ii. Research

Towards the end of the 19th century, Russian scholars inaugurated the scientific exploration of the Turfan oasis in Chinese Turkestan, on the northern Silk Road.  Until the mid 1930s, British, French, Japanese and German expeditions followed in the footsteps of their Russian colleagues.  All teams removed from the site thousands of art objects, as well as many more fragments of manuscripts, in order to pursue the study of these artifacts at their home institutions.  In 1904, F. W. K. Müller (1863-1930) succeeded in deciphering some of the manuscript fragments in Berlin’s Turfan collection, written in the Manichean script, which is closely related to the Estrangelo script of Syriac.  Müller identified these texts as pieces of Manichean literature, a momentous discovery since up to this point scholars had assumed that no Manichean literature had been preserved.  In the following, philological research, primarily on manuscripts from the Turfan collection, allowed for the recovery of Manichean dogmatic and liturgical texts.  Since the religion had spread from the Near East to China, some Manichean manuscripts, such as the important scroll which Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) had brought from Dunhuang to London, preserve Manichean literature in Chinese (BL Or. 8210/S. 2659).  Since Waldschmidt had a masterly knowledge of Chinese, he was asked to prepare with the Iranian studies scholar Wolfgang Lentz (1900-1986) the edition and translation of this Manichean manuscript, known as the Hymns Scroll.  In addition, they co-authored two probing contributions to Manichean studies.

But the Sanskrit manuscripts in the Turfan collection were even more important for Waldschmidtʼs academic career.  When Waldschmidt moved to Berlin in 1920, Lüders introduced him to the Turfan collection and to the intricate work with very small manuscript fragments.  Lüders himself had started to work with the Turfan collection after 1908, when he had been appointed to the Indian Studies chair in Berlin, where his predecessor Richard Pischel (1849-1908) had published shortly before his premature death the first edition of Sanskrit texts preserved in the Turfan collection (Pischel, 1908; cf. Oldenberg and Pischel, 1883).  Lüders continued Pischel’s research on the Turfan collection with the assistance of his wife, Else Lüders (1880-1945), editing not only several Sankrit texts, but also identifying a huge number of greater and smaller fragments.  This painstaking work provided the foundation for the later cataloging of all the Sanskrit manuscripts in the Turfan collection, a project initiated by Waldschmidt in the 1950s and currently under the direction of Jens-Uwe Hartmann at the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities (cf. Wille).

Lüders supervised Waldschmidt’s edition of the Sanskrit Bhikṣuṇī-Prātimokṣa of the Sarvāstivāda school, based on Sanskrit manuscripts in the Turfan collection, since Waldschmidt was well-versed in the basic languages in which Buddhist scriptures circulated in Central and East Asia (see also KHOTAN iv. Khotanese Literature).  This challenging project produced an edition, which Waldschmidt defended as his doctoral dissertation in 1924 and published in 1926.  In 1932, Waldschmidt published his edition of fragments of Buddhist sutras from the Madhyamāgama of the Sarvāstivādins. A careful transcription of the text as preserved in the manuscripts is followed by a critical reconstruction of the literary work on the basis of parallel versions in Pāli, Chinese, and Tibetan whenever available.  The juxtaposition of transcription and reconstruction became the model for all later editions of Sanskrit texts from the Turfan collection, such as Waldschmidt’s own masterly editions of the Mahāparnirvāṇa, the Mahāvadāna, and the Catuṣpariṣat sutras.  Waldschmidt continued to publish about every year, almost until his death, an edition of a Sanskrit text from the Turfan collection; these articles were republished in two monographs in 1967 and 1989, respectively.  Editions of a great number of smaller fragments were made available in the first five parts of the catalogue of Sanskrit manuscripts in the Turfan collection, edited by Waldschmidt with colleagues and published between 1965 and 1985.  To further facilitate research on the Sanskrit manuscripts in the Turfan collection, Waldschmidt conceived the project of a Sanskrit dictionary-cum-thesaurus for the Turfan collection, the fourth and final volume of which will be completed within the next few years.  Several of Waldschmidtʼs students, in particular Herbert Härtel (1921-2005), Valentina Stache-Rosen (1925-1980), Chandrabhal Tripathi (1929-1996), Dieter Schlingloff (b. 1928), Kusum Mittal, and Lore Sander, have continued the philological research of their teacher.

