About THL > Overviews > Tibetan Literary Encyclopedia Resources > Tibetan Literary Encyclopedia Overview
THL’s Literary Encyclopedia is devoted to resources and scholarship concerning Tibetan literature. The Encyclopedia is based on “thematic research collections” – the deep cataloging of large collections (canons or collected works) – which is then used as a framework to publish resources on those texts on an ongoing basis. These resources, which include scanned images, input texts, translations, summaries, scholarly analysis, and oral commentaries, are organized into sections corresponding to canons, authors, sects, literary periods, literary genres, and oral commentaries. See the Tibetan Literary Encyclopedia Status Report for a detailed account of resources currently well developed, and other resources that are in preparation in the coming months. See How to Use the Tibetan Literary Encyclopedia for help in navigating and using the site.
Literary Tibetan has been most widespread in the ethnically Tibetan regions now divided among five provinces of the People’s Republic of China, but Tibetan has also been used as a literary language throughout the Himalayan regions of South Asia. The full geographical range in which Tibetan has served as a language of learning, however, is much greater even than this, for, with the promulgation of Tibetan Buddhism among the Mongols and Manchus, literary Tibetan became a common medium of communication among Inner Asian Buddhists by the end of the seventeenth century, and was used at the beginning of the twentieth century as far west as Astrakhan (where the Volga River flows into the Caspian Sea) and as far east as Beijing. Indeed, following the fall of the Soviet Union, ethnic Mongols of the Russian Republic have begun to reaffirm their cultural ties to Tibet and today classical Tibetan is again studied in Astrakhan, where the local government of Kalmykia has recently made it a required subject in the public schools. The study and use of literary Tibetan has also been revived to varying degrees in Buryatia and Tuva in the Russian Federation, among ethnic Mongols and Yi in China, and in Mongolia itself.
The impressive geographical expanse of Tibetan literary history is matched by its temporal depth. In the thirteen centuries since Tibetan has been a written language, literary production has been enormous. At the present time we have access to many thousands of printed volumes and published manuscripts, containing tens of thousands of individual works of many different types: biographies and histories, medical treatises, poetry and epic, grammars and dictionaries, and writings on all aspects of Tibetan religious life and thought. In many cases, Tibetan translations are the only known form in which many important Indian and Chinese works now survive. The study of this legacy is only now emerging from its infancy, and though many particular problems remain unresolved, the general contours of Tibetan literary and cultural history are in important respects becoming clear to those familiar with the range of materials now available in the Tibetan language. A modern literature has also begun to develop in recent years, including fiction and poetry, journalism, and scholarship in fields such as history, linguistics and anthropology. In both China and South Asia, Tibetan works continue to be written and published in large numbers.