One of the most ambitious and exciting projects in recent years — digitization of India’s ancient manuscripts — has moved a step ahead with the Delhi-based National Manuscript Mission (NMM) creating standards for digitization of close to 30 lakh manuscripts in its care. Old wisdom in a pdf or a jpeg? That’s right. The Arthashastra on a DVD, that too no less a version than the palm leaf manuscript in the ancient Grantha script.
The standardization now, in consultation with four other agencies including the National Archives of India and National Informatics Center, lays down guidelines from image resolution to file format. This should also help when the plans for a library for the manuscripts is rolled out.
Digitizing manuscripts entails scanning, photographing of the often-frail manuscripts and storing the digital data. The project began in 2005 and to date has processed close to 71,000 manuscripts — that’s nearly 93 lakh pages, palm leaves, tree bark folios.
It’s not been easy. Collecting manuscripts in the first place is a task, with little idea of the sources. “It’s like groping in the dark. Surveyors are required to go door-to-door,” says Dipti S. Tripathi, director NMM, on hunting down of manuscripts. The NMM approaches repositories, institutes and individuals. In a survey in Mizoram, the NMM was tipped off about a lady in Tripura who reportedly possesses 200 tribal Mizo manuscripts in the old Bengali script. The search for the lady is still on. “Prior to Christianity coming to Mizoram, tribes used the old Bengali script. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that we find this treasure,” says Tripathi.
One of the challenges is also to find people ready to part with their manuscripts, even if it is only for cataloguing purposes. “At times, it’s practically impossible to get people to show them to us. It takes a lot of cajoling, sometimes we take the help of local elders, or the panchayat,” says Tripathi.
he list of manuscripts was recently made available as a catalogue on their website www.namami.org.
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