Wednesday, December 22, 2010


HARD TO DECIPHER, HARDER TO PRESERVE - Scholars who scrutinize Indian manuscripts for research fear that the lack of access to many of them and the shoddy upkeep of some will wipe out details etched in these ancient treatises. “The quality of preservation in several libraries (in India) varies. However, none, as far as I know, follows international standards of temperature and humidity control ... not to speak of insects,” Dr Patrick Olivelle, an expert on Asian studies in the University of Texas, said about the state of affairs in numerous manuscript repositories in India. Manuscripts, inscriptions, and epigraphs are available on myriad surfaces ranging from steel and rock to perishable materials like palm leaf, bark and papyrus. A leading scanner of these texts for the past 35 years, Olivelle and others of his fraternity in India, which is home to over 4 million manuscripts on subjects ranging from vedas, religion, architecture, science, astronomy, medicine, have common fears.
Considered a pioneer of the 20-year-old movement to bring out Indian manuscripts from different dusty corners of the country and translate, microfilm and digitise them, renowned scholar Kapila Vatsyayan explained the state of affairs as “some are kept well, some not”. Her brainchild, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), is the mother body for the microfilming and digitisation process nationwide. This two-decade effort has led to over 250,000 rare manuscripts being microfilmed and digitalised for study.

The experts suggested to set up a National Manuscripts Library (India) which facilitates the access to these ancient texts available in different repositories to scholar and researches. The preservation of manuscripts follows traditional as well as modern scientific methods to preserve documents for further use. In traditional system of preservation, herbals and in case of modern methods suitable chemicals are used. Hindu Press International says that the prodigious collection of the French Institute of Pondicherry is in the final stages of being digitized, providing a model for these projects in the future and protecting a priceless heritage of culture and mysticism of all mankind.

The manuscripts constitute our most precious national and cultural heritage. ... In spite of the advent of suitable chemicals for preservation and their availability, traditional methods for preservation are in practice. ... From ancient times several indigenous methods have been used for preservation of manuscripts. The people were also quite aware of the basic factors of deterioration of the manuscripts namely light, dust, heat and humidity. So in order to protect the manuscripts from these possible factors, the manuscripts were usually covered by clothes. ... The safe upkeep of manuscripts has also been inscribed by the authors of manuscripts, generally written in the colophon which is evident from the following lines: “The book itself appeals to the owners to protect it from water, oil, slack binding, rats and from the hands of other people who do not know proper handling” (“Putravat paripalayet”). Some of the authors also request the user to treat the manuscripts as their own sons.

Orissa State Museum, Bhubanewswar, India :
Indigenous Methods of Preserving Manuscripts”
By Mrs Jyotshna Sahoo & Mr Basudev Mohanty

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