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Section: Ethnography
The House for Ganjur

The House for Ganjur

The richest collection of exhibits of traditional literary culture of the peoples of Central Asia accumulated in the city of Ulan-Ude reflects the unique local color of the Baikal region, inimitable in its beauty, the uniqueness of its historical-cultural relics of the past. The Depository of Oriental Manuscripts and Xylographs of the Institute of Mongolian, Buddhist, and Tibetan Studies (DOMX IMBTS) SB RAS contains not only artifacts of the remote and not so remote past of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Baikal region. All this ought to remind our contemporaries of the rich and profound culture of our ‘dark ancestors’ who were able to study, assess, adapt, and develop the highest achievements of the civilizations of Ancient India, China, Tibet, and Iran...

The collection of Tibetan and Mongolian manuscripts and xylographs of IMBTS has been collected for decades, since 1922, the date when the Buryat Scientific Committee was established. Nowadays, this is one of the largest collections of exhibits of the literary Tibetan-Mongolian culture in the world. The stock of books is a highly valuable collection of literary monuments, since it contains everyday texts of the Buryat temples, the clergy, and intellectual elite, which were actively used by the Buddhists of ethnic Buryatia in the 18th through early 20th centuries. They were obtained when the Buryat temples, datsans, were liquidated in the 1930s and as Buddhist clergy and old-Buryat intelligentsia passed away.

Yet, all this is a mere echo of the past wealth of the Buryat temples. According to a rough estimate, the number of items of the Buryat literature in forty largest datsans (Buryat temples) was, at the least, 450 thousand volumes (on the average, 400 pages each) and was estimated at 4.5 mln roubles (in prices of 1914). And this estimate does not include especially valuable volumes, manually copied with ‘nine precious objects’*, which were in keeping at some of the Buryat temples. As an example, the value of Ganjur (a collection of Buddha’s preachings), not taking into account the price of the paper and precious paints, was stated at 65 thousand roubles in prices of 1909 to 1910**. Besides, the number, 450 thousand volumes, probably, did not include tens of hundreds of suburgans (Buddhist relic depositories destroyed during the times of repressions) where hundreds of thousands of volumes of Buddhist texts and other relics of worship were kept.

Today the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Xylographs of IMBTS contains a collection of Tibetan and Mongolian texts that amounts to over ten thousand volumes and hundreds of thousands of texts including xylographic editions of Ganjur and Danjur, printed in the Tibetan monasteries Derge, Nartan; edition of Ganjur printed by the emperor’s publishing house of Beijing of the Chin period, Ikh Khuree (modern Ulan-Bator); Ganjur published by Tibetan monastery Chone; collections of works by more than seventy Tibetan-language authors; a great number of separate volumes and texts, as well as manuscript books

Systematic study of the book collection of Tibetan and Mongolian holdings of the Buryat Scientific Center began as far back as in the mid-1950s. The academic staff of the Depository are engaged with the problems of book preservation as well as with the compiling of a comprehensive catalogue of the available literary monuments and are making every effort in order to ensure better access to the thesaurus of age-old knowledge. Former lamas admitted on the staff to work in the department of manuscripts as regular employees of the Institute, Lodoi Yampilov, Gympyl Gombozhapov, Bato-Munko Dashiev, and Bidia Dandaron, played a very important role in systematizing the holdings. As a result, the Buddhist literature in the depositaries was systematized in conformity with the traditional classification existing in Tibetan Buddhism, with distinguishing of canonic editions, Ganjur (Tib. Bka’ ‘gyur, a collection of Buddha’s preachings), Danjur (Tib. bstan ‘ gyur, a collection of treatises commenting upon Buddha’s preachings), author’s collection of works, sumbums (Tib. gsung ‘bum), and some other editions (Tib. thor bu).

