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History stays ciphered for want of scholars

The treasure trove of four crore rare manuscripts, dating back to Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji and Peshwa era, are lying untouched at the state archive department, Pune division, for the want of scholars, who can decipher these documents written in Modi script.

As of now, there are only 25 academics in the city who can interpret and index Modi manuscripts. But the number is too small compared to the mountain of documents lying around. As a result, a massive chunk of history remains ciphered.


Coded heritage: Over 80 per cent of the documents treasured at the archive department are in Modi script. Pics/Krunal Gosavi

“It’s impossible for us to decrypt such a vast number of documents, as we are hardly 25 people,” historian Pandurang Balkawde told MiD DAY.

Balkawde is among a few who can read and understand Modi script. He said decryption was a time-consuming process and requires a lot of people to move at a steady pace.

“After 1957, the state removed Modi from the syllabus and that is the reason why we hardly find scholars who can read and understand the script,” Balkawde said.

About 80 per cent of the documents at the archive department’s office are in Modi, comprising copies of land and residency records, ancient maps and alienation office records from the Peshwa era.

“The archive department is a haven for those who visit it for research purposes. However, every scholar can’t read Modi. Therefore it is necessary that documents which are relevant be decrypted,” historian Mandar Lawate said.

He observed though a lot of amateurs come to him to learn Modi, only a handful of them succeed in comprehending and reading the script.

A history lover and a surgeon by profession Dr Uday Kulkarni said the state’s apathy has resulted in the current loss of standing of the script, which was officially used here till the 19th century before Devnagri was adopted to write Marathi.

“The process decrypting the original copy of the 1916 Easter Proclamation (Declaration of Independence) in Ireland was completed in eight years, with dedicated and systematic efforts. Similar efforts are needed to decrypt manuscripts in Modi,” he said.

When contacted, assistant director of archive department Anuradha Khanvilkar said the work of indexing was in the process, but it wasn’t necessary to decrypt each and every document. 

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