Skip to main content

Asian Collections at the Library of Congress: An Overview

Mongolian Collection

Illustrated folio from the Sutra of the Great Liberation. Mongolia. 18th or 19th century manuscript. Gift of William W. Rockhill. Library of Congress Asian Division.

The Mongolian collection consists of approximately 10,350 monographs, 170 serial titles, over 3,900 microfiche, 168 microfilm reels, and 600 volumes of rare books. Since 1992 the Library has been actively acquiring publications from Mongolia, in both classical Mongolian script and Cyrillic.

Included in the rare book collection are 80 traditional Mongolian books which were acquired in the early 20th century. The first of these to arrive were two manuscripts and one xylograph donated by William Woodville Rockhill, American scholar and diplomat, between 1893 and 1901. All three are Mongolian translations of famous Buddhist sutras (sudur), which Rockhill acquired during his travels in Mongolia at the turn of the century. Other early notable acquisitions include over seventy works acquired by Berthold Laufer in 1917, containing his brief handwritten notes, and two xylographs acquired from the Krebs Collection of Linguistics. These 80 works have been analyzed and indexed in an article by David M. Farquhar, “A Description of the Mongolian Manuscripts and Xylographs in Washington, D.C.” Central Asiatic Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1955. Included are 27 canonical works, 19 works on Buddhist ritual and prayer, 11 works on biography and history, 5 on medicine, 2 on language, and an episode of the Central Asian Gesar (Geser) epic. The collection contains many 18th-century xylographs of popular sutras such as the Ocean of Parables (Uliger-un dalai), the Sutra of the Golden Light (Altan gerel-tu) , the Collection of Sutras (Gzungdui), the Mongolian translation of the Diamond Sutra, as well as an elaborately illustrated manuscript of the Mongolian translation of the Sutra of the Great Liberation.

The Mongolian rare book collection also includes complete reprint editions of both the Mongolian Kanjur and Tanjur, the Buddhist canonical texts and their commentaries. The Mongolian Kanjur, in 108 volumes, was published in New Delhi, 1973-1974 by Dr. Lokesh Chandra. The edition was reproduced from the Imperial Red block-print edition of 1720, which in turn had been prepared based on the rare handwritten Ligdan Khan Kanjur produced in the early 17th century.

During 1956-58, Professor Raghu Vira obtained a microfilm copy of the extremely rare Urga Tanjur, kept in Ulaanbaatar. This edition had been compiled and translated into Mongolian under the direction of Lcang-skya Rol-pa’i rdo-rje in the mid-18th century. A 226 volume set of photocopy enlargements taken from this film was given to the Library by Dr. Lokesh Chandra, and is kept in the rare book cage, along with the 8 volume catalog to the set, published in 1982.

Catalog records for more recent materials can be found in the Library of Congress Online Catalog using the LC/ALA romanization tables. Many titles, including newspapers, are microfilmed or microfiched in the New Delhi Office before being sent to the Asian Division. Handlists for uncataloged materials are available in Asian Reading Room. For help with transliteration, please see the ALA-LC romanization tables for classical Mongolian in vertical script [PDF] and Cyrillic script [PDF].