Feasibility survey of documenting selected 18th-20th century written heritage from Nepal (EAP171)

Aims and objectives

Nepal is one of the few remote places on earth where westernisation and modernisation have been approaching with unparalleled speed. After the democratic movement of 1990 and the national revolution against the traditionally established age-old monarchy this year, globalisation and other modernising social and political processes are intensifying still further. Such changes have brought with them a dangerous challenge to the preservation of written records of high historical and cultural value.

Currently, no detailed and extensive exploratory survey of documentary sources has been undertaken in Nepal. A few documentation works are either related to specific collections, religious scriptures from the National Archives or a particular subject or language area.

Although in a very vulnerable condition, documents of high historical value are still available for proper recording and copying in many places in Nepal. The descendants of old feudal and priestly families, traditional socio-religious institutions such as temples, monasteries, and smaller local and central depositories of government departments all hold them. However, this rich documentary heritage is rapidly vanishing and deteriorating due to natural and human phenomena including theft, mass ignorance, modern material activities, unsuitable weather and environmental conditions.

There are presently many original historical documents already collected and stored privately or in various institutions under loose supervision of historians involved in their collection, all awaiting appropriate archival recording including proper listing, indexing and copying. Similarly, in several government departments, land transaction and revenue documents from between the 18th and 20th century are still stored in a very vulnerable situation. Dust, insects and damp conditions have infected a considerable segment already. Original royal orders can be found in dusty sacks of government papers stored in the old Record Section (lagatphaant) of the Department of Land Revenue and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (old jaisi kothaa) in Kathmandu. Also, there are many socio-religious traditional trusts (guthees) related to leading monasteries and temples where centuries-old documents are still lying without proper inventory.

This pilot project will conduct an inventory survey of documents indicated above by locating and opening old files, bundles, and sacks from different stores and making a standard preliminary list of them. Samples of selected documents from each source will be digitised and microfilmed. This will also pave the way for a future major project documenting these manuscripts digitally and on microfilm. These will be documented from several sources, prioritising on the basis of importance, size and condition of manuscripts surveyed.