Problems and Issues in Manuscripts: with special reference to Sanskrit

Dr. J.S.R.A. Prasad Dept. of Sanskrit Studies School of Humanities University of Hyderabad – 500 046 1. Introduction: Language is the vehicle of our expressions. Sanskrit is the most ancient language enriched with high inflectional and structurised grammar, flawless, accepted by the linguists. One of the Sanskrit writers, the great 'dandi' proclaims 'all these three worlds would have been in complete dark, had it been not lit up these by the light of speech1'. So, it is clear that the knowledge of language is very essential. One needs to enter into language, if one wants to acquire this knowledge, and in order to do that, one must be able to read the texts. In olden days, our knowledge is prevalent on oral tradition. Gurukulas were such traditional knowledge places, where the guru imparts knowledge to the students. For some of the students, who are with low intellect, it is required to document the teachings for their repeated study. Also, the teachers wanted to record new insights from scriptures. Hence, different materials such as palm leaves etc., are found to be the medium to do so. Important historical incidents have been inscribed on stones initially, followed by materials like cloth made of cotton, before the palm leaves and handmade paper occupy their place to offer wider scope to textual criticism. Writing on palm leaves and maintaining them is the easiest method compared to any other means. It is considered that the life of a palm leaf is pretty longer than the handmade paper. Our ancestors sacrificed their lives in properly maintaining the manuscripts (mss.,) to preserve for the posterity. Material used for mss., has several names such as ‘matṛka, hasta lekha, pothi, paṇdu lipi’etc. In mss.,, one can find normal palm leaves and ‘sri’ palm leaves. Five sorts of benefits are considered by scholars in writing mss., They are – 1. For one’s self 2. For the sake of others 3. By the order of kings 4. To donate, and 5. To offer in the name of god

इदमनधतमः क सन ं जायेत भुवनतयम् । ृत यिद शबदाहय ं जयोितरासंसार ं न दीपयते ।। (कावयादशशः 1.4)


There are five million Sanskrit mss., available in India apart from few thousands overseas. 'It is said that a people’s spoken and written language is their most  important cultural attribute. In India, over thousands of years, mss., have been  written in a vast number of languages and each in itself embodies her history2'. 2. What is a Manuscript? A Hand written book or document is called manuscript (ms.). The term ms. is derived from Latin manus means 'hand' and scriptum (√scribere) meaning 'to scratch' that meant to say finally 'to write', Hence, a ms. is 'some thing that written with the hand.' The science of deciphering mss., is called 'manuscriptology' and the science of writing is called 'paleography'. Each nook and corner of the world has mss., where people put their thoughts and experiences in a written form. In the glorious past, according to the elite, a person with a good treasure of mss.,, is only considered an 'acharya', (कोशवान् आचाययः) Materials used: The material used to write mss., was on paper, palm-leaf, bark, cloth, metal etc. These mss., contain precious information of texts and treatises on various Indian arts and sciences. Mss., are recovered in hundreds of various languages and scripts. Various written materials


Handmade Paper


Many manuscripts are available in foreign scripts such as Persian, Arabic etc. Salarjung Museum, Dayera-thul-Mahrif, Idara-e-Adabiyaat-Urdu are some of the local repositories in Hyderabad with regard to other than Sanskrit mss., Script Variants: Various scripts have been used in mss., depending on the geographical differences of India. Some of the scripts are- Grantha, Tamil, Nandinagari, Devanagari, Tiglari, Sarada, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, old Newari etc. Among these, Sarada scrpt is in extinct now, as Prof. Ganjoo of Kashmir University is the only expert who can decipher on it. 3. Problems and issues:

Conservation, NMM, p. i


Dasapadartha sastra is a text that belongs to the Vaiseshika School of philosophy. In 648 A.D., it was translated into Chinese by H. Ui. Later, very unfortunately, we lost the original ms. in Sanskrit. A Sanskrit scholar restored it back to Sanskrit based on the foreign version. This was possible only as the Chinese translator has maintained the originality of the base text. Today, as there is no such scholarship or expertise to recreate the content, it is a threat once the manuscript treasure diminishes by sheer neglect. In 1784, Sir William Jones took great pains to collect mss., in Bengal state which was resulted in establishing the Asiatic Society in Kolkata. Many other Sanskrit scholars like M.M. Ananthakrishna Sastry etc., have rendered yeomen service to collect and preserve mss., Some of the reputable repositories are the Asiatic Society, Tanjore Sarasvati Mahal library, Oriental Research Institute Baroda, Government Oriental mss., Library, S.V. Oriental Research Institute, Tirupati and so on. However, most of the mss., are inaccessible for various reasons. In the Oriental collection of the Osmania University, if one approaches in regard of an unpublished text, one’s effort will end in acquiring a mere 20% content of the desired text. In many other institutions also, one can experience similar plight. One of the reasons may be that some researchers misuse the content of these unpublished mss., Many of the custodians or curators are not informed of the process of digitization of mss., and catalogs. Also, we still follow the age old preserving techniques which resulting in gradual disappearance of the unveiled knowledge. This author has himself found for his dismay, how the mss., get destroyed of sheer ignorance. One of his friends has informed him about the treasure of mss., available in a village near Hyderabad. After two months of continuous efforts, ultimately the custodian comes online only to confirm that out of six hundred mss., which they bequeathed from their father, now, only six mss., are in usable condition. All others are almost destroyed by the insects or by the hostile weather conditions. Such a way, in numerous places, hundreds of these precious mss., are lost. 4. Why we should take care of manuscripts UNESCO has recognized the mss., of Rgveda preserved in Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune as the world heritage. Out of the thousand branches of the Samaveda, our access is now restricted to a mere eleven branches. Similarly we lost many shastric texts ranging from vyakarana to sangeetha, partly or fully due to lack of knowledge of preservation. Our country is privileged to have nearly five million mss., which is very rare to any other country. We should take care of mss., because they are the valuable 3

