Universiteit Leiden

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Sanskrit across Asia and Beyond

The exhibition ‘Sanskrit – Across Asia and Beyond’ tells the story of Sanskrit’s more than 3,000-year-long existence. It displays manuscripts and objects from Leiden University Library, complemented with objects from the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. The exhibition runs from May 18 to August 29 and is on display in the exhibition hall of the University Library. It displays ancient texts, on bronze, paper or palm leaves, exquisite bronze sculptures and richly illustrated manuscripts.

A global cultural phenomenon
Sanskrit is a global phenomenon – a language that has captured the intellectual imagination of historians and linguists in nineteenth-century Europe, and contemporary students of yoga and āyurveda, alike. Yet, Sanskrit is not a language that speaks solely through texts. It has been a medium for the transmission of ideas, stories, images, and performances that together inspired a shared world of culture linking far-flung regions of Asia across the centuries. Objects such as the Javanese Wayang Purwa manuscript and even European versions of ancient Sanskrit fables illustrate the spread of Sanskrit.

Cultural dynamism
This exhibition traces some of the complexity and cultural dynamism of Sanskrit in Asia and beyond: from a language of elite culture to a language of devotion, from its rich storyworlds to traditions of embodied practice. Finally, it considers how and why Sanskrit matters today by looking at the debates currently surrounding its use and status. To tell the story of Sanskrit, the exhibition incorporates a broad range of materials including rare manuscripts, such as twelfth century Buddhist scriptures on palm leaves next to private prayer books. In addition vibrant photographs of Asian temples and icons testify to a vibrant Sanskrit culture.

Leiden Asia Year
Leiden University is the place in the Netherlands where unique knowledge on Asia is brought together in teaching and research. On 14 September 2017 the University will open its new Asian Library, internationally recognized as one of the world’s leading centres of expertise on Asia. The new library consolidates all the Asia collections for students, researchers and other interested parties under one roof. The Leiden Asia Year celebrates this achievement. Museums, institutions and other partners in Leiden will be contributing to the Leiden Asia Year Leiden Asia Year 2017 with special performances and exhibitions or other events focusing on Asia.


Sanskrit - Across Asia and Beyond
18 May -5 September 2017
Exhibition Room Universitity Library
Witte Singel 27
Open: Monday-Friday 08.30-24.00 hours and Saturday-Sunday 10.00-23.00 hours (free access). Holidays closed.