Buddhist books have always been and still are highly valued by the followers of the teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni as a relic of the highest order. Such a high significance of the Buddhist book for worship is based on the perception of the Buddhist book as the symbol of Buddha’s word, whereas a sculpture or painted image are the symbols of the body of Buddha, and stupa (suburgan) is the symbol of Buddha’s conscience. For this reason the classical canons of the design of the sanctuary enjoin to place Buddhist texts above the images of worship and other ritual objects

In 1995, a specialized building with a depository, research studies, and rooms for the staff was erected. However, the principle of keeping books in the depository is at variance with the traditional Buddhist concept on keeping the objects of worship. A book in the concept of Buddhists is a symbol of Buddha’s teaching, of his enlightened conscience, a precious thesaurus of knowledge, or, in the modern language, an information resource of utmost importance. But in contrast to technological carriers, the Buddhist book is an object of universal worship, an independent object for reverence, the one that should be accessible to believers both for worship and study, for this is one of its main functions. Thus, the cultural conflict manifests itself in such seemingly well-established issue, that is, the problem of preservation of manuscripts. The extraction of Buddhists texts from the environment of traditional users, the storing of them in premises with severely limited access actually deprives them of ‘life’, of their functional predestination. This is especially evident due to the fact that the depository is located in a traditionally Buddhist region, in other words, in the environment of potential users. This conflict of cultures exists, for the time being, implicitly, yet it does not cease to be a conflict because of this: here we observe a collision of two diametrically opposed approaches to works of literary culture.

From the viewpoint of contemporary science the Buddhist books represent some artifact of the remote and gone past, which should be cherished, stored in special ‘storerooms’, and which, to be on the safe side, should be exhibited in glass cases, etc. Creation of a monument-memorial to something or someone is in itself evidence of the fact that the object (phenomenon) has gone out of active use and become obsolete; and that some substitute-symbol, some reminder about it is needed. The Oriental culture, particularly Mongolian-Tibetan, Buddhist culture accepts as a monument only such things that are meaningful in the sense of religious worship, and which therefore are alive spiritually, not only materially. If an object has lost its predestination, it has lost its value for socium, therefore it has lost the necessity of keeping. Such profound rationalism must have in all probability resulted from the mobile and rough life of nomads. Buddhist philosophy of non-eternity, or shunyata, an empty essence of entity, only reinforced the world outlook of the free nomads. That is why a monument in the Mongolian culture is functional, actual for the social environment that is cultivating it. If something is accepted as a monument, it means that at the same time it is an object of worship and active reverence.

The Form Of Buryat And Mongols Buddhist Books

The traditional book culture of the Buryats in Russia has always been an integral part of the culture of the Mongol world and Tibetan Buddhism. At the beginning of the 20th century it was a synthesis of the Ancient Indian, Chinese, Central Asian, and Russian influences. Under “The Eternal Blue Sky”, that synthesis acquired its unique form, the most suitable for nomadic way of life and freedom-loving nature of the Mongols and Buryats.

Stitched books appeared in Mongolia as far back as in the 16th—17th centuries. The contemporary lamas in the Buryat datsans are using texts written on the sheets of a narrow and long format

The form of the Buddhist books by the Buryat-Mongols in old times was determined by the properties of the material for writing purposes: it was either long and narrow palm leaves or birch bark cut in strips along natural veins. Two planks protected the fragile material of which the books were made. The sheets were put between the planks and fastened with a string passed through its thickness. For this purpose two blank spots were left in the text, where the holes were subsequently cut. This suits perfectly the Indian and Tibetan horizontal writing format. The Mongolian writing format is vertical; therefore with time original Mongolian texts ‘extended’ the frame of the text and they often approached the Chinese notebooks in form. Since the Chinese hieroglyphic script with its vertical lines stipulated its own requirements, the Chinese used silk scrolls. However, it was not always convenient to use scrolls, because one had to unroll the scroll to the full length to read the line through. The Mongols rarely used a kind of scroll. The ‘pleats’ goes back to the scroll and at the same time is handier as it allows opening it at any section of the book. The ‘pleats’ is convenient both for the vertical Mongolian writing and for the horizontal Tibetan one. An additional advantage of the pleats as compared to the scroll is its economy. It saves space: the text can be written on both sides of the sheet. Some exhibits of this kind, such as the Buryat monastic editions in the form of ‘pleats’ of the second half of the 19th century, have been preserved in the depository.

