Dear visitors,

please note that our National Research Network "The Cultural History of the Western Himalaya from the 8th Century (S98)" - generously sponsored by the Austrian Science Fund - has ended on June 30th 2013. For that reason this website will no longer be updated on a regular basis.

For information on our ongoing research, events and activities please refer to the website of our Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asian Cultural History (CIRDIS).

Tibetan Manuscripts (S 9803)

Project Leader: Ao. Univ.-Prof. Dr. Helmut Tauscher
Members: Dr. H. Lasic

The project "Tibetan Manuscripts" ( is the continuation of the project "Western Tibetan Manuscripts" carried out since 1991 by an international group of scholars co-ordinated from the Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (ITB), now known as the Dept. of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (ISTB), University of Vienna, and aiming at identifying, securing and documenting manuscripts produced in the area of the former Western Tibetan Kingdom (ranging from present-day Tibet/China to the Indian states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu-Kashmir and to the northern parts of Pakistan) from the 11th century, as well as examining these manuscripts primarily in the light of Tibetan philology, codicology and art history.
Initially activities were concentrated mainly on the manuscript collection at Tabo Monastery (Spiti, Himachal Pradesh), containing about 38 000 manuscript leaves with fragments of some 300 Kanjur and very few Tanjur texts in more than 500 manuscript units (some illuminated) representing remains of various scriptoria in the region. These units have meanwhile been largely restored, identified, catalogued and photographed.
The area of research has been extended to other places in Spiti as well as the neighbouring districts of Kinnaur and Lahul. From this area, in particular the Proto-Kanjur from Gondhla deserves mentioning. Presently the focus of field research is set on the area of Zanskar (Phukthar) and Ladakh. The material found in these areas appears to be important for the history and development of the Tibetan Buddhist canons. Apart from the larger collections mentioned, some smaller monastic and private collections have been included in these studies. Prospective collaboration with institutions of the People Republic of China (CTRC, TASS) should provide the possibility to extent the research activities to Ngari (TAR), the political and cultural centre of the former western Tibetan kingdom, as well as to comparable collections in central Tibet .
The shared conclusion reached by scholars in this field is that the western Tibetan manuscripts for a major part, at least in their earlier layers, represent an independent tradition of textual transmission of proto-canonical origin, which in some cases preserves better readings than the mainstream canonical traditions. On the basis of a comparison of the Dunhuang manuscripts and the Tabo collection it was possible for C. Scherrer-Schaub to establish Tibetan codicology as a new branch of Tibetology (cf. Scherrer-Schaub 1999). Furthermore these studies point towards several traditions or at least distinct currents which have to be identified through the comparison of the various manuscript collections.

Contribution to the CHWH

As the production of manuscripts and transmission of texts constitutes an important aspect of any society under the influence of Tibetan Buddhism, the results of this subproject will add to those of the other sub-projects to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the area's cultural history. Locating, dating and evaluating the manuscripts, on the other hand, as well as discovering streams of dependencies among them etc. cannot be reached by philological means alone and depends on the results of other scholarly disciplines.

Aims, methods, research program

The overall and long-term aim of the project is to gain a more comprehensive picture of the history of the western Tibetan manuscript tradition and to contribute to the development of the new discipline of Tibetan codicology and Kanjur studies.
This aim is to be pursued on three levels:

1. Fieldwork: locating, identifying, cataloguing and photographing the manuscripts
The manuscripts have to be located, identified and analysed according to criteria of paleography, orthography and, to the extent possible in the field, textual criticism, and an initial hand-list has to be produced.
The manuscripts in Ccharang monastery (Kinnaur) as well as in Zanskar, Ladakh and Ngari still need to be located and documented.

2. Documentation, archiving and research
In order to make the manuscripts accessible to the international scholarly community, the long-term project aims at a fully catalogued digital documentation of the manuscripts from western Tibet, including organising the photographic documentation of materials from Tabo carried out by the IGNCA, as well as archiving and digitalising approx. 40,000 photographs of the manuscripts collections in Tabo, Gondhla and others

3. Evaluation, analysis, and interpretation
Initially only selected texts of immediately recognisable importance have been studied in more detail, as well as colophons and dedications of direct historical relevance. Illuminated manuscripts have been dealt with in co-operation with the art-historical project of the former FSP. In the long-term, interpretation, evaluation and analysis of individual texts as well as of larger MS collections should bring insight in the history of the canonical literature in western Tibet.

External Co-operations

Tabo Ancient Monastery (Geshe Sonam Wangdu): fieldwork at Tabo
Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente: fieldwork, analysis of selected texts, publication of results
Indira Gandhi Centre of the Arts, New Delhi: photographic documentation of the Tabo collection
Prof. Cristina Scherrer-Schaub, University of Lausanne: fieldwork, codicology, analysis of selected texts, cataloguing
Prof. Paul Harrison, University of Christchurch (New Zealand), cataloguing
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, analysis of selected texts
Central Institute of Buddhist studies, Choglamsar, Leh (Laddak), fieldwork
National Mission for Manuscripts, Delhi, fieldwork