Sanskrit Dictionary

Working with manuscripts in the classical cultural language of India 

At ruins and deserted cave monasteries along the northern of the two old Silk Roads in Eastern Turkestan (today: Xinjiang province, People’s Republic of China), archaeological excavations were performed by Russian, English, French, Japanese, Swedish, and four German expeditions during the last two decades of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th centuries. In the course of  these expeditions, a large number of manuscripts in numerous languages were discovered, a large part of which were written in Sanskrit, the classical cultural language of India. Most of these manuscripts found their way into the “Turfan Collection” in Berlin, named after one of the main places of discovery, and became research objects for the “Turfan studies”. As became clear while working on the manuscripts, these – in addition to “scientific literature” (grammar, metrics, astronomy, medicine) and other texts – primarily contain Buddhist Sanskrit texts, which largely belong to the canon of the Sarvāstivādin, a Buddhist school of the “Hīnayāna” from Northwest India that decidedly contributed to the spread of Buddhism in Central and Eastern Asia. By now, many of the texts have been edited and, in part, also translated. The cataloguing of the Sanskrit manuscripts of this “Turfan Collection” is a Göttingen-based project of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities (The Union Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts in German Collections: Sanskrit Fragments from Turfan).
The Sanskrit Dictionary of the Buddhist Texts from the Turfan Finds (Sanskrit-Wörterbuch der buddhistischen Texte aus den Turfan-Funden [= SWTF]), which is being compiled in Göttingen, is a bilingual (Sanskrit-German) dictionary, the goal of which is the lexicographical analysis of this early Buddhist literature. Due to the detailed citations and – with few exceptions – the complete inclusion of the vocabulary of the texts analyzed, the dictionary has the character of a specialized concordance as well as that of a general phraseology of the Buddhist Sanskrit of the canonical Sarvāstivāda texts.

The texts included in the dictionary contain a large part of common phrases of Buddhist Sanskrit. The standard dictionaries of classical Sanskrit by O. Böhtlingk and R. Roth (published 1855-1875 and 1879-1889) and M. Monier-Williams (published 1899) contain only very little Buddhist textual material; the same is true of other Sanskrit dictionaries. The dictionary of the “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit” by F. Edgerton (published 1953) limits itself to only a part of the vocabulary of the Buddhist Sanskrit writings with a focus on phonetics and morphology and mainly considers deviations from Classical Sanskrit. Moreover, the texts included in the SWTF were largely unaccessible at the time these dictionaries were published. Thereby, the SWTF makes an important contribution to Indian lexicography. The dictionary is published in instalments of 80 pages; finally there will be 29 instalments in 4 volumes, completed in 2017. Volume I (vowels), volume II (k-dh) and volume III (n-m) were published in 1994, 2003 and 2008 (editors: Heinz Bechert† and Klaus Röhrborn; staff (in alphabetical order): Andreas Bock-Raming, Sven Bretfeld, Jin-il Chung, Siglinde Dietz, Jens-Uwe Hartmann, Petra Kieffer-Pülz, Michael Schmidt, Georg von Simson, Martin Straube, Klaus Wille). From the fourth volume onwards, Jens-Uwe Hartmann acts as editor of the dictionary. The project is funded within the Academies' Programme by the Joint Science Conference (Die Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz) of the federal and state governments; the publication is under the patronage of the Union Académique Internationale, Brussels.

New editions of texts and other relevant materials have regularly appeared in supplements. In the frame of the “Commission for Buddhist Studies”, founded in 1973, four international interdisciplinary symposia on Buddhist studies have been held, the results of which have been published in the Abhandlungen of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities; the second and third symposia focussed on the analysis and classification of the canonical Buddhist writings from the Turfan Finds.