Ernst Waldschmidt


Ernst Waldschmidt äußerte sich zu seiner Person in Geschichte der Waldeckischen Familie, Waldschmidt (1970).

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Der folgende Artikel über Ernst Waldschmidt ist in der Encyclopedia Iranica erschienen.



Ernst Waldschmidt, German Indologist, was born on 15th of July 1897 in the German town of Lünen, Westphalia. In 1918 he began his studies in Kiel after having served in the navy during the First World War. His teachers in Kiel were Indologists Paul Deussen, renowned philosopher, and Emil Sieg, one of the pioneers of Tocharian studies. After the sudden death of Deussen (1919) and the departure of Sieg to Goettingen, who followed Hermann Oldenberg, Waldschimdt relocated to Berlin. After gaining his Ph.D. in 1924, he was appointed assistant to Albert von Le Coq at the Berlin Museum of Ethnology. In 1929 he became curator of the museum and, subsequently, in 1934 he became professor. He left Berlin in 1936 having been appointed to the University of Goettingen, following his former teacher Emil Sieg.Only one year later he was elected as an Ordinary Member of the “Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Goettingen”. It was largely due to Waldschmidt’s efforts that soon after the Second World War (in which he served for six years), work on the Turfan texts could be resumed in close cooperation with the Institut für Orientforschung (East Berlin), a cooperation which was brought to an end by the erection of the Berlin wall. Thereafter, Waldschmidt established Goettingen as the sole center for Turfan studies. In 1965, he retired from the university. It was highly gratifying that he could live to see the opening of the Berlin Museum für Indische Kunst in 1971. It was largely through his personal engagement that it had been founded in 1963. Ernst Waldschmidt died in Goettingen on 25th February 1985.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Russian scholars commenced exploring the Turfan oasis. British, French, Japanese and German expeditions were to follow. All of them brought not only art objects in their thousands to their home countries but also text fragments in their tens of thousands. And by the beginning of the 20th century, scientific work with treasures of the Turfan expeditions could begin.

In 1904, F. W. K. Müller succeeded in deciphering some of the fragments from Turfan written in a kind of Estrangelo and in identifying them as belonging to the Manichean literature thought to have been completely lost. In the following years, a lot of dogmatic and liturgical texts of this religion, which had spread from the Near East to China were recovered, mostly from Turfan fragments. A particularly important text was brought to London by Sir Marc Aurel Stein. It was a Chinese scroll which contained Manichean texts in Chinese translation as well as in Iranian languages. Waldschmidt, who had a masterly knowledge of Chinese, was joined by the Iranian scholar Wolfgang Lentz in what became a collaborative effort. Together they published a couple of probing contributions to Manichaean studies.

Even more decisive for Waldschmidtʼs future career were the Sanskrit texts brought to Germany at the time of the Turfan expeditions. After the Indologist Richard Pischel was appointed to the University of Berlin in 1902, he intensified his Buddhist studies, which had commenced in 1883, publishing an edition of the Therīgāthā. And it was Pischel who began work on the Sanskrit Turfan manuscripts and who edited the first texts, e.g. “The Turfan recension of the Dhammapada” (1908). After his premature death in 1908, it fell to his successor Heinrich Lüders, chair of the Indology department in Berlin, to continue, together with his wife Else, working on the Turfan fragments. Lüders not only edited a number of texts, he also identified a huge number of greater and smaller fragments, thus laying the foundation for a project that Waldschmidt had initiated and which is still ongoing at the University of Goettingen, namely the cataloguing of the Sanskrit Turfan texts. And it was Lüders, as well, who inducted Waldschmidt into the intricate work with the fragmentary manuscripts. Being well-versed in the basic languages that Buddhism made use of when spreading into Central and East Asia, Waldschmidt, under Lüdersʼ guidance, undertook the difficult task of editing the Sanskrit Bhikuī-Prātimoka of the Sarvāstivāda school from the fragmentary manuscripts in the Turfan collection. In 1924, he obtained his Ph.D. in the course of editing this edition (1926). Six years later, he edited fragments of Buddhist sūtras from the Madhyamāgama of the Sarvāstivādins (1932). The arrangement of this book was to become standard for all editions of Sanskrit texts from the Turfan finds. A careful transcription of the manuscripts is followed by a reconstruction of the wording of the text, this being backed up by the parallel Pāli, Chinese and Tibetan versions of the text, when available. His masterly editions of the Mahāparnirvāṇa-, the Mahāvadāna- and the Catuṣpariṣatsūtra follow exactly this model. Nearly every year, almost until the time of his death, Waldschmidt published editions of Turfan texts for scholarly journals and festschrifts, which have been collected in two volumes (1967, 1989). A great number of smaller fragments he made available in the five volumes of the catalogue “Sanskrithandschriften aus den Turfanfunden” four of which he himself published between 1965 and 1980 (the fifth appeared posthumously in 1985). And it was Waldschmidt who conceived the plan of a thesaurus-like dictionary of the Sanskrit Turfan texts, which will be completed within the next years. Several of Waldschmidtʼs pupils, such as Herbert Härtel, Kusum Mittal, Dieter Schlingloff, Valentina Stache-Rosen and Chandrabhal Tripathi, worked along the lines of their teacher and edited texts when sufficient manuscripts were to hand.

