Preserving Marathi manuscripts and making them accessible (EAP023)

Aims and objectives

Marathi is a New Indo-Aryan language with inscriptional evidence extending back to AD1012 and literature beginning in the 13th century. Manuscripts of this literature are found in university and monastery libraries and in private homes, mostly in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Some Marathi manuscripts are extremely rare and valuable; a significant number are copies of texts that have not yet been published and of which most people have therefore not even heard. These manuscripts provide most of the extant evidence for the early phase of one of the major regional cultures of India. Many are in a state of neglect and have not been systematically catalogued, in most cases they are not carefully preserved and in no case have they been made easily available to scholars.

Under this pilot project to be carried out with the Marathi Manuscript Centre in Pune, as many manuscripts of Old- and Middle-Marathi will be collected as can be obtained and 300 selected manuscripts will be microfilmed. The overall goal is to collect, preserve and make accessible these manuscripts, of which it is estimated there are more than 25,000 in Maharashtra.


The pilot project succeeded in producing good microfilm and digital copies of 300 Marathi manuscripts. 36 reels of microfilm and 6 DVDs of digital copies have been deposited with the British Library and another set of digital copies remains in the Marathi Manuscript Center in Pune, India. The pilot project was also very successful in teaching the team about preservation technology and its availability, about collections of Marathi manuscripts and their accessibility, and about the politics of collecting and preserving manuscripts. It is hoped to expand the project into a major research proposal in the future.

Difficulties were experienced in obtaining permissions from other institutions for their manuscripts to be copied – as a consequence, in this pilot project the manuscripts are representative of the collection of the Marathi Manuscript Center of: a) works of the Varkari poet-saints, beginning with Jnaneshvar and Namdev in the 13 th century and extending to Niloba in the 17th century; b) works of the ‘Pandit' poets of the 17th and 18th centuries; c) notebooks of songs used by performers of kirtans and other types of (mostly) Vaishnava) religious performances; d) a number of manuscripts on Yoga, astrology and other kinds of sciences, including the science of horses; and e) manuscripts of the vast literature of the Mahanubhav sect.

A future major project would concentrate on those manuscripts held by private owners or by monasteries.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: