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  • The Great Indian Wealth

    Let us Promote Protection of our National Wealth

    Project of Vijnananidhi of ‘National Mission for Manuscripts’ is to protect National Treasures. An international recognition through the Jikji Memory of the World Prize would persuade archivists and collectors that manuscript material has permanent value, and is expected to encourage greater efforts to preserve the invaluable knowledge contained in the physical material of the manuscript. Public pride in such "treasures" inevitably leads to a desire to protect, clean, restore and enhance what the ancestors have provided us and hand it down for posterity. It would also encourage scholars to draw on these resources, by studying and making fresh insights into them.

    Task of protection of our manuscript has been taken by National Mission. The National Mission for Manuscripts was launched in February 2003 by the Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) as the national nodal agency, to safeguard India’s treasure of hand-written manuscripts. An ambitious five-year project, the Mission seeks not merely to locate, catalogue and preserve India’s manuscripts but also to enhance access, spread awareness and encourage their use for educational and research purposes. India possesses more than an estimated five million manuscripts, making her the largest repository of manuscript wealth in the world. But this tremendous pool of knowledge is under threat and manuscripts are disappearing at an alarming rate. They are found on materials such as birch, palm leaf, handmade paper and cloth that require specialized care and conservation.

    The Mission’s programme includes:

    • Surveys, Networking and Communication: The Mission carries out exhaustive surveys through a network of institutions in India and abroad and communication campaigns.
    • National Catalogue of Manuscripts: The Mission has created a new data base integrating information from the National Register for Manuscripts, the Directory of Partner Institutions, Directory of Individual Collections and the Directory of Catalogues.
    • Training: Through training workshops, the Mission in affiliation with partner institutions trains conservators and interested persons in preventive and curative conservation as well as in different scripts in which manuscripts were written.
    • Research and Publication: In consultation with our Manuscript Resource Centres, the Mission publishes rare manuscripts of historical or artistic value. The Mission will also support new research based on lesser known texts and manuscripts.
    • Digitization: Currently, the Mission is conducting a pilot project for digitization of five separate caches of manuscripts – the Gilgit manuscripts in Jammu and Kashmir, illustrated palm-leaf manuscripts, manuscripts in the Assam Valley, Kutiyattam manuscripts in Kerala and Siddha manuscripts in Tamil Nadu.
    • National Manuscripts Library: With IGNCA as the nodal organization, the Mission is creating the National Manuscripts Library to be housed at IGNCA headquarters, Delhi, which will contain digital resources on manuscripts collected from around the country.
    • Catalogus Catalogorum: The Mission supports the landmark project initiated by the University of Madras in 1935 which undertook a comprehensive alphabetical register of Sanskrit and allied works in Pali and Prakrit. The Mission gave it a new lease of life and the next ten volumes will be released by 2008.

    How Mission saves this Treasure

    In the area of Conservation, the Mission contributes to the preservation of endangered manuscripts in three ways. At regular intervals, drives are held in the different parts of the country to carry out basic, preventive conservation of manuscripts. Second, the Mission organizes preventive conservation workshops to train conservators, librarians and other interested persons in preventive conservation of manuscripts. Third, through a network of partner institutions designated as ‘Manuscript Conservation Centres’, the Mission funds and carries out more elaborate curative conservation of manuscripts under threat. The Mission has already prepared guidelines and standards for conservation of manuscripts.

    In Cataloguing, at present, our electronic catalogue or database contains data on about three hundred thousand (300,000) manuscripts, and the database is steadily increasing day by day.

    As Indian manuscripts are found in hundreds of different scripts and languages, many of which are no longer in active use, the Mission conducts three Manuscriptology and Paleography workshops in different areas to train library, archive and conservation personnel in reading different scripts and giving them skills in critically editing manuscripts. The three-week workshop format is very intensive and aims at creating a body of trained manpower that can then be utilized to read and use manuscripts. This helps not only in preservation of manuscripts for posterity but in promoting its accessibility through bringing out translations and critical editions of hitherto unpublished manuscripts reflecting different aspects of India’s scientific and cultural tradition.

    The Mission has also prepared a ‘standards’ document for its pilot digitization project being carried out in five areas around the country.  The Mission is currently digitally reproducing over seven hundred and fifty thousand (750,000) folios of valuable manuscripts in order to preserve them for posterity and make these manuscripts accessible for scholars.