As a young curator at Berlin’s Museum of Ethnography Waldschmidt developed an abiding interest in the arts and material culture of India and Central Asia.  His very first book was the 1925 introduction to the arts in early medieval Central Asia (see GANDHARAN ARTS).  Even though his proposed dates for the Buddhist murals in the Turfan oasis, published in 1928 and 1933 in co-authored books on Buddhist art, were not universally accepted, Waldschmidt prepared, together with his wife Rose Leonore Waldschmidt, the revised edition of the seminal study of Buddhist art in India by Albert Grünwedel (1856-1935), the first edition of which had been published in 1893.  Traveling widely in South Asia, Waldschmidt became also interested in folk art and handicrafts.  After his retirement, he and his wife published books on ragamala miniatures and the arts of Nepal.


Selected obituaries.

Heinz Bechert, “Ernst Waldschmidt (1897-1985),” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 9, 1986, pp. 147-49.

Idem, “Ernst Waldschmidt, 15. Juli 1897–25. Februar 1985,” Jahrbuch der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen 1990, pp. 94-103.

Herbert Härtel, “Ernst Waldschmidt (1897-1985),” ZDMG 137, 1987, pp. 5-11.

M. A. Mehendale, “Professor Dr. Ernst Waldschmidt (b. 15-7-1897, d. 25-2-1985),” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 66, 1986, pp. 365-66.

Lore Sander, “Ernst Waldschmidt (15. 7. 1897–25. 2. 1985): A Personal Tribute,” Buddhist Studies Review 2/1, 1985, pp. 73-79.

Selected works in historical order.

For a complete bibliography of Waldschmidt's publications, see his Ausgewählte kleine Schriften, eds. Heinz Bechert and Petra Kieffer-Pülz, Glasenapp-Stiftung 29, Stuttgart 1989.

Gandhara, Kutscha, Turfan: Eine Einführung in die frühmittelalterliche Kunst Zentralasiens, Leipzig, 1925.

Bruchstücke des Bhikṣuṇī-Prātimokṣa der Sarvāstivādins: Mit einer Darstellung der Überlieferung des Bhikṣuṇī-Prātimokṣa in den verschiedenen Schulen, Kleinere Sanskrit-Texte 3, Leipzig, 1926.

With Wilhelm Lentz, Die Stellung Jesu im Manichäismus, APAW Phil.-hist. Kl. 1926.4, Berlin, 1926.

With Albert von le Coq, Neue Bildwerke II, Die buddhistische Spätantike in Mittelasien 6, Berlin 1928.

Die Legende vom Leben des Buddha in Auszügen aus den heiligen Texten, translated from the Sanskrit, Pali and Chinese and introduced by E. Waldschmidt, Berlin, 1929; repr., Graz, 1982; Hamburg, 1991.

Bruchstücke buddhistischer Sūtras aus dem zentralasiatischen Sanskritkanon, Kleinere Sanskrit-Texte 4, Leipzig, 1932a.

With Wilhelm Lentz, Manichäische Dogmatik aus chinesischen und iranischen Texten, SPAW Philosophisch-historische Klasse 1926/4, Berlin, 1933.

Neue Bildwerke III, with introductions by Otto Kümmel, Heinrich Lüders, and Friedrich Sarre, Die buddhistische Spätantike in Mittelasien 7, Berlin, 1933.

“Albert Grünwedel ✝,” Ostasiatische Zeitschrift, N.F. 11/5, 1935, pp. 215-19.

Die Überlieferung vom Lebensende des Buddha: Eine vergleichende Analyse des Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra und seiner Textentsprechungen, Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, Philologisch-Historische Klasse 3. Folge, Nr. 29-30, 2 vols., Göttingen, 1944-48.