As a result of his work at the “Museum für Völkerkunde”, Waldschmidt became interested in Indian and Central Asian art. Hence, his very first publication was a book about the early mediaeval art of Central Asia (1925). It was followed by a – controversially received – approach to the dating of the wall paintings of monasteries in the Turfan oasis (1928, 1933) and by a new edition of Grünwedelʼs “Buddhistische Kunst in Indien” (1932a). Travelling a lot in India and adjacent countries, he was also interested in folk art and handicrafts. Indeed, together with his wife Rose Leonore, he published several books on these topics.

Waldschmidt was a real Maecenas for Indology. Already during his lifetime he bequeathed his house and library to the indological Institute of the University of Goettingen, whereas in Berlin he founded the “Stiftung Ernst Waldschmidt”, which supports indological research and edits the “Monographien zur indischen Archäologie, Kunst und Philologie”.



Thomas Oberlies




(1925) Gandhara, Kutscha, Turfan. Eine Einführung in die frühmittelalterliche Kunst Zentralasiens. Leipzig 1925;

(1926) Bruchstücke des Bhikṣuṇī-Prātimokṣa der Sarvāstivādins. Mit einer Darstellung der Überlieferung des Bhikṣuṇī-Prātimokṣa in den verschiedenen Schulen. Leipzig 1926 (Kleinere Sanskrit-Texte. Heft III);

(1926a) (Together with W. Lentz) Die Stellung Jesu im Manichäismus. APAW, Phil.-hist. Kl. 1926.4;

(1928, 1933) Die buddhistische Spätantike in Mittelasien. Teil VI. Berlin 1928, Teil VII. Berlin 1933;

(1929) Die Legende vom Leben des Buddha … Aus dem Sanskrit, Pāli und Chinesischen übersetzt und eingeführt. Berlin 1929 (reprint: Graz 1982);

(1932) Bruchstücke buddhistischer Sūtras aus dem zentralasiatischen Sanskritkanon. Leipzig 1932 (Kleinere Sanskrit-Texte. Heft IV);

(1932a) Grünwedelʼs Buddhistische Kunst in Indien, unter Mitarbeit von R. L. Waldschmidt völlig neugestaltet. Berlin 1932;

(1933) (Together with W. Lentz) Manichäische Dogmatik aus chinesischen und iranischen Texten. SPAW, Phil.-hist. Kl. 1933;

(1950-51) Das Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra. Text in Sanskrit und Tibetisch, verglichen mit dem Pāli nebst einer Übersetzung der chinesischen Entsprechung im Vinaya der Mūlasarvāstivādiuns. Teil I-III. Berlin 1950-51;

(1952, 1957, 1962) 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. Teil I-III. Berlin 1952, 1957, 1962;

(1953, 1956) Das Mahāvadānasūtra. Ein kanonischer Text über die sieben letzten Buddhas. Sanskrit, verglichen mit dem Pāli nebst einer Analyse der in chinesischer Übersetzung überlieferten Parallelversionen. Berlin 1952, 1956;

(1967) Von Ceylon bis Turfan. Schriften zur Geschichte, Literatur, Religion und Kunst des indischen Kulturraumes. Göttingen 1968;

(1989) Ausgewählte kleine Schriften. Stuttgart 1989 (Glasenapp-Stiftung Band 29).

Obituaries by Herbert Härtel, ZDMG 137 (1987) 4-11, and Lore Sander, Buddhist Studies Review 2 (1985) 73-79.