When my brother sent me this NY Times story by Jennifer Schuessler (thanks, Eric!), I was confused at first: didn’t I post about this years ago, and hasn’t it already gone under? But then I realized I was thinking of New York University Press’s Clay Sanskrit Library, which I wrote about in 2008; as this story says, it “closed up shop prematurely after four years and 56 volumes when its benefactor, the financier John Clay, ended his support.” This is a new venture, by Harvard University Press:
The Murty Classical Library of India, whose first five dual-language volumes will be released next week, will include not only Sanskrit texts but also works in Bangla, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Persian, Prakrit, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and other languages. Projected to reach some 500 books over the next century, the series is to encompass poetry and prose, history and philosophy, Buddhist and Muslim texts as well as Hindu ones, and familiar works alongside those that have been all but unavailable to nonspecialists.
The Murty will offer “something the world had never seen before, and something that India had never seen before: a series of reliable, accessible, accurate and beautiful books that really open up India’s precolonial past,” said Sheldon Pollock, a professor of South Asian studies at Columbia University and the library’s general editor.
That literary heritage can seem daunting in size. While the canon of surviving Greek and Roman classics is fairly small, the literature of India’s multiple classical languages includes thousands upon thousands of texts, many of which, as the writer William Dalrymple recently noted, exist only in manuscripts that are decaying before they can be translated or even cataloged.
The Murty Library, Mr. Pollock said, aims to take in the broadest swath of them. “We are a big tent,” he said. “As long as it’s good and interesting and important, it’s going to be in the Murty Classical Library.”
Good for them for picking up the torch, and especially for expanding beyond Sanskrit to include all the classical languages of India. I wish the series well, and I hope it doesn’t get cut off before its time like its predecessor.