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Ratna Bharali Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2017-11-10

35,000 pages of 533 manuscripts kept preserved in the archive of Dibrugarh University digitised


Digital preservation of textual heritage of medieval Assam has achieved another milestone with completion of digitisation of 35,000 pages of 533 manuscripts kept preserved in the archive of Dibrugarh University for preservation and for easy access of scholars and researchers, thanks to an initiative of the Department of Assamese and the Centre for Studies in Journalism and Mass Communication (CSJMC) of the University.

The process of conservation and digitisation of over 800 manuscripts preserved in the Departmental Archive of Department of Assamese began in 2015 as part of a project funded by National Archive of India and Centre for Advanced Study (CAS). While the National Archive of India sanctioned Rs.5 Lakh for conservation and cataloguing of the manuscripts, the cost of digitisation has been covered as CAS project. The Department of Assamese of the university is the only Centre that has been recognised as the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) by University Grant Commission in North East in the stream of Humanities and Social Science Study.

The Departmental Archive of manuscripts covering a large period between 16th and 19th Century, is a unique treasure trove of Assamese literature and an important knowledge support with contents of medieval history, incantation-literature, rites, medicinal practices to cure animals, devotional songs, astrology practices, among others, says Prof. Satyakam Borthakur, Chairperson, CSJMC.

These manuscripts are primarily written on Sachi pat (Agarbark) and Tula Pat, in three different languages -Sanskrit, Tai and old Assamese language. The scripts include Kaitheli, Bamuniya (old Assamese) and Tai. The archive also has some manuscripts written on handmade papers during British period, Prof. Borthakur adds.

A manuscript, as defined by the National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM) “is a handwritten composition on paper, bark, cloth, metal, palm leaf, or any other material dating back at least seventy-five years that has significant scientific, historical or aesthetic value.” It has also clearly said that “manuscripts are distinct from historical records such as epigraphs on rocks, firmans, revenue records, which provide direct information or events or processes in history. Manuscripts have knowledge content.” ( http://www.namami.gov.in/what-is-menuscript)

About 80 per cent of the process of conservation and cataloguing of all the manuscripts have been completed so far, apart from digitisation of 533 manuscripts, Prof. Borthakur said. Some of the manuscripts of the Department Archive include Bhakti Pradip ( complete) Dharma Puran (266 pages and complete), Kansha Badh, Ghora Hatir Darabar Puthi, Khetor Polowar Mantra, Bibah Bidhi, Prayog Ratna Mala, Bira Jora Mantra, Jyotish Sastra, Hastarekha, Ratnawali Pod, Jotan Suddhi, Kalika Mantra, Narod Panchatnatra, among others.

Two most significant treasures of Vaishnavite literature- The Kirtan-Ghosa, written by Sankardeva, the 15th century Vaishnavite saint and social reformer who propagated Eksharana Namdharma during 15th and 16th Century in Assam and Naam-Ghosa written by his chief disciple Madhabdeva - preserved in the archive are very important in terms of textual criticism of manuscripts literature, he said. Another important component of these treasures is the Charit Puthis, or the biographies of Vaishnavite saints of different period.

The first volume of Tai Mahabharat titled Dhammaputtam, written in Tai language is another significant collection. Apart from the digitisation, it has also been composed and translated into Assamese. The original Tai Mahabharat has three volumes, Prof. Borthakur adds.

A team of seven students and the teachers of the Centre have been associated with the process of digitisation. The three phase digitisation process includes taking digital photographs of manuscript pages, scanning and finally editing. Stating the Centre has minimized the cost at Rs.2.75 Lakh for 35,000 pages by undertaking digitisation at the department itself, Prof. Borthakur says that for the digitisation of the remaining manuscripts the CSJMC has already approached the CAS. The digitisation process has also helped the students to gather necessary skill of how to digitise our heritage property, while pursuing their courses.

Once completed, the digitised Archive will be made available in the public domain. Among the 533 manuscripts digitised so far, 21 have already been released in the public domain and uploaded on the website of the University.( https://www.dibru.ac.in/schools-of-studies/humanities-and-social-science/dept-of-assamese).

The digitisation process also has recorded the details of cataloguing such as – author’s name, subject, language, script, index number, date, description (variety of folios, size and number), remarks (whether complete or incomplete ), and the name of the original owner.

It was leading educationists of the university including Dr. Leela Gogoi and Dr Keshabananda Deva Goswami, among others, who took painstaking efforts to collect these manuscripts from different parts of the state and preserved them in the archive for further conservation, study and research.

“We hope the digitisation will help interested students and scholars to have easy access to this unique tradition of written literature of human history in Assam. We also hope this will gear up transcription, translation and further research of manuscripts tradition in the state,” says Nirajana Mahanta Bezborah, Head of the Department of Assamese.

Assam has a very rich tradition of manuscripts writing. The Chitra Bhagavat and Ratnamalavyakarana – two important manuscripts that have been kept preserved in Krishna Kanta Handique Library of Gauhati University have been enlisted among 45 manuscripts as ‘Manuscript Treasures of India’ by NMM.

Apart from the manuscripts preserved in Dibrugarh University, the NMM has already completed digitisation of 1,58,695 pages of 2,286 manuscripts preserved in Srimanta Sakardeva Kalakhetra and 1,56173 pages of 2,091 manuscripts preserved in Krishna Kanta Handique Library of Gauhat University. The NMM since its formation in 2003, has been so far digitised 2.61 crore pages 2.96 lakh manuscripts throughout the country in four different phases. (http://www.namami.gov.in/our-programmes) .

Ratna Bharali Talukdar



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