Sanskrit Manuscripts in Ancient South India


Aug 10, CANADA (SUN) — Production, Distribution and Collection of Sanskrit Manuscripts in Ancient South India - a Conference report from Leiden, Netherlands.

Our access to ancient Indian texts, many of which have a history of over a millennium, is based on manuscripts whose lifespan is normally not more than a few centuries. For a better understanding of these texts it is essential to know the history and pedigree of the manuscripts. It is hence of great importance to study not only the manuscripts themselves as text sources, but also the production, distribution and collection of manuscripts, both in early pre-modern times and in the late 19th and early 20th century when the then Government of India took an active interest and allocated funds for the search and collection of manuscripts.

An international workshop was organised at the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden, on 20-21 April 2007, to deal with this subject. The workshop was organised in connection with the ongoing work on the Johan van Manen collection of South Indian palm leaf manuscripts which is carefully preserved at the Kern Institute, Leiden, since 1929.

The aim of the workshop was threefold: (1) to study the production, distribution and collection of palm leaf manuscripts from early to modern times; (2) to get a better picture of the ancient, premodern, and recent history of currently available manuscripts of the smaller and larger, public and private collections inside and outside India; (3) to place the Johan van Manen collection of ca. 400 South Indian palm leaf manuscripts in a larger context.

After an opening recitation and chant from the Rgveda and Samaveda by Shri Chaitanya Kale, the workshop was opened with a Word of Welcome by the director of the International Institute for Asian Studies, Prof. Max Sparreboom, and with a brief overview of the Van Manen Collection by Dr. Saraju Rath. The Introductory Lecture of Prof. Christopher Minkowski (Oxford), entitled “The Lives of Manuscripts and the Defects of Scribes,” dealt with the information that can be gleaned from the lines which are often found at the end of manuscripts beyond the final colophon in which the scribe gives information about himself and frequently a statement regarding the possible faultiness of the manuscript, a prayer for its protection, etc.

Among the other contributions presented at the workshop five dealt with special, relatively small collections of manuscripts in South India:

Prof. Masato Fujii (Kyoto): “The Jaiminiya Samaveda Traditions and Manuscripts in South India: Past and Present”; Dr. N.V. Ramachandran (Palghat): “A Review of Private Collection Manuscripts in South India and the Facts Within”; Dr. Christophe Vielle (Louvainla- Neuve): “The Fragile Richness of Manuscript Collections in Kerala.” Prof. S.R. Sarma (Aligarh), in “From My Grandfather’s Chest of Palm Leaf Books,” emphasizes the importance of the innumerable individual collections of priestly or other Brahmin householders that are the basis of the majority of manuscripts available in major manuscript depositories. On the basis of the palm leaf manuscripts of his own family he gives an insight into the conditions of collecting and preserving these documents, and how they narrate the family tradition.

Dr. Dominik Wujastyk (London), in “Ramasubrahmanya’s Manuscripts: A Kaveri Delta Collection Then and Now,” reports on a visit to the village on the banks of the river Kaveri near Kumbakonam where King Shahji of Thanjavur founded an academic community in or just before 1693. Special attention is paid to the work and manuscript library of Ramasubba Sastrigal, an active scholar from about 1900 whose family members today still energetically maintain the intellectual tradition started by members of King Shahaji’s academy.

Three contributions dealt with the establishment of well-known collections of manuscripts:

Dr. Gérard Colas (Paris), in his paper “South Indian Manuscripts sent to the King’s Library by French Jesuits at the Beginning of 18th century,” dealt with the establishment of some of the earliest collections of Sanskrit manuscripts outside India, which were later on of the greatest importance for the development of Indology in Europe: the collection of South Indian manuscripts in the King’s Library and other libraries in Paris. Most of the manuscripts sent by the French Jesuit Fathers were collected in Bengal (by Pons) and in South India (by Le Gac, Gargam and others).

Dr. Perumal (Tanjavur), senior conservator and librarian at the Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji’s Sarasvati Mahal Library, discussed the “Production and Collection of Sanskrit Manuscripts in Tamil Nadu with special reference to the Tanjavur Sarasvati Mahal Library Collection.”

