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From the late 10th century, numerous Buddhist monasteries were founded in the former domain of the kingdom of West Tibet. Many of them can be associated with the famous translator of Indian Buddhist texts, Rinchen Sangpo (Rin chen bzang po) (958-1055). We currently know of larger collections of old manuscripts (to the 14th century) in the monasteries of Tabo (Spiti), Charang (Kinnaur) and Phugthal (Zanskar/Ladakh), as well as of a private collection in Gondhla (Lahaul). Single texts and fragments can be found in various monasteries and private homes.
Meaning, Development and Tradition As a result, in West Tibet, an independent tradition of manuscripts of authoritative Buddhist texts developed, to a large extent translated from Sanskrit. This tradition was continued, distinct from the main stream of transmission into Tibet, into the second half of the 14th century, and can still be seen in later manuscripts of the region. When the Buddhist canon was compiled and edited at the beginning of the 14th century in Central Tibet, the West Tibetan manuscripts and the translations they contained were not taken into consideration. This means that a text tradition is extant here that, in its oldest, pre-canonical sections, contains some versions of texts which are considerably older than all those known to date. Texts can also be found here that did not find their way into the canonical collection. These manuscripts are significant for various facets of scientific research: palaeography, orthography, terminology, linguistics, study of materials, etc. Their colophons, dedications, etc. also hold a great deal of historical, cultural and social information. Their greatest value, however, lies in the field of text criticism and the study of the Tibetan Buddhist canon’s tradition, as well as of the text traditions earlier than and outside the canonical manuscript tradition.
The manuscripts are written on paper that has usually been made of hemp fibres in the so-called "pulp pouring" method. They are in the traditional pothi format, that is, long, rectangular unbound sheets, which imitate Indian palm leaf manuscripts. The binding holes characteristic for older manuscripts are also imitated, although they soon lost their actual function; the manuscripts were stored between wooden boards. Writing nibs carved out of wood or bamboo were used to write the texts. The ink was made of soot, combined with clay as a binding agent. The production of manuscripts using gold, silver or copper ink on indigo-dyed paper is rare in West Tibet; most of such manuscripts were most likely imported from Central Tibet. Valuable manuscripts were decorated with miniatures, usually at the end of a chapter or on the first page. Sometimes only the first page was designed as a decorative page, with gold or silver script and miniatures.