Where can I learn Sanskrit in Kathmandu

The stone inscriptions from the Kathmandu Valley

Only one and a half times the size of Vienna, the Kathmandu Valley is surrounded by hills and high mountains in the Nepalese Midlands and was once difficult to reach from all sides. And yet in the early Middle Ages this area became one of the most important nodes in the economic and cultural networks between the Indian subcontinent and the great empires in Tibet and China. The region thus contributed significantly to the spread and preservation of early Hindu, Buddhist and Tantric forms of religion, which also have a lasting impact on local cultures and societies to this day.

My current research project funded by the FWF is dedicated to the documentation and reconstruction of the political, social and religious developments that led to this heyday in the Kathmandu Valley. One of the main sources for this is the earliest surviving written evidence, namely stone inscriptions written in Sanskrit from the 3rd century onwards. They include administrative and royal edicts, but also religious donations to temples and religious communities or verses of worshiping gods. For the first time, these inscriptions are systematically documented, philologically and interdisciplinary analyzed and also prepared for a database. This is done in cooperation with the Department of Archeology in Durham, the Oriental Institute in Oxford, the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asian Cultural History in Vienna and the Department of Archeology and the National Archives in Kathmandu.

The field research and interdisciplinary evaluation of newly discovered inscriptions and archaeological finds have already brought some unexpected insights into historical and social developments that were previously in the dark.

The Licchavis and the introduction of the Sanskrit culture

The Sanskrit culture seems to gain a foothold with the rule of the Licchavis royal family in the Kathmandu Valley from around the 3rd century, when a royal statue was first provided with a Sanskrit inscription. The exact circumstances that led to the immigration of the Licchavis are unclear. It is assumed that they were related to the Licchavi clan in India, who lived in the area around Patna in Bihar at the time of the Buddha. The cultural influence from the south is omnipresent in the inscriptions, it can be seen in the worshiped gods and rites, royally sponsored Hindu and Buddhist communities, the calendar and the social organization. Although toponyms and individual mentions of indigenous groups in the inscriptions indicate multilingualism and multiethnicity in the kingdom, Sanskrit remained the official language until the end of the first millennium.

International relations: upswing in the 7th / 8th centuries century

Current discoveries and analyzes are now providing new and exciting insights into concrete relationships between the Nepalese kingdom and its southern neighbors, about which little was previously known: A freshly deciphered inscription shows that the royal family was married in the first half of the 8th century and entered into a military alliance with the Indian Rāṣṭrakūṭa kingdom, whose rule extended to its climax over large parts of India - from Uttar Pradesh to Karnataka. Shortly before that, the Nepalese King Śivadeva married a Maukhari princess from Magadha. Such relationships are likely to have fostered cultural exchange, and it is therefore probably no coincidence that the earliest surviving palm leaf manuscripts of important Sanskrit works brought or copied in the Kathmandu Valley date back to the 8th century.

The Kathmandu Valley is likely to have experienced an economic upswing before: In the early 7th century, the stabilization of the Transhimalayan region through the establishment of the Tibetan Empire and the Chinese Tang Dynasty meant that traders, diplomats and pilgrims came to the Kathmandu Valley more often as a transit route to the Indian subcontinent instead of traveling along the Silk Road. Growing trade relations led to wealth and prosperity in the Nepalese kingdom, which is also reflected in the development of settlement patterns. Interdisciplinary analyzes have shown that small villages were once named in inscriptions as larger and independent urban units, such as the village of Dakṣiṇakoligrāma in the area of ​​today's Kathmandu. New dates from archaeological excavations confirm that monumental structures were also being tackled at precisely this time, such as the legendary Kasthamandap building, which collapsed in the 2015 earthquake.

Inscriptions in danger

Despite their historical significance - and also their importance for the local population as part of the world cultural heritage - these inscriptions in the Kathmandu Valley are currently extremely endangered, as they can still often be found on site and often in the middle of urban areas. Due to the increasing modernization and construction activity since the 1970s as well as the partly uncontrolled reconstruction work after the devastating earthquake in 2015, many inscriptions have already been lost, relocated or destroyed. It is therefore part of our work, in cooperation with the local authorities and also directly with the local communities, to try to find ways to protect inscriptions on site. The database resulting from the project is also intended to help document and preserve this valuable cultural heritage for future generations. (Nina Mirnig, February 24, 2021)

Nina Mirnig is an Indologist at the Institute for Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, where she has been leading an Elise Richter project of the FWF on the religious, cultural and political landscape of early medieval Nepal (V 755-G) since 2019. She did her PhD at the University of Oxford and conducted research at the University of Groningen and the Institute for Asian Studies at Leiden University. In 2020 she was elected a member of the Young Academy of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

The Young Academy of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) brings together outstanding young scientists from all fields. It was founded in 2008 as the "Young Curia" of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and in 2016 it was renamed "Junge Akademie" / "Young Academy". Twitter: @ya_oeaw

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