Scholars believe it to be the world’s largest treasury of ancient Buddhist texts. The sheer immensity of the collection held in the National Library of Mongolia has prevented a proper tally to date.
The National Library, located in a stout Soviet-era neoclassical building in downtown Ulaanbaatar, is estimated to contain over a million scholarly and religious Buddhist works. Besides original works from Mongolia, the library has rare copies of the early Tibetan Buddhist canon—sacred contemporary records of the Buddha’s oral teachings, called the Kangyur, and commentaries and treatises on the teachings of the Buddha, the Tengyur.
Many original Tibetan texts were lost or destroyed amid the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950. Thanks to centuries of contact with Tibet, however, Mongolia is believed to have some of the few remaining originals. In addition to ancient Tibetan and Mongolian documents, rare Sanskrit manuscripts, including 800 verses by Nagarjuna, a 2nd-century Indian Buddhist philosopher, inscribed on birch bark, have been identified in the collection.
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Pearly Jacob is a freelance journalist based in Ulaanbaatar