Buddhism arose in India, and for many centuries it was extremely important there. However, Buddhism disappeared from India during the 12th and 13th centuries. Many old manuscripts of Buddhism were discarded in this period and lost. At the end of the 18th century scholars started to seek out old manuscripts still in existence: many ancient texts were uncovered, both in India and in Nepal. This collecting programme continued for over a century. Many of the texts thus uncovered were of Buddhist works. Many of these scholars were connected with the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and eventually 47,600 ancient manuscripts written in 26 different scripts and languages were lodged in the Library of the Society.
This magnificent collection is the most complete and representative library of ancient Indian texts in existence. Two volumes from this collection were inscribed on the International Memory of the World Register in 2011 as representatives of the wider collection. These two volumes are copies of the Vimalaprabhā, the central text of the Tantric stream of Mahayana Buddhism. One is the oldest known copy of the text, written either in the late 10th or 12th century. It is the only complete copy (five introductory leaves are lost) known to exist. The second is a partial copy of the same text dating from the 15th century. The Vimalaprabhā is still a vital part of Tibetan Buddhist life, with several hundred Tibetan commentaries published on it. All ultimately depend on the manuscripts in the Asiatic Society collection. Both volumes are hand-written on palm leaves: the older copy has 222 leaves.