Prof. Kenneth Zysk (Copenhagen), in his paper entitled “Towards a Map of Indian Intellectual History via Individual Collections of Sanskrit Manuscripts,” investigated how the establishment of central repositories of Sanskrit manuscripts in the 19th and 20th centuries in India almost completely eliminated the traces of the preceding diversity and geographic localization of intellectual activity in India. On the basis of the early catalogues of some collections it is nevertheless possible to draw the outlines of a map of the intellectual history of specific areas, first of all of Mithila, which is Dr. Zysk’s “test-case,” and next of restricted regions in South India on the basis of data available for the Sarasvati Mahal Library in Tanjore.

Three contributions dealt with the search for and collection of manuscripts of a specific text of which initially only a title is known: Dr. Galewicz (Krakow) on “The manuscripts of Yamalastakatantra”; or which is available in different versions;

Dr. Silvia D’Intino (Paris): “From the Manuscript to the Critical Edition: the Rgvedabhasya by Skandasvamin”; Dr. Vincenzo Vergiani (Rome): “South Indian Manuscripts of the Kasikavrtti: An Overview.”

Prof. A.G. Menon (Leiden and Kerala), in “From Formless to Form: Preparing a Text as Basis for Linguistic Analysis,” dealt with the problems to be solved in the linguistic analysis of one of the oldest manuscripts from Kerala. Two contributions dealt with the problem of the fixation of the date of manuscripts: Dr Kim Plofker (Brown University, U.S.A.), in “Indian Exact Sciences in Sanskrit Manuscripts and their Colophons,” discusses the important information to be derived from the colophons of manuscripts in the field of traditional Indian exact sciences, and especially the information on the numeric and calendric systems that are abundantly represented in dates found in scribal colophons of astronomical and astrological texts. Dr. Saraju Rath (Leiden), in “Varieties of Grantha Scripts: Date and Place of Origin of Manuscripts,” dealt with the distinct styles of Grantha script in manuscripts which have so far not been properly described in currently available studies and handbooks. With the help of test-characters it can be shown that these distinct styles are linked with different periods and regions. This correlation can be used as one of the crucial factors for the determination of the date and place of origin of a manuscript.

The workshop concluded with recitation and chanting from the Rgveda and Samaveda by Shri Chaitanya Kale which demonstrated the richness and unexpected vitality of the tradition that over the millennia motivated the development of refined techniques of oral transmission but also, in later times, the production, preservation and use of a significant part of Indian manuscripts. The publication of a book on the basis of the papers of this workshop is envisaged. The organisation of the workshop was made possible by the support of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS, Leiden), J. Gonda foundation (KNAW, Amsterdam), the Leids Universiteitsfonds (LUF, Leiden), the School of Asian, African and Amerindian Studies (CNWS, Leiden).

Saraju Rath is Research Fellow, International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden, Netherlands

The Muktabodha Indological Research Institute unveils a new digital library of South Indian religious texts:

An amazing resource to the world scholarly community through a collaborative agreement between the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute, the French Institute of Pondicherry and the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient (French School of Asian Studies) is now made available on the Internet.

These 1144 recent paper Devanagari transcripts (containing over 2000 mostly Shaiva texts and over 200,000 pages) were commissioned or copied by scholars of the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP) and the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient (EFEO) over a period of more than thirty years.

Muktabodha has been preserving Sanskrit texts and manuscripts by microfilm and digitization for the last ten years and since 2003 has been disseminating core Shaiva texts both as photographic facsimiles and as searchable e-texts to the world scholarly community via its on-line digital library. The combined effort, commitment, resources and experience of t hese three organizations has made it possible to make this major collection available.

The paper transcripts of the IFP are a core component of the "Shaiva Manuscripts in Pondicherry" collection which in recognition of its importance was deemed a UNESCO "Memory of the World" Collection in 2005, in response to an application jointly submitted by the IFP, the EFEO, and the National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM), an initiative of the Indian Central Government. This is the largest collection of Shaiva Siddhanta texts in the world. Many of these Saiddhantika texts are among the paper transcripts.

The transcripts are clearly written in the well-known Devanagari script, whereas many of the original manuscripts from which they have been transcribed, many of which it would be difficult to trace today, are in other less well-known South Indian scripts, notably Grantha. Go to source and explore the depths of their extensive collection.


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