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The Mongolian Collection


Mongolian sutra of the great liberation

Illustrated folio from the Sutra of the Great Liberation.
Mongolia, 18th or 19th c. manuscript.
Gift of William W. Rockhill.

The Mongolian Collection consists of approximately 2,500 monographs, 160 serial titles, over 2,000 microfiche, and 408 volumes of rare books. Since 1992 the Library’s New Delhi Field Office, through a bibliographic representative in Ulaanbaatar, has been actively acquiring publications from Mongolia, in both classical Mongolian script and Cyrillic.

Included in the rare book collection are 80 traditional Mongolian books which were acquired in the early 20th c. The first of these to arrive were two manuscripts and one xylograph donated by William Woodville Rockhill, American scholar and diplomat, between 1893 and 1901. All three are Mongolian translations of famous Buddhist sutras (sudur), which Rockhill acquired during his travels in Mongolia at the turn of the century. Other early notable acquisitions include over seventy works acquired by Berthold Laufer in 1917, containing his brief handwritten notes, and two xylographs acquired from the Krebs Collection of Linguistics. These 80 works have been analyzed and indexed in an article by David M. Farquhar, “A Description of the Mongolian Manuscripts and Xylographs in Washington, D.C.” Central Asiatic Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1955. Included are 27 canonical works, 19 works on Buddhist ritual and prayer, 11 works on biography and history, 5 on medicine, 2 on language, and an episode of the Central Asian Gesar (Geser) epic. The collection contains many 18th c. xylographs of popular sutras such as the Ocean of Parables (Uliger-un dalai), the Sutra of the Golden Light (Altan gerel-tu) , the Collection of Sutras (Gzungdui), the Mongolian translation of the Diamond Sutra, as well as an elaborately illustrated manuscript of the Mongolian translation of the Sutra of the Great Liberation.

The Mongolian rare collection also includes complete reprint editions of both the Mongolian Kanjur and Tanjur, the Buddhist canonical texts and their commentaries. The Mongolian Kanjur, in 108 volumes, was published in New Delhi, 1973-1974 by Dr. Lokesh Chandra. The edition was reproduced from the Imperial Red block-print edition of 1720, which in turn had been prepared based on the rare handwritten Ligdan Khan Kanjur produced in the early 17th c.

During 1956-58, Professor Raghu Vira obtained a microfilm copy of the extremely rare Urga Tanjur, kept in Ulaanbaatar. This edition had been compiled and translated into Mongolian under the direction of Lcang-skya Rol-pa’i rdo-rje in the mid-18th c. A 226 volume set of photocopy enlargements taken from this film was given to the Library by Dr. Lokesh Chandra, and is kept in the rare book cage, along with the 8 volume catalog to the set, published in 1982.

Catalog records for more recent materials can be found in the Library’s online catalog using the LC/ALA romanization tables for Mongolian in vertical script and in Cyrillic Script. Many titles, including newspapers, are microfilmed or microfiched in the New Delhi Office before being sent to the Asian Division. Handlists for uncataloged materials are available in the division’s reading room.

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  September 20, 2013
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