Medieval manuscripts at your fingertips soon

With the aim to bring some of the oldest books back to life, the National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM) has initiated an ambitious project to digitise thousands of manuscripts across the country, some of which date back to the 15th century.

Written in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Persian and some other old Indian languages, the idea is to preserve the cultural heritage of India in an electronic from so that it is available at a click of a button. Until now, the NMM has covered many states and achieved a target of digitising one crore manuscripts. It is also proposing to soon start a special digital library dedicated to manuscripts.

Preserving heritage: The digitisation of a rare manuscript in progress at Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. Pic/Krunal Gosavi

In the city, the NMM has recently started the digitisation project at Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, one of the oldest institutes in the country. The total number of manuscripts here are 28,000 and in a pilot project 300 manuscripts would be digitized by the end of this month.

Speaking from New Delhi, NMM’s Senior Accounts Officer S P Swami said, “Till now NMM has digitised around one crore manuscript pages across the country. We would soon be approaching the Ministry of Culture with a proposal to start a digital library of manuscripts.”

Explaining the need to start the library of manuscripts, Swami said, “Some of the oldest and most valuable manuscripts are in the collection of several institutes in the country. But for a researcher, it is not possible to visit each and every institute to study a specific manuscript every time. With the digital library, a researcher based in Delhi can search for a manuscript at the Bhandarkar institute.”

Swami added that as soon as ministry approves the budgetary provision, the digital library would get functional. NMM has selected eight institutes in the city that have thousands of manuscripts in its collection for several years. Besides Bhandarkar Institute, Deccan College, Anandashram, Itihas Sanshodhak Mandal, Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Ved Shastrottejak Sabha, Vaidik Sanshodhan Mandal, Alandi Devasthan and Parvati Devasthan are on the list.

At Anandashram institute, NMM has completed the digitisation project successfully. “In the last three years, 14,000 manuscripts have been digitized by NMM. The work is almost over at our institute,” said Prashant Nijampurkar, librarian at Anandashram. “Here in Bhandarkar Institute, the project started last month. We have total 28,000 manuscripts. During the pilot project, 300 manuscripts will get digitised by the end of this month,” said Shreenand Bapat, assistant curator at Bhandarkar Institute.

Making it accessible
NMM has started the project of digitising manuscripts in 2007. Till now NMM has covered states like Jammu & Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh and other northeastern states on a priority basis.

In Maharashtra, there are around 100 institutes that deal with manuscripts. NMM has appointed a private firm in Mumbai to cover eight institutes in the city. In Bhandarkar Institute, the oldest manuscript is of Rugveda, which was written during the 15th century.

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