Valuable and rare manuscripts are now online
There is some great news for researchers, students and well just about anyone who is interested in rare manuscripts. A treasure of rare manuscripts originally handwrittten on a variety of materials including palm leaf, paper, gold and silver plates have been dug out from all over the country and digitised. The manuscript library can be accessed online at namami.org.
India has with her approximately five million manuscripts – the largest collection in the whole world! And these manuscripts are of an incredible variety, covering different themes, scripts, languages, calligraphies and illustrations. As the website explains, the manuscripts “together constitute the ‘memory’ of India’s history, heritage and thought”. Presently there are a about a million manuscripts in the library (the largest database on Indian manuscripts in the world) and some date back to the 4th century. Another 800,000 manuscripts are to be added to the collection in the next six months.
Quoting from the website:
India’s manuscripts have for centuries captured the imagination of the world. As early as the seventh century Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang took back hundreds of manuscripts from India. Later in the late eighteenth century, the Nawab of Awadh gifted a superb illuminated manuscript of the Padshahnama to King George III of England. Today, it is considered one of the finest pieces in the Royal Collection. When the English East India Company first came to India, they acknowledged the sub-continent as the bearer of a great and rich civilization that abounded in intellectual and artistic endeavour. Several Company officers developed a fascination with various aspects of Indian civilization including languages, philosophy, art and architecture. The early issues of the Royal Asiatic Journal in the early nineteenth century fully reflect this curiosity in all things Indian.
Well, those who are curious about India now have a vast treasure to dip into. The process of locating manuscripts will continue…some are stored in private collections, places of religious worship, some in obscure museums. Training scholars in various aspects of Manuscript Studies like languages, scripts and critical editing and cataloguing of texts and conservation will also take place. Also, the library will conduct lectures, seminars, publications and other outreach programmes so that there is interaction with the public. Some of these manuscripts are in scripts which cannot be read and the next generation of scholars is to be trained in deciphering them.
This venture has been in the pipeline for quite some time. In fact for many decades manuscripts were neglected, so much so that many of them have become “insect ridden, fungus infected or brittle, fading and fragile”! Only digitisation can save them. Ofcourse some manuscripts have been lost forever…some destroyed through neglect and some by foreign invaders. A virtual treasure of texts and manuscripts were destroyed when the Nalanda university was burnt down in the 12th century by the invading armies of the Mughals.
India knows the value of these manuscripts, now more than ever. Perhaps its because the world has realised it too. Old systems like Yoga, Ayurveda, Unani and even the building science such as Vaastu Shastra are getting attention from the west.
While the manuscripts are going to be electronically available, some selected ones may also be published or preserved through microfilming. This will be wonderful, as there is nothing like seeing them. Some of these are on cloth, palm leaves, bamboo leaves and even paper! The ones which are selected and preserved will be kept in the National Manuscripts Library which is coming up in New Delhi.
These manuscripts are not just religious texts, but also literature and books on medicine and herbs. And once digitised, they will become India’s memory.
(Much of this information is from the NMM website)