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Prime Minister lighting the lamp at the Mission launch function


Prime minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, launched the National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM) on February 7, 2003, in New Delhi.  This Mission with an initial outlay of Rs.35 crore aims at surveying, identifying, collecting, copying, cataloguing and publishing of manuscripts that are lying scattered all over the country in the custody of various sources.

Launching the Mission, the Prime Minister said, "the NMM is different from the other missions undertaken till now.  In this the benefits are neither direct nor visible....I believe that the NMM will bring to light many more Mohenjodaros and Dwarakas.  Referring to the technological aspect of the Mission, the Prime Minister noted that modern science asks proof for claims and this very science (modern technology) is providing tools for resurrecting these proofs of our glorious past.  Shri Vajpayee highlighted three aspects of the mission: since 70 per cent of the manuscripts are in Sanskrit, the teaching and learning of the language will have to be further promoted, several institution that are already working in the field will have to be associated with the Mission and finally, a huge awareness campaign has to be undertaken to encourage individual custodians of manuscripts to come forward and give them to the Mission.  The Mission was announced by the Prime Minister in his August 15 speech from the ramparts of the Red For last year.  The Department of Culture is the implementing Ministry and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts has been declared the nodal agency for the Mssion.

Former President Shri R. Venkataraman, Trustee of the IGNCA Trust said, of all the ancient civilizations, the Indian civilization alone is live.  India has a huge wealth of knowledge on all subjects in these manuscripts as yet undiscovered.  He emphasized on the need to approach individuals as a vast number of muscripts are lying in personal custody.   He cited the valorous attempts by U. Ve. Swaminatha Iyer in collecting and publishing Tamil manuscripts.  He said that it was then discovered that people had tied them in gunny bags and stored them in lofts.  These will have to acquired, he said.

(LtoR) IGNCA Trust President Dr. L. M. Singhvi, Former President of India, Shri R. Venkataraman,

Prime Minister Shri A.B. Vajpeyee, Culture Minister Shri Jagmohan and Culture Secretary Shri Dhanendra Kumar


Dr. L.M. Singhvi, President, IGNCA Trust, hailed the "will" of thePrime Minister in launching the Mission, Describing the moment as historic, he said it had not come a moment too soon.  "Much has been lost and more is in danger of being lost," he added.  The neglect of our manuscripts had been going on for long, even before the British came to India, Dr. Singhvi said.  He pointed out that foreign travelers who came to India did not take away precious gems and gold but carried back manuscripts.

Union Minister for Cultural and Tourism, Shri Jagmohan in his welcome address said the manuscripts that have come to light, and archaeological evidences such as the Rock Art that has been unearthed have changed the perspective about India.  The task of the Mission is complicated he said and added that it was a challenge to the young scholars.  He also mentioned that manuscripts that have gone out of the country would also have to be recovered.  Secretary Culture, Shri Dhanendra Kumar presented the Vote of Thanks.

The Mission Document released on the occasion by the Prime Minister, along with a CD on the Mission details various aspects of the Mission.  It says: "The voluminous nature of this task can be judged form the fact that at the present pace, it may take another five years to complete the new Catalogue Catalogorum and this itself may still not be a comprehensive listing, since a large number of collections (of manuscripts) with temples, mutts and individuals are still not listed or indexed."  Following are some excerpts:

Number of manuscripts - An Estimation

  • Total Number of manuscripts in India                              5,000,000
  • Indian manuscripts available in European countries              60,000
  • Indian manuscripts in South Asia & Asian countries           150,000
  • Manuscripts recorded in catalogues         (approx.)          1,000,000 
  • Percentage of manuscripts language wise -   

          -  Sanskrit                                     67%

          -  Other Indian Languages             25%

           -  Arabic/Persian/Tibetan               8%

There are over 77 libraries outside India where major collections of manuscripts of Indian origin exist.  Some of the major foreign libraries are:

Denmark:  Royal Library, Copenhagen

France: Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris

Germany: Preussiche States Bibliothek Berlin, Universitas Bibliothek, Leipzig, Staats Bibliothek, Marburg, Bayerishe Staats Bibliothek, Muenchen

United Kingdom: British Library, London, Royal Asiatic Society, London, Bodleian Library, Oxford, Indian Institute, Oxford, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge

Nepal: Darbar Library, Kathmandu

Pakistan: Punjab University Library, Lahore

Sri Lanka: Museum Library, Colombo

Technology to be adopted

There has been considerable debate on the technology to be adopted for the preservation of manuscripts in electronic form.  The Mission Document has decided that after taking several factors into consideration, microfilming is the most long lasting of all available technology while digitization has to be done to enhance access.  "Digitization offers important new possibilities, both as a surrogate and, in a more limited context, as a preservation technique for archives in the traditional medium of paper and parchment.  Digtization, however, does not remove the need for interpretative skills to understand a document and its context, and the digitized image, if it is to serve a wide public, will often have to be accompanied by explanatory material.  Preserving manuscripts in the form of microfilms has been advocated on the ground that it has a longer life span and is not subject to the uncertainties associated like obsolescence of software and hardware, unlike digital technology" the Document says.

Objectives of the mission

  1. To facilitate conservation and preservation of manuscripts through training, awareness and financial supports;
  2. 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;
  3. To promote ready access to these manuscripts through publication, both in book form as well as electronic form;
  4. To boost scholarship and research in the study of Indian languages and manuscriptology;
  5. To build up a National Manuscript Library at IGNCA.


  • The output of the Mission viz. National Directory of custodial institutions and individuals and Subject Directories will be a first major attempt to bring together basic information about the manuscript wealth of India.  Apart from sensitizing people about the rich intellectual heritage of India, the Mission will provide vital policy inputs for future initiatives to be taken to conserve, preserve, digitize, improve access and save manuscripts for posterity.
  • Availability of consolidated databases will provide a big impetus of new fields of research across the country that have hitherto not been attempted or are still in infancy because of the difficulties in accessing sources of information.
  • Considering the wealth of information available in manuscripts, the Manuscripts Mission is likely to generate immense interest amongst research scholars and institutions to impart training in traditional Indian languages and subjects.  The esoteric field of manuscriptology will become more open to potential researchers and youth.
  • A National Manuscripts Library to be set up, as part of the Mission will provide central access to manuscripts and improve accessibility to all the stakeholders.
  • Employment Potential: Through the Mission it is anticipated that about 1000 educated persons and language experts will gain contractual employment over periods ranging fro 6 months to 5 years.

Anyone who possesses manuscripts or has knowledge of their existence may please share their information with the Mission Directorate.  They can approach Member Secretary, IGNCA in this regard.


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