Preservation and access of rare early Grantha books (EAP918)

Aims and objectives

Through this project Roja Muthiah Research Library proposes to preserve books printed in Grantha script which are located in various parts of south India. About 1100 books are expected to be preserved and made accessible. At the end of the project, a significant archive of the most important early Grantha publications produced from the second half of the nineteenth century and up to 1924 will be available to scholars.

Grantha script, which has been used predominantly for reading Sanskrit in South India from sixth century CE, has nearly become obsolete in the second half of twentieth century. The script was used in all the four states of south India which has different regional languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. This script acted as an interface for these regional language speaking people to read Sanskrit text. During the latter part of nineteenth century many Sanskrit texts such as literature, puranas, Kavyas were published in Grantha script. Books in genres such as astrology, astronomy, history, rituals were widely printed in Grantha script. Currently the script is being used only by very few people. Very few universities and college libraries hold books printed in Grantha language. Apart from educational institutes, some religious mutts and religious studies scholars have Grantha books.

After receiving feedback from the preliminary application to EAP, a preliminary field survey was organized. A few libraries, religious mutts and personal collections were visited. Some more libraries in Karnataka and Kerala have been contacted through telephone and permission is sought for the field visit. From the knowledge acquired through this survey and through contacts with some of the libraries it is estimated that around 2000 books would have been published in Grantha script till 1924. But no comprehensive catalogue is available to verify this. In some libraries even the librarians are not aware about the existence of books in Grantha script. As there are very few users approaching libraries for Grantha material, they have been bundled and stacked separately. The Librarian decides to discard them thinking that they are of no use to them. They have been requested not to discard or weed out. Many of the books are brittle and in bad shape. It is unknown if any steps have been taken so far to catalogue or preserve these books, making these imprints endangered. These books provide evidence to the existence of a script which was once widely used. As the script is becoming obsolete and the books becoming endangered the existence of this script will be unknown to the future generation if not preserved now.

In this project RMRL plans to conduct a field survey, followed by digitization immediately in libraries across Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala. Conducting survey and undertaking digitization immediately is very important in Indian context. If survey and digitization are done as separate process with a gap in between the collection may vanish because of improper storage or discarding of the material. Sometimes head of the holding institutions may change resulting in the denial of permission to digitize the material. RMRL has faced such situations in the past. The project will first digitize the books in the holding libraries which have been listed in the preliminary survey. Recent floods that deluged Chennai destroyed several collections, so it is therefore paramount that these records are preserved properly in case of future disasters.

Depending on the physical location, condition of the material and permission from the holding libraries the location of digitization of this material will be decided. If the materials are allowed to be transported, they will be carefully transported to RMRL where an overhead scanner will be used for digitization. Digital camera/ portable scanners could be used where ever the material cannot be transported. The unique Grantha books printed before 1924 will be taken for digitization. The books will be returned back to the holding libraries after minor repairing work, along with its digital copy.

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