Sunday, 27 March 2011

From the Steppes of Central Asia

Mongolian vertical script poem with drawing of Chinggis Khan in background.
A poem attributed to Chinggis Khan (1162-1227) that begins: "If my little body is tired - then let it be tired. But my great government - let it not unravel . . ." Reprinted with permission from A Pair Melody of the Stone Monument: An Anthology of Mongolian Poetry (Ulaanbaatar: Munkhiin Useg Publishing Company, 2006) copyright by G. Ayurzana, M. Saruul-Erdene, and D. Tsolmon. Mongolian Collection, Asian Division.

From the website of The Library of Congress / Asian Collections / 2007 Illustrated Guide

A new, dynamic force burst forth from the grasslands of Central Asia in the thirteenth century. After unifying the Mongolian-speaking tribes, Temujin took the name Chinggis Khan and led his renowned cavalry across northern China and Central Asia. The "Great Khan's" sons and grandsons continued the conquests, reaching into Europe and establishing Mongol rule over all of China following the collapse of the Southern Song in 1279. Chinggis' grandson Kublai ruled as the first emperor of the new Yuan dynasty.

With empire came literacy. The Mongolian writing system dates to the beginning of the 13th century when Chinggis Khan adopted the alphabet used by the Uighurs, who assisted the Mongols with civil administration. In turn, the Uighur alphabet came from the Sogdian script used by central Asian traders and can ultimately be traced back to Syriac, a writing system developed in the Fertile Crescent around the second century BC from the Aramaic alphabet.

In the thirteenth century, Tibetan Buddhism spread quickly through Mongolia and into China with imperial support. The Asian Division's classical Mongolian collection began in the early 20th century with the arrival of approximately eighty manuscripts and xylographs, about half of which are Buddhist religious texts. Others in the original collection are works of biography, history, medicine, language, and an episode of The Epic Poem of King Geser, printed in 1716 and one of the classics of Mongolian literature.

The classical Mongolian collection has expanded significantly in recent years. In 2006, through a special acquisitions fund, the Library purchased a collection of over 270 rare Mongolian and Tibetan manuscripts and block prints. Included are manuscript copies of the "Seven Jewel Sutras," written with seven different inks made from precious stones as well as sutras written in gold ink.

In addition, the Library holds compete reprint editions of the Mongolian Kanjur and Tanjur, the Tibetan Buddhist canons. The Library's Tanjur is a microfilm copy a 226-volume set of photocopy enlargements of the extremely rare Urga Tanjur. Considered to be a national treasure, the original manuscript of the Urga Tanjur is held by the Academy of Sciences in Ulaanbaatar.

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