Das Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra: Text in Sanskrit und Tibetisch, verglichen mit dem Pāli nebst einer Übersetzung der chinesischen Entsprechung im Vinaya der Mūlasarvāstivādiuns, Abhandlungen der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse 1949/1 and Klasse für Sprachen, Literatur und Kunst 1950/2-3, 3 vols., Berlin, 1950-51.

Das Catuṣpariṣatsūtra: Eine kanonische Lehrschrift über die Begründung der buddhistischen Gemeinde – Text in Sanskrit und Tibetisch, verglichen mit dem Pāli nebst einer Übersetzung der chinesischen Entsprechung im Vinaya der Mūlasarvāstivādiuns,  3 vols., Berlin, 1952, 1957, and 1962.

Das Mahāvadānasūtra: Ein kanonischer Text über die sieben letzten BuddhasSanskrit, verglichen mit dem Pāli nebst einer Analyse der in chinesischer Übersetzung überlieferten Parallelversionen, Abhandlungen der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Klasse für Sprachen, Literatur und Kunst 1952/8 and  1954/3, 2 vols., Berlin, 1952-56.

Sanskrithandschriften aus den Turfanfunden, ed. Ernst Waldschmidt et al., Verzeichnis der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland 10, pt. I-, Wiesbaden, 1965-.

Von Ceylon bis Turfan: Schriften zur Geschichte, Literatur, Religion und Kunst des indischen Kulturraumes – Festgabe zum 70. Geburtstagam 15. Juli 1967, Göttingen, 1968.

Sanskrit-Wörterbuch der buddhistischen Texte aus den Turfan-Funden (SWTF), I/1-, Göttingen, 1973-.  For more information, see: Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Sanskrit-Wörterbuch: http://adw-goe.de/forschung/forschungsprojekte-akademienprogramm/sanskrit-woerterbuch/veroeffentlichungen/.

Ausgewählte kleine Schriften, eds. Heinz Bechert and Petra Kieffer-Pülz, Stuttgart 1989.

Selected works with contributions by Rose Leonore Waldschmidt.

Grünwedelʼs Buddhistische Kunst in Indien, Handbücher der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, 1932b.

Volkskunst und Handwerk in Indien: Ergebnisse der Forschungsreise Dr. Waldschmidt 1932-1934, Berlin, 1935; catalogue of a 1935 exhibition about the field trip to Sri Lanka and India in the Staatliche Museum für Völkerkunde Berlin.

Faksimile-Wiedergaben von Sanskrithandschriften aus den Berliner Turfanfunden, ed. E. Waldschmidt, with contributions by W. Clawiter, D. Schlingloff und R. L. Waldschmidt, The Hague, 1963.

Musikinspirierte Miniaturen, Veröffentlichungen des Museums für Indische Kunst Berlin 2-3, 2 vols., Wiesbaden, 1966-75; tr. as Miniatures of Musical Inspiration, 2 vols., Bombay, 1967-75.

Nepal: Kunst aus dem Königreich im Himalaya, Recklinghausen, 1967; catalogue of a 1967 exhibition in the Villa Hügel, Essen; tr. as Nepal: Art Treasures from the Himalayas, by David Wilson, Calcutta, 1967; repeatedly reprinted.

Other texts cited.

Hermann Oldenberg and Richard Pischel, eds., The Thera- and Therî-gâthâ: Stanzas Ascribed to Elders of the Buddhist Order of Recluses, London, 1883.

Richard Pischel, “Die Turfan-Recensionen des Dhammapada,” SPAW 39, 1908, pp. 968-85 and 1 plate.

Klaus Wille, “Survey of the Sanskrit Manuscripts in the Turfan Collection,” workshop presentation, Digitalisierung der chinesischen, tibetischen, syrischen und Sanskrit-Texte der Berliner Turfansammlung, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Berlin, 2005, available at: http://www.bbaw.de/bbaw/Forschung/Forschungsprojekte/turfanforschung/bilder/Wille.pdf.

(Thomas Oberlies)

Last Updated: November 16, 2016

Cite this entry:

Thomas Oberlies, “WALDSCHMIDT, ERNST ii. Research,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/waldschmidt-ernst-02 (accessed on 16 November 2016).