Search for Sanskrit Mss. in Tibet
This was my fourth journey to Tibet. We left Kalimpong on the 4th May, 1938. At the beginning our party consisted of three members viz. the Tibetan Scholar Geshe Gendun Chhomphel, the photo-artist Mr. Fany Mockerjee and myself. Afterwards our number was increased to five when Pandit Abhay Singh Parera and Mr. Kanwal Krishna, an assistant to Mr. Mockerjee joined our party. This time we were fortunate enough to get the wholehearted support from the Tibetan Government through the help of Reding-Chhang, the young regent, who has great love for Tibetan learning and its art. We were provided not only with three ponies and three pack-animals free of charge for our conveyance, but we were also given special letters of introduction to the local Government officials and the heads of the monasteries where the precious manuscripts are kept. The Tibetan Government was ready to extend the field of our research to the country surrounding Lhasa and Samye where there was some possibility of finding new Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscripts, but unfortunately, all our time was spent in taking photographs of the MSS. in the monasteries of Ṣhalu, Pökhang, Ngor and Sa-skya, and the winter was close. So we could not avail of the generous offer.
We were also helped by the Political Officer of Sikkim—Mr. Gould and the British Trade Agent Mr. Richardson. Both the gentlemen were ever ready to give useful advice and needful facilities for the work of our party.
We reached Ṣhalu on the 27th May. Our old friend Risur Lama was present, and so it was not difficult to begin our work without delay. In my last journey, though I searched this monastery twice, the search was not thorough. So I wanted to make a fresh attempt in order to discover some new MSS. Our trouble was rewarded by the fresh discovery of a complete set of the twelve works on Buddhist Logic by the great logician Jñāna Śrī and two chapters of Yôgāchārabhūmi viz., Śrāvakabhūmi and Pratyekabuddhabhūmi. Besides these two important volumes, I found six more volumes which are mentioned in my catalogue here. It took more than a fortnight to finish the work at Ṣhalu. Last time we took Photographs of some of these MSS., but we had failed to get good result. This time we were very particular about this matter, since failure of even one leaf was enough to spoil the utility of the whole treatise.
In my second trip to Tibet, I visited the monastery of Pökhang where I saw three bundles of Sanskrit MSS. in which I noticed an important work by the great poet Aśvaghôṣa. My visit was so brief that I could not go through the whole work. Last time, I tried my best to visit Pökhang, but I could not go. This time I reached Pökhang on the 27th June. When the three volumes were brought, I found that one was Tridaṇḍamālā by Aśvaghôsha with a separate work named Parikathā by a later author. They are not poetical works, but their importance is great, since they deal with the art of eloquence. In fact, they are practical lessons to the students of those days who wanted to become good speakers. The first work by Aśvaghôṣa is rather more primitive, but the later work is far advanced, which shows that since the time of Aśvaghôṣa (1st century A.C.) up to the 8th century when probably this second work was composed the art of public speech was greatly developed. The monastery of Pökhang was established sometime towards the end of the 13th century when the Indian teacher Vajrapāṇi or Gyagar Chhagna as he is known to the Tibetan, visited Tibet. The monastery has got some important relics among which we may specially mention the Chīvaras (monk's garb), alms-bowl, a pair of shoes, all belonging to Śākyaśrībhadra, the last hierarch of the Buddhist church in India and the Head of the Vikramaśilā monastery, who went to Tibet in 1203 after the destruction of the Buddhist institutions in India. The monastery has got about one hundred and five paintings in so-called Tibetan banners which were executed by a famous artist of the time (Stag-rtse-mkhas-pa) Rab-bratan-Kun-bsang under the patronage of king Kun-dzang-rabtan of the 15th century. There is also one small plaster-cast statue of Śākyaśrī which was moulded by (Dbus-kyi--rgya-ma-rin-chen-rgang Rza-mkhan) Bkra-sis-ḥod-ḥvar possibly during the life-time of the Indian teacher.
After staying for a few weeks at Shigartse we went to Ngor on the 31st July. The monastery of Ngor is one of the three monasteries in Tibet which have got the largest collection of Sanskrit MSS. In subject-matter the collection of this monastery is more important. We did not give previous information of our arrival. We feared that the chief custodian may play a trick by absenting himself as his predecessors did last time. During the months of June, July and August the climate is agreeable since cold is not intense, but at the same time, the rain which is rare and the clouds which are always there in the sky obstruct the work of taking photographs. It took sixteen days to finish our work.
Narthang is not very far from the monastery of Ngor. Though there was no possibility of finding any Sanskrit MS. in this ancient monastery which is famous for its wooden block-prints of Kanjur and Tanjur, it has got some very old paintings which were imported to Tibet from Nepal or were executed under the direction of Indian or Nepali master-artists. The work seems to belong to the 13th century
From Narthang we proceeded to Śākya where we reached on the 1st September. We were welcomed by the present Śākya-hierarch, the Lama of Phunchhog palace, our old friend and patron who greatly helped me in my previous journey. We went to Chhag-pe-lha-Khang, the Manuscript-library, to make a further search for fresh MSS. This time we made a more thorough search, but we could not get any new MS. We took the photographs of some important MSS. which I discovered in my previous journey. We could not finish our work before the 15th September. The temperature was going down and there was the less possibility of continuing our work in Tibet, but we had great desire to visit some of the important monasteries in the vicinity of Lhasa and Samye, since I knew that it was a rare opportunity for our search in which we had the full cooperation and help of the Tibetan Government. We were still undecided when we left śākya, but after crossing the second pass of Dobta, we met a band of robbers who were camping not very far from the route. Fortunately, at first they did not notice the importance of our caravan. We halted in the next village. We did not know that there was any danger ahead. We met a few donkey-men who were coming from the opposite direction. They informed that about a dozen of robbers were encamping on the road two miles ahead. Our pack-animals left us hours before. We thought that our animals were going to fall in their hands. We hurried. The robbers had no clear idea about our party. They put a few simple questions to us, but did not try to harm us. Afterwards we were informed by our men that the robbers enquired about us and they were told that the things belonged to the hierarch of śākya who was coming behind. Thus both we and our things were saved. We reached the next village, and when the pack-animals were returning to their home, our men saw the same robbers encamping on the other bank of a river about a mile from the village in which we were staying. Fearing that they might not be robbed of their animals, they came back in the village. We learnt that it was the same band of robbers whom we met the previous day. Now they had full information about our identity and of our numeral and armed strength. So they were earnest in their pursuit. All night not only ourselves, but the whole village was in fear of their attack. The dogs were unchained, and we were ready with our revolvers. Nothing, however, happened. The same night we decided to reach the Indian Frontier as soon as possible, since the road before us was more wild with scanty human habitation. We entered Tibet on the 9th May and left for India on the 25th September. Thus we spent in Tibet about four and a half months in which we took about fourteen hundred photographs of Sanskrit MSS. and important objects of art. (Sāṅkṛtyāyana, preliminary remarks, 137–42)