When the ‘pleats’ is fastened at one edge, we have a stitched book, easy to leaf without fearing that it may get scattered.

On The Technology Of Making Traditional Editions

The Mongols must have borrowed xylography, or the method of printing texts with the aid of plates or matrices from the Chinese through Tibetan written culture. To make a matrix, a certain sort of wood was selected; the wood was stocked in due season and dried in the shade. Then the planks were cut to measure, boiled in oil, tanned, dried again and polished. Calligraphers prepared the texts on tracing-cloth, the face side of which was glued to the plank. An experienced carver cut the text according to the pattern made on the matrix. A ready ‘bar’ or matrix was mainly a wooden (but sometimes metal or stone) plate with a text cut in a ‘mirror reflection’. The principal difficulty of xylography lies in making a quality matrix (Mong. bar, derived from Tib. dpar). A roller with paint or ink covered the ready cliché, then a sheet of paper or cloth, or parchment, etc., was applied on top of it and the top was smoothed with a clean roller, and a xylographic impression of a page was ready.

From The History Of Book Printing Of Mongolians

It is positively known that the Mongols used xylographic book printing as far back as at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. Still preserved is an edition of “A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life: Bodhicaryavatara” by Shantideva compiled by famous Mongolian scholar and translator Coiji Odser in 1312. After the fall of the Great Mongol Yuan empire, the 15th to 16th centuries became a really ‘dark period’ in the history of Mongolia because a great number of events that happened on a vast territory of Central Asia as well as its northern extremity, including the Baikal region, are unknown. The internecine wars, ruin of empire ideals, and probably a shift in the value orientation — all this led to the situation in which very few monuments of that period that could have shed light on the events of the period were preserved, and even those that were preserved have not been studied yet.

Besides a multitude of silk, brocade ‘clothes’ (Mong. zhanshi), each volume was supplied with a special tag (dondur) to make the procedure of search easier. That tag indicated the title of the text or section, volume number, author’s name, and the publishing house. The more honored the book was, the richer and more attractive its dondur looked; in such a case the tag was additionally supplied with protective shutters; sometimes the shutters consisted of several layers of precious fabric; it was furnished with pendants of beads, corals, pearls, malachite, chased plates, coins, etc.

The remaining written evidence and the artifacts confirm the existence of the second wave of spreading of Buddhism and literary culture in the times of Altan khan of the Tumets (1507 to 1582). The centralized translation of the Buddhist Holy Writ into the Mongolian language was made at that time. Unfortunately, no complete collection of the Buddhist canon of the period has been preserved because of the numerous fires that destroyed the libraries. One of the earliest known full canonic codes of the Mongolian Ganjur dates back to 1669. This edition was undertaken on the initiative of the last all-Mongolian ruler Ligdan khan of Chakhar (1603 to 1634). It was written in ‘gold and silver’ and was called ‘golden Ganjur’. The second xylographic edition of the Buddhist canon in the Mongolian language (1717) was performed in red ‘ink’ and became known as the ‘red Ganjur’ by enlightened Engke Amugulang khan (emperor Kansi). The worship significance of the book made it incumbent both upon the publisher and users to follow certain canons. The book was decorated to the best of the publisher’s ability. It was supposed that the Buddhist books be kept in a specially allocated place, in special cases and chests (Mong. sugulik); an indispensable condition being to keep them in a high place.

On Buryat Book-Printing In Russia

Sanscrit was extensively used in the polygraphy of the Buryat monasteries. Tibetan and Sanscrit were the languages of learning; their role in the Central-Asian culture was similar to that of Latin and Greek in Europe.

