Monday, 24 September 2012

Negatives @ Bod

Hugh Richardson

         Every scholar who has studied early Tibetan inscriptions will know of the journal articles which H.E. Richardson wrote on inscriptions, from the first published in 1949 to the last in 1995. The 1949 first article (on inscriptions at Skar cung, Bsam yas and Mtshur phu) was published while Richardson was in Tibet; all subsequent articles were published after he had left in 1950. Thus, without access to the actual stones at the time of the later articles, apart from other authors’ publications on the subject he must have relied on his collection of notes, photographs, copying of inscriptions, and estampages. He also relied on a transcription made for him of the inscription at Rkong po, because he never did visit that site. 
Rkong po inscription copy commissioned by
Dudjom Rinpoche in 1950
and sent to Hugh E. Richardson (left-click to enlarge)
         In addition, it must be obvious to any reader of Richardson’s articles that from 1959 onward in his articles about stelae inscriptions he referred often to a series of photographs of a manuscript text. The photographs and negatives of the manuscript had been given to him by Rai Bahadur T.D. Densapa (also known as Burmiok Athing, 1902-1988), of Gangtok.
        Densapa had informed Richardson, in a letter sent from Gangtok to St Andrews (Scotland), that several of the notes on the original manuscript appeared ("certain degree of resemblance") to be in the handwriting of KaH thog Rig 'dzin Tshe dbang nor bu (1698-1755). 

(left-click to enlarge)

The manuscript apparently recorded the inscriptions of 5 stelae in the Central Tibet region, and from internal evidence the text may be an original record made in the 15th century, with possibly 18th-century additions and notes. Several times Richardson expressed in articles the intention to publish the photographs of the manuscript, but he never did so. Indeed, the photographs he had in St Andrews seemed to have disappeared, and the original manuscript in Gangtok has not surfaced.
            In 2007, I was a student at Harvard. Required to write an essay on a Tibetan inscription, I chose the 'Phyong rgyas bridge-head inscription as my subject. Very few words of the original inscription in situ remain legible, so Richardson’s ‘record’ of the inscription relied almost entirely on the Densapa manuscript photographic record. Thus the essay necessarily had to be based on information on the inscription in Richardson’s 1964 article and 1985 book, rather than on the photographs themselves. With the essay completed, and having returned to the UK, I searched through the Richardson Papers archive at Bodleian for any negatives or photographs of the manuscript, but to no avail. Likewise, enquiries and letters to the Pitt-Rivers Museum (repository of Richardson’s photographs), the British Museum, the British Library and Richardson’s will-executors in St Andrews also drew a blank: no evidence of the negatives.
          In 2010, as the librarian for the Tibetan collection at the Bodleian, I started the process of attempting to clear up several boxes of books in a back room at the top of New Bodleian Library. 
Old Bodleian, Oxford, 2011
          Some of Richardson’s books which had yet to be catalogued were packed in the boxes. Amongst the books I came across a folder of negatives with the Das Studio (Darjeeling) logo printed on it, along with several positive prints of a manuscript text, marked with pagination and notes in Richardson’s handwriting. 
        I immediately felt that this find might be the ‘missing’ negatives. It was indeed.

 *  *  *  *  *
      Since then, the negatives have been expertly processed and digitized by Bodleian Libraries staff - my sincere thanks to James Allan and Nick Cistone (Bodleian Imaging Services) and Alex Franklin (Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book) for their expertise and advice.
        The 'prints' of the text photographs are now presented  on the Luna website, here.

 *  *  *  *  *
This find at Bodleian Library was first presented in October 2011, at the University of Vienna conference Epigraphic Evidence in the Pre-modern Buddhist World, jointly by Charles Manson (on the find itself) and Dr Nathan Hill (commenting on some features of the manuscript).
    (* photo of Manson & Hill presenting paper will appear here)

 *  *  *  *  *

        The Densapa manuscript consists of 
        a 1-folio copy of the Rkong po inscription - ie 'text X' (Richardson's labelling)
        a 2-folios copy of the Skar cung inscription - text Y
        a 4-folio copy of (in corresponding order) - text Z:
Khri Lde srong brtsan tomb pillar,
'Phyong rgyas bridge pillar,
Lhasa Treaty pillar East,
                        Lhasa Treaty pillar West.

The dbu med of the manuscript has been transliterated in accordance with the Old Tibetan Documents Online (OTDO) system, as presented in Old Tibetan Inscriptions (Iwao et al. 2009: xvii-xix), which is basically Wylie, but with ‘v’ used rather than ‘w’, capital ‘I’ used for reversed gi gu.   However, here the Extended Wylie convention is used for a-chung lengthening of the voewl 'u' (eg bU, bUn ). 
The manuscript transliterations for each inscription is presented below in correlation with the Old Tibetan Inscriptions transliterations, line by line. However, where bsdus yig abbreviation letters or signs occur in the manuscript, capitals are used (e.g. GS for the -gs sign, M for the -m supralinear sign, or THAMS CAD as expansion of the ‘compressed’ word thaMd, or SANGS RGYAS for sargyas).
Supralinear and sublinear additions are indicated in italics in footnotes. In the manuscript transcription of the Rkong po inscription, text X, all the supralinear and sublinear additions and corrections were in red ink (according to Densapa’s copyist, see MS. Or. Richardson 38, folio 1.

(left-click to enlarge)
It is notable that the Densapa copyist of the manuscript's version of the Rkong po inscription has also added some red corrections which are not featured in the original manuscript (eg btsan to brtsan, ri to rI for lines 1 and 2 of the Rkong po inscription transcription). It is not know whether the additions for texts Y and Z were in red ink.
In the transliterations linked to below, OTI = Old Tibetan Inscriptions (Iwao et al. 2009), the square brackets containing 3 numbers refer to the line reference of the relevant inscription, e.g. [002] for line 2, [027] for line 27. The OTI line references are inserted in the manuscript transliteration in order to help with reading the correlations.
Thanks due to Dr Lewis Doney for checking the transliterations and for his useful comments.

The transcriptions of the manuscript versions of the stelae inscriptions are linked here:

            Rkong po inscription

            Skar cung inscription

            Khri Lde srong brtsan tomb pillar inscription

            'Phyong rgyas bridge pillar inscription

            Lhasa Treaty pillar East inscription
            Lhasa Treaty pillar West inscription

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