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As late as 1937, the Indian scholar Rahula Sankrityayana discovered hundreds of Indian texts in Tibetan monasteries, where they had been lovingly preserved for nearly one thousand years. Monasteries in eastern India had brought the art of the book to great heights, and the libraries of monastic universities such as Nalanda - supported by the Pala rulers of eastern India (8th-12th centuries) - enjoyed international acclaim.

A substantial portion of this Buddhist literary corpus made its way into Tibet before Buddhism's demise in India. As early as the seventh century, Tibetans began translating Sanskrit works into the Tibetan language. By the eighth century, during the time of King Trisong Detsen (r. 755-797), translations had become a state-sponsored activity. An auspicious one hundred and eight translators were said to have been dispatched to India for training in Sanskrit. When they returned, Samye, Tibet's oldest monastery, became the centre of their translation work and eventually became Tibet's first main library. During the time of Trisong Detsen's sons, the question of cataloguing the translations arose. The Mahavyupatti was written at this time and addressed issues of orthography, grammar, and translation rules. However, since such royal decrees were disregarded outside Samye, these changes were not uniformly observed for many centuries. The Mahavyupatti is also a well known lexicon, containing a word list of Sanskrit-Tibetan equivalents. Students of Tibetan language still refer to this compendium today.
The Indian Buddhist canon, known in Sanskrit as the Tripitaka or "Three Baskets" (referring to the vinaya, rules of monastic conduct, sutras, the Buddha's own teachings, and Abhidharma, commentaries), was translated into Tibetan by the twelfth century. In Tibet, it was known as the Kanjur (texts considered to be the Buddha's own teachings) and Tanjur (commentaries on these). The Tibetan Buddhist canon was first assembled in the thirteenth century by Buton Rimpoche (1290-1364). Also throughout the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, hundreds of monasteries were founded, each ideally requiring their own libraries.

The primary inspiration for Tibetan book covers (Tib.: glegs-sin) during this period of intensive translation was eastern India. The format of Indian mediaeval book covers - and that of the related tradition in Nepal - was fairly uniform. The birch bark or palm leaf pages, and therefore their protective wooden covers, were long and narrow, with measurements ranging from circa 7x41 cm. to circa 6x55 cm. While Tibetans considered the contents of these texts profoundly sacred and made every effort to unerringly translate them into their own language, the Indian format of the texts was not always strictly observed. Thus, while some ca. twelfth century Tibetan book covers resemble the Indian dimensions described above (as with nos.1 and 2 in the catalogue) and even a few examples demonstrate the continuation of this tradition as late as ca. 1400 (no. 29), the majority of Tibetan covers are much larger, measuring, on average, circa 26x73 cm.
More to come on the next book cover photo.

photo/prayer_book_cover2.png

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