On Air 3: Like a Tigress with her Cubs

yathā vyāghrī haret putrān daṃṣṭrābhir na ca pīḍayet |
bhītā patanabhedābhyāṃ tadvad varṇān prayojayet ||

Like a tigress who carries her cubs without gritting her fangs excessively, frightened both by a possible fall or by leaving wounds: this is how one should utter speech-sounds!
(Pāṇinīyaśikṣā 25)

The third release of the Cambridge Digital Library includes thirty-five new descriptions of Sanskrit manuscripts.

The bulk of the manuscripts catalogued consists of a collection of texts belonging to the Vedalakṣaṇa branch of knowledge (a total of twenty-eight manuscripts).[1] Twelve manuscripts contain śikṣā texts, works on phonetics and phonology dealing with the pronunciation and recitation of both Vedic and Classical Sanskrit, and other theoretical topics such as the accent-bearing unit, or providing list of Vedic words to be memorised on account of the ambiguity of their articulatory features. Another class of Vedalakṣaṇa texts, the Anukramaṇīs (lists of various features of the Vedic collection, for instance number and attribution of meters to different deities, indexes of titles of works about the Vedas etc.) are represented by seven manuscripts. Furthermore, a smaller group of four manuscripts of pariśiṣṭa texts has also been catalogued, as well as one multi-text manuscript containing the Vargadvayavṛtti and the Ṛgvedaprātiśākhyabhāṣya, and one manuscript of a texts on vedavikṛti[2], the Jaṭāpaṭaladīpikā.

All these manuscripts belong to the Cowell collection. Edward Byles Cowell was the first Professor for Sanskrit at the University of Cambridge. In 1873, he instructed Ralph T. H. Griffith of the Benares Sanskrit College to procure manuscripts of texts belonging to specific literary genres for his personal study, as well as for the Cambridge University Library. Until 1878 Griffith continued to send manuscripts to Cambridge.[3] The majority of these manuscripts belonged to Prof. Cowell, and after his death in 1903 they were all bequeathed to the University library. Many of these manuscripts are modern copies commissioned by Griffith, and thus they share many common features. For instance, it is possible to distinguish a series of three manuscripts all written in 1877: one manuscript of the Lomaśīśikṣā (Add. 1709), one of the Keśavīśikṣā (Add. 1710) and one of the Laghvamoghanandinīśikṣā (Add. 1711). Although only the first manuscript is dated, it is clear from the script that all three have been written by the same scribe. Moreover, most probably they were thought of as a single collection, since they share many common features: paper and layout are identical, and at the end of Add. 1709 the catch number 18 is written, which is repeated on the first folio of Add. 1710 and on the verso of Add. 1711 (a one-folio manuscript).

The release is rounded up by three Jaina manuscripts (Add. 2140, Anaṅgaraṅga; Add. 2286, Jñātādharmakathā; Add. 2377, Kālakācāryakathā), and four Nepalese manuscripts (Add. 1386, Avadānaśataka; Add.1396.2, Naiṣadhaprakāśa; Add. 1645, Śivadharma corpus; Or. 146.1, Raghuvaṃśa).

Add. 2286 “is especially valuable because it belongs to a set of the 45 Śvetāmbara āgamas commissioned by the members of the same family. This set is now scattered among different libraries. Some items have been traced in Berlin and in India. […] In this case, the colophon also gives the name of the donor, Jayakaraṇa, a resident of Khambhat; he and his family members systematically collected manuscripts of the Śvetāmbara canonical works […] The Cambridge University Library has two items belonging to this collection: this one and Add. 2252, the Antakr̥ddaśāvivaraṇa, the eighth Aṅga of the Śvetāmbara canon.”[4]

Among the Nepalese manuscripts, noteworthy is Add. 1645, a palm-leaf manuscript of the Śivadharma corpus from a very early date (1139 CE). As sometimes is the case in Nepalese manuscripts used also for ritual purposes,[5] its wood covers display illuminations (of both śaiva and vaiṣṇava inspiration!) in the internal parts.

Add. 1396.2, even if fragmentary, is still important, since it is one of the few witnesses of the Naiṣadhaprakāśa, a yet unpublished commentary by Śrīnātha on Śrīharṣa’s Naiṣadhacarita.

1. We would like to acknowledge the fundamental help provided by our external collaborator Dr Giovanni Ciotti for the cataloguing of these manuscripts.

2. Lit. “[textual] modifications of the Vedic texts”, i.e. recombinations of the words for mnemonic purposes.

3. To these should be added manuscripts Add. 1934-50, bought in 1878 from J.C. Nesfield, also based at the Benares Sanskrit College.

4. This passage is from the description of the manuscript written by our external collaborator N. Balbir, whose invaluable help is here acknowledged.

5. As suggested by the traces of oblatory materials smeared on the external part of the covers.

 

Cambridge Festival of Ideas

Within the framework of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2012, the Sanskrit Manuscripts Project team has prepared a poster exhibition on the South Asian holdings of the Cambridge University Library:

Words and Images from Ancient India

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Common Room, Wednesday 24 – Saturday 27 October, Monday 29 October – Friday 2 November, 10am – 5pm.


The Director of the Project, Dr. Vincenzo Vergiani, will give a talk illustrating the

importance of the UL South Asian manuscripts collections for the understanding of pre-modern Indian civilisation:

A Scholar’s Dream

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, room 8-9, Saturday 27 October 11am-12am.

Stormy Weather

MS Add. 1577 is a polychrome charm (yantra) against lightning made of seven intertwined letters (kūṭākṣara, monogram script): ya, ra, va, la, ma, kṣa and ha.

MS Add. 1577, paper (recto): Saptākṣarī Vajrapātādyahārī, no date (probably 19th c.)

The verso bears the following four-line stanza in the sragdharā metre (with caesurae marked by a small dot), listing each letter and explaining its symbolism:

MS Add. 1577 (verso)

yaṃ kāraṃ mārutākhyaṃ ∙ ram iti hutabhujaṃ vaṃ jalaṃ maṇḍalaṃ tat
laṃ kāraṃ bhūmisaṃjñaṃ ∙ tadupari mam idaṃ merusaṃjñaṃ tadurdhvaṃ ||
prajñopāyātmakaṃ kṣaṃ ∙ ham iti gaganataḥ śūnyanairaṃjanīyaṃ
kūṭaṃ saptākṣarīyaṃ ∙ praṇamata satataṃ ∙ vajrapātādyahārīṃ || 1 ||

“The letter ya is what we call the air, ra is fire, va is water: the circle we call earth is the letter la, on it ma is what is called Mount Meru, above the latter is kṣa, which has the nature of the means to wisdom; from ha, the sky, is the spotless purity that is emptiness. This seven-letter diagram is [such a] group: bow incessantly to this excellent one that wards off the fall of thunderbolt!”