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Illustrated Manuscripts 

Leafing through the pages of a heritage, a precious vestige of the past could be a very thrilling experience. Added to it is the pleasure of illustrations that compliment the narration. One such treasure is the illustrated manuscripts in Saraswati Mahal Library, Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu. Long before the illustrated story telling began in the modern era, multi-colour paintings, drawings and sketches have embellished manuscripts.  While such illustrated manuscripts, several centuries old, are available throughout India, the Archives of IGNCA has a collection of about 800 slides from select  illustrated manuscripts in the Saraswati Mahal Library. The slides are from four manuscripts selected from the list.

They are: 1 Nayaka nayaki bhava

2. Citra Ramyana

3. Prabodha Chandrodaya

4.Bhavartha Ramayana

These illustrations are not a mere visual treat. They tell their own story about the date of the manuscripts, the social customs, costumes, jewellery, adornments, the hairstyles, the colour techniques and painting styles.  

It is with a view to make there accessible to researchers that IGNCA had undertaken a project of slide documentation of the illustrations of the manuscripts, though the entire manuscript collection has been microfilmed. These slides have been arranged in the order of series. For instance, the horse series, bird series, nayaka nayaki bhava,  Hindu mythology, palanquins, Rg Veda manuscripts etc. This way the illustrations can be approached in two ways. Reader who knows the title of the manuscript can reach them, or researcher, for a comparative study can pursue a series, a theme, in various manuscripts.

The maximum number of slides are in the Hindu mythology series followed by horses. Some precious manuscripts of Maratha origin are in this library. There are 26 slides of illustrations from these.

The slides collection does not cover the entire illustrated manuscripts collection. Only some select manuscripts were allowed to be photographed for the purpose. While anyone can see the slides for interest and reference in IGNCA, the permission to publish them rests with the Saraswati Mahal Library.

Mangalam Swaminathan

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