“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
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.
Conservation of cultural property through the promotion of awareness and expertise is a concern shared by all in the cultural heritage sector. The National Mission for Manuscripts over the past four years has made some definite interventions in this domain. Through its network of Manuscript Conservation Centres and Manuscript Conservation Partner Centres, the Mission has been organizing a number of workshops and training programmes across India to create a national base of conservation expertise around manuscripts.
In 2006, the Conservation Department of the Mission broadened its ambit, both in terms of a national distribution of workshops and affiliated institutions, and also in bringing in fresh perspectives in conservation training and research.
Generation of skill and awareness among the holders of manuscripts, institutional and private, as well as in aspiring conservationists
Provision of financial and material support to institutions and private holders for conservation of manuscripts
Promotion of research and practical-theoretical modules for addressing various aspects in manuscript making and preservation, with a particular focus on indigenous methods
Initiation of a publication programme to facilitate popular access to the current research in conservation of manuscript
Organizing national and regional workshops in preventive and curative conservation
Organizing workshop-cum-semimars in specific aspects of manuscript conservation, based on materials, climatic conditions, indigenous and
technical methods of preparation and conservation etc.
Creating a National Resource Team of conservators, as a mobile national team for addressing conservation issues in various`manuscript
repositories across the country
Coordinating with institutions of repute like the National Research Laboratory for Conservation of Cultural Property (NRLC), Lucknow, for research, skill development and technical assistance in various conservation projects in the country
Creating field labs to facilitate conservation methodologies
Increasing the number of institutions within the fold of the Mission’s Conservation Centres and Conservation Partner Centres
Expanded Network of MCC-s
In 2006-2007, the Mission increased the number of Manuscript Conservation Centres (MCC-s), bringing in new institutions in its network. The MCC-s are established in leading conservation laboratories and manuscript repositories. In the past four years they have been the core strength of the Mission in promoting conservation practices and training. Each Centre has trained manuscript conservators that provide vital assistance to a large number of manuscript holding institutions in their region. In 2006, the total number of MCC-s has risen to 32, with the additional 5 new Centres:
Regional Conservation Laboratory, Thiruvananathapuram
Tawang Monastry, Arunachal Pradesh
Manipur State Archives, Imphal
Sri Dev Kumar Jain Oriental Research Institute Arrah, Bihar
Central Library, Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi
Increase in Manuscript Conservation Partner Centres (MCPC-s)
Manuscript Conservation Partner Centres (MCPC-s) are a set of institutions with large holdings of manuscripts, which the Mission brings under its national network in order to facilitate and provide assistance to them. Under this programme, each MCC nominates 10 institutions as MCPC-s. Conservation assistance to these institutions, in particular, advice on storage and maintenance of their collections is provided by the MCC-s in the region. Where required the MCC-s also provide preventive and curative work on the manuscripts. Conservation and storage material (acid-free board, acid-free paper, etc) for storage of important manuscripts in these collections are provided directly by the Mission. In 2006, the number of MCPC-s has increased significantly, with the total at almost 270.
Creation of a National Resource Team of Conservators
Taking into consideration the extent and scope of conservation activities taken up for the preservation and conservation of manuscripts, the Mission has launched preventive conservation training programmes for creating a National Resource Team of Conservators. The training equips conservation professionals with practical training on preventive conservation of manuscripts. In this connection, the Mission is in the process of organizing six workshops across the country to aid the MCC-s in the preventive conservation of the collections in institutions and private repositories in their regions.
In creating this Resource Team, the Mission considers requests from various repositories, and thereby forwards the services of the team in imparting preventive conservation and reorganization of the collections concerned. Five such workshops were conducted in Delhi, Aligarh, Chennai, Benaras and Kolkata out of which we have selected fifty conservators as a part of the team. This training programme is given to participants, with a basic knowledge about the conservation of manuscripts.
Work done by Resource Team
Name of the institution and number of manuscripts conserved:
Iqbal Library, Srinagar 1000 Mss
Bhasha Bhavan, Patiala 600 Mss
Central Library, Patiala 4000 Mss
Personal collection of Preetam Singh, Patiala 1500 Mss.
Gurukul, Jajjar 800 Mss
Kurukshertra University 10000 Mss
Majuli, Assam 3500 Mss
Maulana Azad Library, Aligarh 9000 Mss
The Mission has further established Field Laboratories at Leh and at Guwahati in collaboration with NRLC, Lucknow. It was decided that rather than invest in new institutions and infrastructure, the Mission may operate out of its own affiliate centres like MRC-s and MCC-s for this purpose. In Leh, the Centre for Buddhist Studies is acting as the host institution, while in Guwahati, the Sankara Deva Kala Shetra is the host institution. Technical support is being provided by NRLC, Lucknow.