India's National Mission for Manuscripts
BY: SUN STAFF
May 5, CANADA (SUN) NMM's Fourth Annual Report offers this message from the Mission Director.
"The National Mission for Manuscripts completed its fourth year on 7 February 2007. Established by the Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India, the Mission was established with the objective of creating a national resource base for manuscripts scattered across the country. With a view to restore Indian manuscripts, in terms of both physical conservation and digitization, as well as promote access through research and publication, the Mission operates through a national network of institutions and manuscript repositories. It runs multiple programmes in documentation, conservation, digitization, manuscript studies, publication and outreach.
The year 2006 has seen the Mission take up fresh projects and set new targets for itself. Standing at the threshold of its fifth year, we now take the opportunity to revisit the year as it was, and review the activities."
The larger objective of the Mission is to translate the felt need for the preservation of Indian manuscripts into tangible structures, which will consolidate the textual heritage of the past in contemporary knowledge societies. The National Electronic Catalogue of manuscripts is a step in this direction. The Catalogue will serve as an information portal for scholars and researchers, by garnering information from institutions and repositories, public or private, catalogued or un-catalogued, from every corner of the country. A milestone for the Mission in 2006 has been the completion of the information of the first 1.5 million manuscripts. We have so far, completed the codification of approximately 30% of the total estimated five million manuscripts in the database.
A culmination of various earlier efforts at creating an electronic catalogue of manuscripts, notably by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and the National Archives of India, the database is a consolidated product of the large-scale documentation of manuscripts, which is taking place continually under supervision of the Mission. We have collected information of the manuscripts through intensive national surveys across different states of India, followed by detailed documentation through post-survey exercises as well as by the Mission’s Resource Centres and Partner Centres across India. This effort contributes directly to the steady increase of our national database of manuscripts.
Objectives of the Mission
- Survey, document and catalogue Indian manuscripts, in India and abroad, and compile a National Database
- Facilitate conservation and preservation of manuscripts through training, awareness building and financial support
- Provide ready access to these manuscripts through digitization and publication
- Promote scholarship and research in the study of Indian languages and Manuscriptology
- Set up a National Manuscripts Library at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
In 2006, the Mission has expanded its ambit significantly. In the conservation department of the Mission, workshops on preventive and curative conservation have been extended to highlight various rare support materials of manuscripts. In the first phase, four such workshops are being organised in four corners of the country, developing the conservation studies and modules of manuscript materials specific to the regions. We see this as a specialised skill development programme in conservation, bringing forth both research and practical training in a common platform. In the coming year, such seminars and workshops will be organised at both the national and international levels.
Digitization of manuscripts has been one of our foremost projects, and in 2006, the pilot project on digitization, covering five important caches across the country, is nearing completion. In the second phase, we are now focusing on the most important collections from fifty repositories in India, apart from the digitization of the New Catalogus Catalogorum and the 45 manuscripts designated as ‘Vijnananidhi - The Manuscript Treasures of India’. Recognizing the questions and issues pertaining to the digitization of manuscript collections, in particular with matters of access generation and copyright issues, the Mission is now in the process of charting out standards and policies in this area.
In making the knowledge content of Indian manuscripts accessible, the Mission operates with a multi-pronged outreach programme, including monthly lectures, national seminars, workshops, etc. At the State-level, these outreach programmes are facilitated by our nation-wide network of Manuscript Resource Centres (MRC-s) and Manuscript Conservation Centres (MCC-s), and the parallel network of the Manuscripts Partner Centres and the Manuscript Conservation Partner Centres. In 2006, the Mission structured its outreach activities specifically for connecting with the youth of the country. We had manuscript extension programmes for school children in 11 districts in Andhra Pradesh, and at present, a national debate competition for university students is being organised in five zones across the country.
The year 2006 has been significant, in particular, in our mission to bring the manuscripts heritage of India to an international platform. In March 2006, the Mission sent four nominations from India for the UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ Register. In October, the Mission organised an international exhibition of Indian manuscripts at the Frankfurt Book Fair. “The Word is Sacred; Sacred is the Word” was the first of its kind international exhibition of Indian manuscripts. With India as Guest of Honour at Frankfurt, the Mission brought to limelight a range of manuscripts, upholding a rich display of texts and textures, scripts, calligraphies and illustrations from across India. The exhibition is now being brought to the National Archives of India, New Delhi, where it will be exhibited for a month. A bilingual Catalogue of the Frankfurt Exhibition was published, which is now available in bookstores.
Among other publications of the Mission this year were, the Tattvabodha, a collection of lectures, the Samrakshika, a compilation of seminar papers, and the Kritibodha, the first of the Mission’s Critical Edition Series. The Mission is bringing out the Catalogue, Vijnananidhi- Manuscript Treasures of India, a catalogue of the 45 manuscripts designated as ‘treasures’.
With the database increasing steadily, we are now working at increasing the research base in manuscript studies, in textual criticism as well as in conservation methodologies. A beginning in this direction has already been made, with many universities introducing degree and diploma courses in Manuscriptology, the beginning of the Gurukula Fellowships for research in critical studies, and the joint projects with National Research Laboratory for the Conservation of Cultural Property, Lucknow. In the coming year, we seek to do more intensive work in this area, and further, broaden the documentation exercise by networking with the international collections of Indian manuscripts.
In the past four years, the Mission has expanded manifold, in keeping with the vast mandate of documenting all manuscripts of the country. As we begin our fifth year, we are aware of increased responsibilities and challenges. We take this opportunity to thank all those institutions, scholars, experts and interested people whose efforts have brought us here. We are also inviting all scholars and researchers, cultural and knowledge institutions in the government and private sectors, and most importantly, the citizens of the country to come forward in preserving and opening up the knowledge heritage of India.
In future segments, the Sun will focus on areas of particular interest being undertaken by the National Mission for Manuscripts, including the archiving and convservation of manuscripts in West Bengal.