Mannar, Puttalam and the Vanni regions. The majority of the manuscripts are in French. This makes the collection a rare and unique heritage and should shed new insights on the contribution of the French missions in this region. They contain a variety of information about the Diocese and the parish and the parishioners. They cover two periods: the second half of the 19th century with the commencement of the Missions; and the period before, during, and after the First World War, a period that is also of great historical importance because of its implications in the colonies. They pertain to two broad domains of the history of Christianity and Christian missions in Sri Lanka, and also the cultural history of ethnic minorities in general and with special reference to the Tamils.

The project digitised 58 files, creating a total of 16,944 digital images instead of the 7,000 that were originally planned. The files mostly consist of manuscripts dated from between 1850 and 1930. The project digitised a diverse collection of records such as memoirs of missionaries or codices; records detailing day to day life; observations on economic and social conditions; personal letters; account books giving detailed explanations of the income and expenses related to the missions, churches and cathedral, and daily accounts of the expenditures on different chapters like school, orphanage, and charity; catalogues of letters sent by missionaries; sermons and commentaries.

Page from the archiveEAP700/1/2/2 - The Jaffna Diocese and the OMI - Supplement, containing letters & documents [1848-1861]

Page from the archiveEAP700/1/8/1 - Statistics of the Diocese of Jaffna [1929]

EAP727: Preservation of Tibetan Ngakpa manuscripts in Amdo region (Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, PRC)

Amdo is a region located in the northeastern area of the Tibetan Plateau. Due to its geographical features of high mountain ranges and vast grasslands, fragmented and scattered institutions of local power have been the prevalent forms of the ruling agency, until its formal inclusion in the administrative system of People’s Republic of China in 1958. In this socio-historical context, Ngakpa have been playing a leading role in the religious life of Amdo Tibetan communities, embodying a sort of independent channel of transmission, alternative to monastic practice. Ngakpa are extremely knowledgeable bearers of the non-monastic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon religions. They mainly act as ritual masters for a number of different purposes and have a high level of expertise in Tibetan meditation practices, medicine, astronomy and traditional knowledge as a whole.

Despite the recent popularity of Ngakpa teachings in the Western world, their survival in the original context is threatened by the increasing marginalisation of their social role and the lack of potential students in the young generation, captivated by new opportunities offered by the Chinese fast-growing economy. The preservation of Ngakpa’s textual heritage is a factor of primary importance for ensuring the perpetuation of this ancient laic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This project was exclusively concerned with the preservation of the most endangered manuscripts of one specific group of Ngakpa in the Amdo region, those belonging to the Nyingmapa tradition, the most ancient school of Tibetan Buddhism.

A pilot survey was carried out by the local archival partner and it emerged that between 70 and 100 pecha (the traditional format of Tibetan books, made of long paper pages compressed between two wooden boards and bounded together with a string) of different lengths, privately-owned by thirty Ngakpa, were in very poor physical condition and situated in precarious locations, exposed to the damages of humidity, rats, use and age.

The manuscripts date from between the early 19th and the end of the 20th centuries. Several of them are unique copies that were rescued during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when they were hidden in various provisional locations, wedged in wall fissures and buried underground. The topics covered by the texts are heterogeneous: rituals, medicine, history, astrology, astronomy, divination, hagiography, mantras, manuals for the construction of traditional ritual objects, such as mandala, stupa and torma (decorated and painted offerings made of barley flour and butter).

The scattered location of the texts and the difficulty to reach them in remote mountain areas required extensive travel among different villages in Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (all in Qinghai Province) and Southern Gansu Province.

Manuscript page showing two deities and text in Tibetan.EAP727/1/100 - རྒྱལ་བ་སྐུ་གསུམ་གྱི་རྣམ་ཐར་ཡོངས་འདུས་ལྗོན་པ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (rgyal ba sku gsum gyi rnam thar yongs 'dus ljon pa bzhugs) [Early 20th century]

Manuscript page in Tibetan.EAP727/6/25 - བླ་མའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་བསམ་པ་ལྷུན་འགྲུབ་དང་མྱུར་འགྲུབ་མ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (bla ma'i rnal 'byor bsam pa lhun 'grub dang myur 'grub ma bzhugs so) [Mid 19th century]