Digitising Rare Medieval Sanskrit Manuscripts scattered in Newār Settlements in Rural Kathmandu and Hill Areas in Nepal (EAP1023)

Aims and objectives

Nepal has a glorious history of Sanskrit literature written in Newari scripts. The extraordinary contribution of Nepal through preserving Sanskrit original texts of Mahayana Buddhism intact for more than 1100 years is beyond comparison. It made possible to study Mahayana Buddhism in Sanskrit originals. The spirituality of Newar people is the reason to develop manuscript culture during the medieval period. For the Newars, manuscripts are more than merely the texts. Rather, they are deified and worthy of veneration. Thus, manuscripts deserve special place in Newar culture, thereby making it very important.

Sanskrit manuscripts in Nepal were mostly written in Bhujimola, Ranjana, and Pracalit Newārī scripts. Muslim invasion in the twelfth century northern India accelerated massive growth of manuscripts in Nepal. 

When Brian H. Hodgson revealed Nepal’s extraordinary collections of Sanskrit manuscripts, many scholars and monks visited Nepal to procure them. It shows the importance of Nepalese manuscripts. Even though they are so important, neither collectors nor the regime are aware on the importance of manuscripts. No due attention has been paid to preserve them at the private level. A number of contexts and situations made them vulnerable. Ignorance on their significance in the part of owners made them susceptible to destruction. At the same time, insects, rats, and natural disasters such as earthquake are also destroying them.

The Newars society used to procure religious texts during the medieval times due to their religious role. Significant number of manuscripts with sketches and paintings are often taken to illegal markets. The situation is very fearful and they are being completely lost. In such a case, the future generation is being deprived of knowledge contained in medieval and ancient manuscripts. Most of the precious manuscripts scattered in private collections among the Newars are left without attention to decay. Even nobody knows how many manuscripts exist in private possessions. The government, National archives or other concerned agencies never took notice of it.  They are really in very bad and unsatisfactory conditions. Inability to read scripts and scanty or no knowledge of subject matters restricted ordinary people from reading medieval manuscripts. The Newar society in Nepal had less interest or no interest on medieval Sanskrit texts. The lack of awareness and absence of attention on scattered collections left them in the verge of collapse. By all means, Nepal’s Sanskrit manuscripts are endangered literary heritage requiring prompt attention. Certain people are interested to preserve them. During the project EAP790, people showed up with interests to let their collections copy for preservation. Due to the good-will of the project team, even more people showed up to let manuscripts in their possession to survey and produce digital copies. We noticed that manuscripts are still available in old Newar settlements in varied types and subjects. Paper manuscripts were produced by the Newars in medieval Kathmandu from 12th to 18th centuries. They used a number of Newari scripts to write texts. They mostly adapted Bhujimola, Ranjana, Pracalit Newari, Bengali and Mithila scripts. But at the present time, the owners did not do needful to take care of them. This situation contributed   the Newār society to lose gradually the literary heritage and are being disappeared. They are most endangered heritages of Nepal.

Even after completion of EAP790, we continued surveying manuscripts in various places in and out of valley of Kathmandu. While migrating to hill areas in different locations, the Newar migrants carried on medieval religious or other manuscripts for religious reasons. Still those manuscripts are being used as the objects of worship. It made extant manuscripts susceptible to decay. We located and surveyed several rare manuscripts in old Newar households that are not covered by EAP676 and EAP790.  Their condition is not satisfactory.

In addition to endangered situation, there is always the threat of outward migration of ancient and medieval manuscripts through illegal trading. In this situation, retracing of such manuscripts is almost impossible. The other important aspect to note is that sometimes original manuscripts are also reworked to make commercially viable deleting writings and add miniatures. This has been the most dangerous situation. This situation leads to deprive later generations from ancient and medieval wisdom. We have realised the need of protecting them first by locating yet unknown manuscripts and then making them ready for producing digital copies. Because of the existing situation, Our team has continued to survey collections and collect relevant information even after completion of the EAP790 project in October last year.

Our activities during past two EAP projects, awareness and talk programmes held in various Newar localities to highlight need for preservation of medieval Sanskrit manuscripts gave very positive results. We are now able to locate several rare medieval manuscripts hitherto unknown before. Several owners, such as Newar citizens, priests, community leaders, Buddhist Sangha and others from different places showed up to invite us for survey and record preliminary data. They are very happy to participate voluntarily to help producing copies. This time, we intend to explore rare manuscripts in the Newar communities in Sankhu, Tokha, Dharmasthali, Sanga, Siddhipur, Lubhu, Sunkoti, Chapagaun, Bungamati, Panga, Thankot and Thimi in the Kathmandu valley and Doti, Palpa, Thosey, Khandbari, Bhojpur, Trisuli, Bidur, Narayanghat, Bandipur and Barabise in the hill regions. In fact, Sanskrit manuscripts written with various forms of Newari scripts are available only in the possession of Newars. There are various types of manuscripts such as rituals, eulogies, Stotras, Tantras, Chronicles, Śāstras, Sādhanās, Stories, literary genre, grammar, Record of events, indices, polity, medical texts etc. They are still used in rituals and religious performances. Texts like Stotras etc. are recited in various occasions. These are the parts of Newar religiosity. Not only this, those medieval Sanskrit manuscripts of Nepal are important due to their academic nature and worthy in dissemination of knowledge. Because those texts are significant in Buddhism, Hinduism and Indian studies, Sanskritists, and scholars of Buddhism and Hinduism enormously worked on available manuscripts. The proposed project will help further preserving rare medieval manuscripts which are not available otherwise.

 

Outcomes

This project was designed to explore, survey and digitise Sanskrit manuscripts remained in the collection of Newar individuals in the Kathmandu valley and other areas.

The size of digitised manuscripts is as follows -

  • Total Collections: 28
  • Total manuscripts digitised: 478
  • Total folios digitised 24569 Folios
  • Type of digital output: 30 MB TIFF file format converted from RAW
  • Size of total output: 736 GB
  • Age of Manuscripts digitised : 10th to 18th centuries

Significance of the material: These manuscripts are religious (Hindu and Buddhist) and cover literature, medicine, music, Ritual, Vedantic, Epic stories, narratives, Tantra, Shastra, iconography, glorification, eulogy, Grammar, Mahatmya, Puja, and indigenous Kiranta texts.

These are rare texts availed in the Newar societies in Nepal. They are extremely important in the study of various subjects. In addition, some of the religious texts are still in use today.

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