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National Mission for Manuscripts
SURVEY to identify manuscripts, acquiring or copying and preserving them would form the most immediate tasks of the National Mission for Manuscripts, expected to be launched by early October. According to the Mission Document finalised by the Department of Culture, there is no accurate account of the number of manuscripts available in the country. Various sources place the estimates differently. Hence, it becomes imperative to identify the manuscripts available, as they are with custodians ranging from institutions to individuals.
The manuscripts once identified have to be acquired or copied so that they can be preserved at least in the state they are in. It is this urgency that Secretary Culture, Shri N. Gopalaswami, underlined while inaugurating a one-day seminar, where the Discussion paper for the Mission Document was circulated. Quoting the words of Whiltey Stokes, Secretary to the Council of Governor General in 1868, the Secretary Culture said what was said about manuscripts in India 134 years ago was still relevant.
Mr. Stokes then writing on the state of the manuscripts had said that `no time should be lost in taking measures to save the manuscripts which are degenerating because of the climate, white ants and declining interest.' Experts, subject scholars, government representatives and the implementing agencies participated in the seminar to consider the proposals in the Discussion Paper.
According to the Discussion Paper only a small percentage of the manuscripts has been surveyed and catalogued and their number may not be more than 20-25 per cent of the estimated total. The most daunting task for the Mission arises from the fact that the custodians of the manuscripts are dispersed and unidentified. Manuscripts are in the possession of various institutions - libraries, museums and archives, religious bodies, private collectors as also individuals. According to a conservative estimate there are over five million manuscripts in India in various forms and scripts, 60,000 in European countries and 1.5 million in South Asia and Asian countries. Sanskrit manuscripts form 67 per cent of the total number. Some of the practical difficulties anticipated are in preserving the manuscripts once they are identified. Since the manuscripts are in different forms and materials like birch bark, leather, palm leaf, paper etc. it is necessary to train the owners of the manuscripts in their preservation.
The Mission has designated IGNCA as the Nodal Agency for implementing the Mission. The Mission has an estimated outlay of Rs. 250 million for 5 years. The implementation period will coincide with the 10th Five-Year Plan. The Directorate of the Mission will be located at the Centre and IGNCA will also set up a National Manuscripts Library.
The IGNCA Trust will constitute the National Empowered Committee for the implementation of the Mission, chaired by the President of the IGNCA Executive Committee. The Empowered Committee shall have as members the member Secretary. IGNCA, Secretary Culture, The Director General of the National Archives and 10 - 15 others nominated by IGNCA.
Opening discussions at the seminar, Prof. N.R.Shetty, Member Secretary, IGNCA, gave a short background on the work the Centre has done with regard to documenting, preserving and dissemination of the manuscript wealth of the country. He also emphasized on the need to create a National Register of manuscripts as one of the first steps in the implementation of the Mission.
A substantial number of Indian manuscripts have been taken outside the country. It will be part of the Mission's efforts to get copies of these manuscripts, for which budgetary provision has been made. The Mission will also extend financial help to institutions, universities and other sources that have considerable number of manuscripts to improve their storage facility. Some of the States where major wealth of manuscripts are available are Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa. (See list for major State administered institutions with huge collection of manuscripts)
The Mission Document states that the objectives of the Mission are: (1) To enhance the access to the manuscripts, improve awareness about cultural inheritance and encourage the use of manuscripts for educational and research purpose and lifelong learning; (2) to facilitate conservation and preservation of manuscripts through training, awareness and financial support; (3) to document and catalogue Indian manuscripts, wherever they may be, maintain accurate and up-to-date information about them and the conditions under which they may be consulted; (4) to promote ready access to these manuscripts through publication, both in book form as well as machine readable form; (5) to boost scholarship and research in the study of Indian languages and manuscriptology; (6) to build up a National Manuscripts Library at IGNCA.
Copyright IGNCAŠ 2002