National Mission on Manuscripts

The National Mission for Manuscripts was launched in 2003 as first consolidated national level effort for preservation of manuscripts. The aim of this mission is to locate, document, preserve and digitize the vast manuscript wealth of India to create national resource base for enhancing access, awareness and use for educational purposes. The mission falls under the Ministry of CultureIndira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) is the nodal agency for executing of this mission.

Modus Operandi of the Mission

The term manuscript is derived from the Latin term ‘manuscriptum’, which means hand written documents. Manuscripts were written on bark, cloth, metal, palm leaf, paper among others, which are more than 75 years old.

Under this mission, Manuscript Resource Centres (MRCs) and Manuscript Conservation centres (MCCs) are established across the country. The MRCs includes museums, libraries, Ideological institutes, universities and non-government organizations, which serve as coordinating agencies in their respective regions. The MCCs helps in conserving manuscripts with the help of grants obtained under National Mission for Manuscripts.

Under this mission 31,23,000 manuscripts and 185,88,390 pages have been digitized up to the end of 2014.

India’s manuscripts

India is estimated to possess five million manuscripts, which is probably the world’s largest collection of manuscripts. Also, some estimates puts this figure as 35 million. Apart from this, many manuscripts of Indian origin have been taken by foreigners to their countries.  Famous Chinese traveler Huen Tsang took back hundreds of manuscripts from India to China. Similarly, in the 18th Century King George III of England received an illuminated manuscript of Padshahnama from the Nawab of Awadh.

Indian manuscripts cover a wide range of themes, languages, scripts, textures, calligraphies, illuminations, illustrations and aesthetics. These manuscripts undoubtedly help in connecting India’s past with its future and documents India’s history, thought and heritage.

Objectives of the Mission

  • To facilitate conservation and preservation of manuscripts through training, awareness and financial supports;
  • To document and catalogue Indian manuscripts, wherever they may be, maintain accurate and up-to-date information about them and the condition under which they may be consulted;
  • To promote ready access to these manuscripts through publication, both in book form as well as electronic form;
  • To boost scholarship and research in the study of Indian languages and manuscriptology;
  • To build up a National Manuscript Library at IGNCA.

Other Schemes for Preservation of documentary heritage

Apart from National Manuscripts Mission, the National Archives of India operates two schemes which provide financial assistance for preservation of documentary heritage including manuscripts in India. These schemes are as follows:

1. Scheme of Financial Assistance for Preservation and Conservation of Manuscripts, Rare Books, Old and Rare Documents, Record of History to Registered Voluntary Organizations/Individuals etc.

2. Scheme of Financial Assistance to State/Union Territory Archival Repositories, Government Libraries and Museums.

Expected Outcomes

  • This mission will be helpful in sensitizing people about our rich intellectual heritage and will provide policy inputs for similar future initiatives.
  • Availability of databases will provide an impetus to the research activities across the country.
  • It may create interest among scholars and youth in the field of manuscriptology and training in traditional languages and subjects will receive the required attention.

Problem areas and Steps to address the bottlenecks

There is a dearth of experts like manuscriptologists, trained activists and librarians to work on this mission. The need for devoting many years in learning to specialize a specific language has made the profession less attractive and is the major reason for the lack of experts to carry forward the work.

Case of Sanskrit

70% of the manuscripts are in Sanskrit language. Sanskrit is a scheduled language under 8th schedule of the constitution and also an official language in Uttrakhand.

There are also instances where there is a dearth of experts to read scripts in that Sanskrit language was written down. It must be mentioned here that knowledge transmission in Sanskrit was rarely in written form and most of the transmission happened was oral. With the collapse of gurukul systems, that knowledge has been lost forever with many branches of sacred texts, Vedas and vedangas.

Steps needed to address the bottlenecks

There is an urgent need for the promoting the study of manuscriptology and the institutions working in that field has to be associated with the mission. Also, a huge awareness campaign has to be carried out to encourage private and individual custodians of the manuscripts to contribute to this mission. The study of Sanskrit language also needs to be given importance as 70% of the manuscripts are in that language.

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