The Newsletter 56 Spring 2011

Three Sanskrit Collections at the Danish Royal Library

Hartmut Buescher

The very notion of a library is one that is changing. With an increasingly rapid speed, the technological means in our electronic age are decisively influencing this change. At the level of interface between libraries and their users, it is a change which concerns particularly the means of access to a given library’s collections, as well as the diversity of materials accessible at a modern library.

Librar ies are interconnected within regional, nationaland global electronic networks. The specific geographical location of any given library thus decreases in significance for the ordinary user. Given the virtual possibility of almost unlimited access to information, another aspect is the matter of restriction, of finding a balance between preventing misuse and retaining individual freedom, thus of an optimally qualified control of the access to information. Given that, seen in a global historico-cultural perspective, the power relations between political control and intellectual freedom have more often than not been extremely precarious, and academics feel naturally stimulated to hermeneutically reflect the aporia “blessing and/or curse” when looking into the future.

But libraries, not least the Royal and National Libraries in Europe, as well as older university libraries, frequently have interesting histories. That is, histories in terms of the constitution and organic growth of their individual collections. The Danish Royal Library (Det Kongelige Bibliotek) is no exception in that respect. The initial acquisitions of various parts of its Asian collections are associated with the more or less adventurous lives of pioneer researchers. To focus in the following on some of this library’s Sanskrit collections, the names of two remarkable scholars immediately come to mind: Rasmus Rask (1787-1832) and Nathaniel Wallich (1785-1854), both of whom brought Sanskrit manuscripts to Denmark in the early years of the nineteenth century.