Endangered Archives


EAP373: Documenting, conserving and archiving the Tai Ahom manuscripts of Assam

The Ahom Manuscripts Project will digitize and document the written legacy of Northeastern India’s Ahom Kingdom by photographing and cataloguing approximately 500 Ahom manuscripts (20,000 pages), following best practices and standards for digital imaging, cataloguing, and metatagging, and archiving these materials at the British Library, the Institute for Tai Studies and Research (Moran, India), Gauhati University (Guwahati, India) and Dibrugarh University (Dibrugarh, India).

Founded in 1228, during the great exodus of Tai speakers from southern China that began hundreds of years earlier, the Ahom Kingdom represents the furthest reach of a diverse Tai culture bridging China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Burma. Usually written on Sasi (Aquillaria Agallocha) tree bark, most Ahom manuscripts date to the 17th and 18th centuries, but discuss and/or copy far older texts. They describe all aspects of traditional Ahom life, and have played an active role in maintaining community identity. Among the oldest Tai texts outside Thailand, Ahom texts have seminal cultural, historical, and linguistic value. Separated from Tai culture for centuries, the Ahom branch is essentially unique in never having embraced Buddhism. Ahom texts are free of Sanskrit- and Pali-mediated linguistic and cultural influences that infuse even the 700-year-old Sukhothai Thai inscriptions.

The manuscripts are found in a variety of settings; occasionally well cared for (but not necessarily accessible) in institutions, but more often in private collections held by individual, generally impoverished, families. The material is usually too fragile to be moved, but may be photographed in situ. Many manuscripts are gradually being damaged by Assam’s notoriously wet climate.

An equally important threat is the Ahom community’s diminishing ability to read and interpret texts. Ahom ceased to be a mother-tongue two centuries ago; traditional instruction in the texts is largely a lost tradition. While some Ahom priests can still interpret parts of some texts, most manuscript owners are ignorant of the language, and the manuscripts themselves are increasingly less prized and protected.

The digital images and metadata will be made universally available on-line through the Center for Research in Computational Linguistics, where they will be integrated with existing search tools developed under the Ahom Lexicography project.


EAP373/18: Dulen Phukan Collection

This collection of manuscripts belongs to Dulen Phukan.

EAP373/18/9: Mantra

Level: File
Scope and Content: "This manuscript contains allusions of a priest to God identifying himself as the son of God. There is further mention of the different times of the day in which the priests are able to use and demonstrate their knowledge, nv sai meaning ‘all the morning’ ting khvn ‘middle of the night’ and na kai ting khvn ‘the time that the cock crows in the dark of the night’.This is a book of prayers, containing at least two texts. The first one runs from folio 1r to 4r (images 0001 to 0007) and the second one commences on folio 4v (image 0008), commencing with the words ne him chau nv ru chau kau vi. It appears that the text up to 4r is in the voice of the priestly castes Mohan and Bailung. Folio 8r line 4, and again from Folio 12v contains some information about stars, and the names of some stars/constellations. Folio 8r line 4 and 8v were read by Chaichuen Khamdaengyodtai as aho_20130209_01_PG_H1_Chaichuen_DulenPhukanMantra.wav "
Language(s) Tai Ahom
Script(s) Tai Ahom
Legal & Ethical Usage Policy For research purposes only