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Sanskrit language collections

The British Library holds about 10,800 Sanskrit and Prakrit manuscripts from the medieval and modern periods, and 1,700 Pali manuscripts. We also hold over 3,500 Sanskrit and Gandhari manuscript fragments in Brahmi and Kharosthi scripts from the 1st to 11th centuries AD. 

Our collections are particularly strong in illustrated Himalayan manuscripts beginning with the Pala period; Jaina manuscripts; and western Indian manuscript illumination. They also include early copperplate charters, rubbings and estampages. We also hold 60,000 printed Sanskrit books, with the emphasis on the 19th to the mid-20th centuries.

Manuscripts

The British Library's manuscript collections include the earliest known Buddhist manuscripts (the Gandhari birchbark scrolls, Or. 14915) and the earliest datable Sanskrit manuscript (Macartney and Godfrey, Or. 6403-04). The Stein, Hoernle, Kashgar and Gilgit manuscripts are rich in Buddhist sutra literature from the 4th to the 10th centuries, from Dunhuang, Khadalik and other Silk Road oases. 

Later Buddhist manuscripts, especially from Nepal, are numerous. Hindu manuscripts covering religion, literature, law, science, astrosciences and medicine date from the 10th century or earlier (Or. 3568). Vedic manuscripts are well represented, numbering over 600, including accented texts and grhya and srauta ritual texts.

Books and periodicals

Of the 55,000 printed books, mostly in Sanskrit and Prakrit, about 450 were printed before 1850. We hold 2,900 Pali books including a large proportion of nissaya. 1,500 of the Pali books belong to the Hugh Nevill collection, many having Sinhalese commentaries. The collection is particularly strong in the 19th to 20th century monograph series of Sanskrit texts from the Nirnaya Sagara, Chowkhamba and other South Asian presses.

The printed book collections, especially monographs in series and 'Vernacular tracts' (but including Sanskrit), are especially strong in publications between 1867 and 1947 owing to the copyright legislation then in force.

Pali texts both in manuscript (Nevill, Turnour collections) and printed in the scripts of Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand, as well as Devanagari and Roman, form an important source for the study of Theravada Buddhism in all the countries where it was practised.

The collections include about 140 Sanskrit periodicals, including long runs of The Pandit.

How to find items in Sanskrit

Books and journals acquired from 1984 onwards are entered in Explore the British Library using Library of Congress transliteration. Printed books acquired before 1984 are listed in card and microfiche catalogues available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

Printed Catalogues

Catalogue of the Sanskrit manuscripts in the British Museum.
Bendall, C.
London, 1902.

'Catalogue of Sanskrit and Prakrit manuscripts in the British Museum', vol. II.
Losty, J .
Unpublished typescript. Classed inventory manuscript register in 2 vols kept in Asian and African Studies Reading Room at Or Gen MSS 15

Catalogue of the Sanskrit and Prakrit manuscripts in the Library of the India Office.
Eggeling, J., Keith, AB, and Thomas, FW.
London, 1887-1935.
2 vols.

Catalogue of two collections of Sanskrit manuscripts preserved in the India Office Library.
Tawney, CH, and Thomas, FW.
London, 1903.

'Catalogue of the Nevill Collection'.
Nevill, H.
Unpublished manuscript. 4 vols.

'List of Pali, Sinhalese, Sanskrit and other manuscripts, formerly in the possession of Hugh Nevill Esq.'.
Barnett, L.D.
1909.
Unpublished manuscript.

Catalogue of the Hugh Nevill Collection of Sinhalese manuscripts in the British Library.
Somadasa, K.D.
London, 1987-95.
7 vols.

Catalogue of the Pali printed books in the India Office Library.
Raper, T.C.H., ed., and O'Keefe, M.J.C., rev.
London, 1983 .

Ancient Buddhist Scrolls from Gandhara: the British Library Kharosthi fragments.
Salomon, R.
London/Seattle, 1999.

'Preliminary list of manuscripts in languages of Central Asia and Sanskrit, from the collections made by Sir Marc Aurel Stein, KCIE'.
Barnett, L.D.
Unpublished typescript (n,d,).

Indian charters on copper plates.
Gaur, A.
London, 1975.

Catalogue of Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit Printed Books in the British Museum.
Haas, E., Bendall, C., and Barnett, L.D.
London, 1876-1928.
4 vols.

Catalogue of the Library of the India Office, vol. 2, part 1: Sanskrit books.
Natha, P., Chaudhuri, J.B. and Napier, C.F.
London, 1938-57.
4 vols.

Bibliography of South Asian periodicals: a union-list of periodicals in South Asian languages.
Shaw, G.W. and Quraishi, S.
Brighton, 1982.

Contact 

Pasquale Manzo
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7654

E-mail: pasquale.manzo@bl.uk