sources of knowledge. They are the main sources of our ancient history and culture. Our ancestors put their thoughts, expertise and experiences in a written form through these mss., The constitution of India states, under Fundamental Duties in Article 51A, "It shall be the duty of every citizen to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.” Hence, there is an urgent need to collect, conserve, preserve, collate and provide access to these precious documents through the standards established by the Ministry of Culture & Tourism, Govt. of India. In the year 2003, the Govt. of India has started a project called 'National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM)' for the ms. collection, preservation, trainings and seminars. The NMM has worked tirelessly to realize the goal by collecting five lakh mss., through their partner manuscript resource centers (MRCs) and manuscript conservation centers (MCCs). The University of Madras has adopted a prestigious project called ‘New Catalogus Catalogurum (NCC)’ in the year 1935 which is in succession to Theoder Aufrecht’s Catalogus Catalogurum. 5. Suggestions to maintain the knowledge flow: Mss., also furnish valuable information regarding contemporary calendar. Thus we come accross sakabda, samvat, vikrama samvat, gupta samvat, saptrarshi savatsara, saura and chandra samvatsara etc. in the colophons at the end of the mss., (Basu and Das: 2005) from which we can trace some important historical dates and can draw important conclusions in regard with contemporary political scenario. Such a way, the mss., contain references to events in the past. But, unfortunately, thousands of these mss., lie neglected in many government and private institutions in our country. Therefore, there is an urgent need of conserving, preserving and publishing these precious manuscripts. • Port on Internet: The government should ensure the scholars that all mss., are under digitization and an electronic database is created. Well maintained classification subject wise is a key to any good catalog. Apart from keying in the catalog data, all the digital content (images) could be ported on to the WWW to promote a wider access to researchers and students in this field. Microfilming of mss., is very old style hence, it is not recommended. Thus, the transition of Sanskrit knowledge can be noted as Oral tradition Manuscripts Print Digital Content

• Develop Software: In this digital age, when any kind of material is converted to digital form, its damage is permanently avoided and also it facilitates to produce multiple copies 4

out of it. While the number of experts is dwindling day by day, we should think of innovative ideas in developing self tutors on rare scripts such as Sarada. The Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha at Tirupathi has developed a self tutor on Grantha script, which is being acclaimed by many a scholar. Similarly, measures should be taken to develop optical character recognition (OCR) softwares which will be of a great help. Once, this sort of development is realized, then that reduces a great amount of transcription work. But, the process involved here is very tedious as one can find innumerable script related styles based on its origin. Of late, some German computer scientists are working in this direction. • Critical Editions: A critical edition is a kind publishing methods in manuscriptology. All the Sanskrit books which we access are transcribed from the preserved mss before they come to the light. Mss., include all branches of knowledge. BORI, Pune has brought out the first critical edition of the great epic ‘Mahabharata’. Out of the one lakh verses in it, only 73 thousand verses are to found original as the style, grammar etc., is differing with that of Sage Veda Vyasa. Students/researchers should be encouraged to take up critical editions to decide the accuracy of the textual content. If people who work on critical editions, they should be trained of the knowledge various scripts. If such works are up to the mark, publishers themselves come forward for publishing the critical editions. • Avoid data Theft Due to our carelessness, we lost many a rare ms. to foreign countries which we need to buy after requesting them now. What a pity! Now, the same thing is repeated in India, otherwise. Some foreign agencies are making agreements with few government mss., repositories promising that without anything expecting in return, they scan all mss., for free to develop a digital archive. Imagine, once again how ignorantly we allow them to steal the rich heritage of India. It’s sabotage to the country if any authority of any repository is indulged in such activity. Government through NMM has to take stringent actions at such instances. • Courses on manuscriptology Imparting knowledge through some courses with a well balanced curriculum is the need of the hour. Universities and institutions under private patronship should take action to start these courses on Manuscriptology and Paleography. NMM has evolved some guidelines; the same can be adopted here. Some of the courses that can be started are 1. Six month Certificate Course 2. One year PG Diploma and 5

3. Two year Master's Degree The outline for the basic courses and advanced degrees should include script learning and deciphering, history of writing and paleography, critical editing and language training. It is felt that such courses will provide the right platform for students from a variety of disciplines like the sciences or humanities, to explore the knowledge content in mss., 'Let us examine, what the manuscripts say to the readers and inheritors. It says – Save me from water, fire, oil, thieves, rats, loose packing-binding, ignorant people and undesirable persons.' ेभ उदकानलचौरेभयो मूषक यसतथैव च । रकणीय ं पयतेन यसमातकषेन िलखयते ।। अगन े रक जलादक रक मा शलथबनधनात् । मूखशहसते न दातवयम् एव ं वदित पुसतकम् ।।

Acknowledgement: The author thanks Prof. K.E. Govindan of RSVP, Tirupathi for providing valuable inputs. References: 1. Aspects of Manuscritology, edited by Prof. Ratna Basu and Prof. Karunasindhu Das, The Asiatic Society, Kolkata 2005 2. Basic Minimum Standards for Conservation of Manuscripts, National Mission for Manuscripts, New Delhi 2003 3. Fourth Annual Report, National Mission for Manuscripts, New Delhi 2007 4. Vaiseshika Philosophy according to Dasapadartha Sastra, edited by F.W. Thomas, The Royal Asiatic Society, London 1917 5.


Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.