The Tibetan-language editions of Ganjur, a predecessor of the Mongolian Buddhist canon, were undertaken in Tibetan monastery Nartan: the first one in 1312—1320, and the second in 1605. The first Beijing edition of Ganjur was issued in 1410. There were made repeated attempts at publishing Ganjur in Beijing. However, the formal emperor’s edition printed in Kansi became the most widespread (1717)

As a rule, not all the diversity of the Buddhist literary heritage is actualized in the religious practice, but only some individual and not excessively voluminous texts of canonic and sometimes not canonic collection. That is why part of the literature published in some places represents some definite tradition of the Buddhist dogma, adopted by the Buryats and actively practiced by them. Canonic books were, as a rule, large in size and occupied much space. These editions were used exceptionally for special religious service in the temples, that is, for reading Ganjur. Using the collection of treatises by eminent Buddhists for self-education, for perfection of spiritual practice, as well as for public preaching of gashei (Tib. bka’ bshed) was up only to a selected circle of highly educated lamas and the steppe aristocracy. For the majority of the population these books remained the objects of worship, together with the images of Buddha and Buddhist deities. As a rule, every Buddhist had at least one sutra on the family altar in his house. However, it does not mean that the contents of Buddhist books were inaccessible. In the local printing-houses the publishers chose out of a great number of Buddhist texts only those ones that were more extensively used in everyday services in the temples, in everyday ceremonial rites, in educational system of the monasteries-universities, and published them. It is natural that the higher the demand for the text, the more published it was. Thus, the registration records of the editions printed by different publishing houses in Buryatia contain a wide range of book titles. The xylographs of one and the same text printed from different matrices in different monasteries of Transbaikalia also testify to this fact.

The summit-point of flourishing of the book printing by the Buryats who were Russian subjects fell on the second half of the 19th century. The Buryats were extensively using the Tibetan and Mongolian writing, Chinese technologies, and paper of the Russian manufacture. The Mongolian writing is the writing of the native tongue; whereas the Tibetan one is the language of religion, Buddhism, and Buddhist literacy)

The exhibits of printed editions obtained from the Buryat temples (datsans) testify to a great attention devoted to book publishing; the skill of the publishers, and the thoroughness of the technological treatment of the matrices, covers, dust-jackets, and book tags. The tradition of making, keeping and using books is evidence of a particular thrilled attitude with which the Buryats treat learning and education.

One may judge about the depth of penetration of the Buddhist ideology into the confessional conscience of the Buryats by the objects of applied art belonging to the Aga Buryats. Female decorations made of silver, pendants, the top element for a hat, a male set for the ‘steppe gentlemen’ including a steel, a knife in a sheath, a silver manicure set, worn on the belt, a special medallion to keep the image of a deity, gau, — all these things were decorated with Buddhist symbols. The so-called blacksmith’s cult was from old times widespread among the Buryat-Mongol dynasties. In 1735 professor of chemistry and natural history of the Russian Academy of Sciences Johann Georg Gmelin in the ethnographic descriptions of his journey across Siberia pointed out that the Buryats “could make silver and tin inlaid patterns in iron with such skill that their work was no worse than that of Damask” and even many Russians who lived in the neighborhood with the Buryats “lived on what they got from selling the works of the Buryat jewelry-blacksmith trade”

* As a token of particular homage the Mongols and Buryats copied some Buddhist treatises in paints made of nine (seven) kinds of precious stuff: gold, silver, corals, pearls, turquoise, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, steel, and copper

** According to the data of the Antireligious museum in the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Buryat-Mongol Soviet Socialist Republic on the Buddhist-Lamaist literature kept in the datsans of Buryat Mongol Soviet Socialist Republic. 1935. The National Archives of the Republic of Buryatia. F. P-248. Inventory 3. D. 21. Page 46—48. Copy

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