Working with ancient handwritten documents is the biggest challenge and greatest joy of my research. If you have never read Sanskrit from a manuscript, it is important to remember that all published editions of classical Sanskrit texts are necessarily based on them.  The vast majority of editions are non-critical and based on manuscripts chosen for readability of script rather than soundness of content.  Critical scholars seek to recover, as far as possible, the earliest discernible readings of their text.  To do so we must consider the testimony of a variety of manuscripts and where possible determine their genetic relationships.  By applying textual criticism, we can be sure that the text we read is, if not the original Ur-text of yore, at least much closer to it than anything available in non-critical editions.   

Some benefits are:

  • original research
  • understanding manuscript cultures
  • pleasure of working with ancient artifacts
  • helping to increase awareness of these
  • vulnerable treasures

Some difficulties of working with manuscripts:

  • archaic script
  • words not separated
  • peculiarities of each scribe
  • corrupt readings

Where do I get (copies of) Manuscripts?

Few archives have their catalogues online, so one should look in the published catalogues of the major Indian archives.  Although it is theoretically possible to order copies from abroad, in practice it is often necessary to go to the archive in person to get copies.  The NGMPP collection via the Nepal Research Centre is a fruitful exception.

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