    The Mission is now venturing into the area of heritage education. In New Delhi, ten schools have been selected for a pilot drama programme in which a theatre-in-education expert and his team will conduct workshops with students and teachers and will put up a small performance based on two extant manuscripts—Baburnama and Mahabharata. In August, groups of children from these schools will put up small plays based on manuscripts/texts that they have read. The theatre-in-education groups will also travel to the areas where we are holding our next round of surveys to work with children in cities and in towns in a similar vein through the course of the year. In September, the first ever National Debate for University students will be held on a heritage issue.

    Through all of the above programmes, the Mission has sought to contribute to the preservation and accessibility of India’s enormous manuscript wealth. In the coming year, the Mission looks to linking preservation and accessibility more strongly with the following programmes:

    • ‘Care-and-Conserve’ Camps in ten different locations where people possessing manuscripts will be invited to attend the camp to learn how to better care for their manuscripts
    • National Manuscripts Library at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts building which will contain books, digital resources on manuscripts and computers with our electronic database.
    • Five more Manuscriptology Workshops which link preservation of manuscripts with knowledge of the scripts in which they are found and critically editing them for publication.
    • National Survey in Twelve States in which this time, conservators will be sent along with the surveyors to not only document manuscripts but also to assess their conservation status and carry out basic preventive conservation.
    • Heritage Education in Schools and Colleges

    5.         Describe the impact of this contribution to the preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage, whether at the local, national, regional or international level.

    The force of globalization is forcing communities and governments to adopt strategies for safeguarding endangered their cultural heritage. To support the preservation of our cultural heritage the Indian government has initiated several policies and programmes for the collection, management and preservation of artworks, artifacts and documentary heritage. This is the objective behind the setting up of the National Manuscripts Mission by the Department of Culture, Government of India. The National Mission for Manuscripts is a challenging task. It opens a door to an engagement with the preservation of our knowledge and heritage. It is conceived as a Mission as a Mission-mode signals priority and urgency, facilitates inter-sectoral and collective action, and specifies clear time frames with milestones.  It has become an opportunity for all governments at Central and Provincial levels, cultural and knowledge institutions in the government and private sector and all concerned citizens at the national, regional and local levels to come together to make this Mission realize its objectives.

    The Mission has organized several public outreach campaigns around the country in order to spread awareness about manuscripts as heritage and about India’s intellectual heritage in general. Between 31 January and 7 February 2005, in Delhi, the Mission organized Kriti Rakshana: Manuscripts Week which included a seminar and exhibition on indigenous methods of conservation and a lecture series with eminent personalities who spoke on various aspects of manuscripts. Our partners, the Manuscript Resource Centres, organized day-long programmes around the same time, in their respective cities/towns. In the run-up to surveys around India, a number of local awareness campaigns are conducted in villages and districts including public meetings, street plays and small seminars.

    In order to give our public outreach a boost and to place manuscripts firmly on the heritage conservation agenda in India, the Mission invited an Expert Committee to declare fifty priceless manuscripts as ‘Vijnananidhi: National Treasures’ of India. Through the project, we seek to pay homage to the landmarks in Indian intellectual history through pioneering texts that record India’s achievements in disciplines such as the sciences, philosophy, scripture, history and the arts. It aims to recognize as treasures such manuscripts that have changed the course of Knowledge in India through path-breaking insights and discoveries. The Committee is in the final stage of selecting fifty manuscripts from among over two hundred nominations received. Each of repository in which each of the selected manuscripts lie will be given a fixed sum of money for display, conservation and publication of the ‘National Treasure’.

    The Mission has created a trained manpower of conservationists and people who can read a variety of scripts and edit texts. In the two years of activity, over 300 people have been trained in 19 preventive conservation workshops. About 326 rural and short-term preventive conservation workshops stretching about 2-3 days for communities to look after manuscripts in their local areas. The Mission has also conducted 2 trainers; training workshop to further the skills of conservationists already working in the area of manuscript conservation. About 140 persons have been trained in different scripts through Manuscriptology workshops. There have been three Manuscriptology workshops with five more planned this year and 19 preventive conservation workshops under the aegis of the Mission thus far with ten more planned for the coming year (April 2005 – January 2006).

    In terms of the actual number of manuscripts conserved, preventive conservation has been carried out on 382,340 folios in 88 institutions around India. Curative conservation has been carried out in 21 manuscript collections thus far.

    Through the digitization programme, the Mission is preserving for posterity, the rarest and most valuable of manuscripts found in India by scanning each folio of precious and endangered manuscripts around the country

    Website of Mission

    You can visit to look at some of manuscripts preserved by Mission.

    Address: 5 Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road, New Delhi 110 001