Perso-Indica at Cambridge

During the past week, Dr Audrey Truschke (Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge) has been assisting with the Sanskrit manuscript project. Audrey was brought in to catalogue a few manuscripts that mix Sanskrit and Persian texts, and she found several treasures. The two major works she examined are:

  • Two Persian and two Sanskrit manuscripts bound together that belonged to E.B. Cowell, the first professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge (appointed in 1867) who was also a connoisseur and translator of Persian poetry. The four texts in this particular manuscript (Or. 274) are all poetry, and three of the four works have marginal notes in Cowell’s hand. Few people know both Sanskrit and Persian today, and this manuscript attests to the immense linguistic skills of nineteenth-century Orientalists and their wide-ranging appreciation of Indian literary cultures.
  • A notebook of Samuel Lee, a noted Orientalist of the first half of the nineteenth century who served as professor of Arabic and later Hebrew at Cambridge. The present manuscript contains works in Persian, Arabic, and Hindustani. In addition, the backsides of a number of folios contain an unfinished Sanskrit vocabulary list (accompanied by English translations) that Lee may have been keeping as he tried to learn the language. However, the list is rather sparse and contains some odd translations, which suggests that Samuel Lee, like so many, found Sanskrit an incredibly difficult tongue.

Although such bilingual manuscripts are few in number in the Cambridge University Library manuscript collections, we hope that they will prove to be interesting for scholars working in the field of Indo-Persian studies (more about this area of research here and here).

On Privileges: the Kollam Plates at the Cambridge University Library

On 1-2 October Dr. Vincenzo Vergiani attended a seminar on the Kollam Plates at the British Museum, organised by Dr Elizabeth Lambourn (Principal Investigator, Reader in South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies, De Montfort University) and Dr Roberta Tomber (Co-Investigator, British Museum) of the AHRC Research Network ‘Routes, Networks and Communities in the Medieval Indian Ocean’.

These copper plates draw their name from Kollam, an ancient port town on the coast of Kerala, and are also known as the Sthanu Ravi Plates, after the local ruler under whom they were issued (ca. 849 CE). They award trade privileges to two merchant associations, the Manigramam, an indigenous south Indian group, and the Anjuvanam, probably representing West Asian interests, who were associated to an eastern Christian church at Kollam. The documents are mainly written in Tamil in the Vaṭṭeḷuttu script, but they also bear 11 names in Arabic, in the Kufic script, 10 names in Middle Persian-Pahlavi, and a four names in Judaeo-Persian, of individuals who probably witnessed the grant on behalf of the larger groups. The names are not autograph signatures per se but rather group testimonials.

The University Library in Cambridge holds a set of brass plates reproducing the text of the original Kollam Plates in reverse, to be used for printing (ms Oo.1.14). These were commissioned in 1805 in Cochin on the initiative of the Scottish missionary Claudius Buchanan and were later used to produce a set of prints, also held in the University Library. Apart from their obvious historical interest, the importance of the Cambridge plates lies in the fact that they preserve a more complete text of the ancient document, without the gaps occurring in the originals, which must have suffered damage in the course of the 19th century. As the Cambridge plates are a unique item in the University Library collections, they will be included in the online catalogue of the Sanskrit Manuscript collections even though, strictly speaking, they are inscriptions rather than manuscripts.

Works in Progress

The Sanskrit Manuscripts Team has started the work on the critical edition of a number of important texts preserved in the South Asian manuscripts holdings of the Cambridge University Library:

  • Add. 1409, a palm-leaf autograph of the Rāmāṅkanāṭikā, a drama written in Nepal by the Buddhist author Dharmagupta and dated Nepāla Saṃvat 480 (1360 CE). The identity of author and scribe is clearly stated in the colophon on folio 140v:
    śrīdharmaguptaḥ kṛtī | pitrā putrakṛpāpareṇa nipuṇaṃ śāstrānvayaṃ śikṣita etām bhāvarasojjvalāṃ sa kṛtavān rāmāṅkitān nāṭikāṃ | śreyo’ stu | samvat 480 śuklaikadaśamyāṃ ravi vāso | tenaiva dharmaguptena śrimatā rāmadāsinā | bālavāgīśvareṇeyaṃ likhitā rāmāṅkanāṭikā || śubham astu sarvadā ||
    Two more manuscripts of this work have been catalogued by the NGMCP (reel no. C 6-9/inventory no.57047 and reel no. A 351-13/inventory no. 57048). One of them (C 6-9) is dated Nepāla Saṃvat 496 (1376 CE), i.e. only 16 years after the Cambridge manuscript. The short time-span between the two witnesses is a fortunate opportunity that will allow the editors to study the earliest phases of transmission of the text and, hopefully, enable them to find traces of author’s variants.
  • Add.1649, probably a codex unicus (of an extremely early date, 1412 CE) of the Siddhisāra, a work on astrology and divination. According to the colophon, the author is the Nepalese king Jayajyotirmalla (1408–1428 CE).
  • Or. 727, a palm-leaf manuscript of the Tantrākhyāna, dated Nepāla Saṃvat 604 (1484 CE). Most probably, this is the codex unicus of the complete Sanskrit version of the Nepalese recension of the Pañcatantra. Despite an early article by C. Bendall with an analysis of the content of the manuscript and a sample edition and translation of some tales, this Nepalese recension has been always studied on the basis of manuscripts of the Newari version, in which only the subhāṣitas at the beginning of each tale are in Sanskrit.

Wish us luck!