Early-modern texts and modern legacies: Digitisation of Manuscripts, Books, Newspapers in southern West Bengal (EAP921)

Aims and objectives

This project is a continuation of the pilot project EAP643 and aims to digitise a vast and diverse set of pre-modern, early-modern, and endangered documents from various private and institutional collections located in southern West Bengal, India. These include a selection of the manuscripts of Sanskrit and Bangla medieval and early-modern texts held in the collections of Sisir Bani Pathagar, Medinipur Sahitya Parishat, Dr. Shyamal Bera, and Dr. Sukumar Maiti. The project also proposes to digitise rare Odia books and the entire run (1901-86) of the weekly Bangla newspaper published by the Nihar Press, and rare books, manuscripts and periodicals held in Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha and Sadharan Brahmo Samaj.

This material will equip historians and literary scholars to re-engage with the question of the Sanskrit cosmopolis and processes of vernacularization. The Odia books printed in Nihar Press would provide scholars access to a unique cultural archive of a multilingual borderland region that was Medinipur. The material digitised at the Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha and Sadharan Brahmo Samaj Library would equip scholars to understand the historical trajectory of two minority religious movements that engaged with pre-colonial scriptural traditions and theological debates, and significantly shaped public life in modern South Asia. The complete run of Nihar would provide insights into the local dynamics of colonialism, Gandhian nationalism, and postcolonial development. In total roughly 1350 volumes of manuscripts will be copied as part of the project. In addition, roughly 4500 issues of the weekly newspaper (Nihar), and about 200 volumes of religious tracts and related literature of Bengal Buddhist Association and of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj are to be digitised as part of the project.

The manuscripts of Sanskrit and Bangla texts, as well as the printed versions of the Odia books are invaluable resources for the study of multilingual literary cultures in the medieval and early-modern South Asia. The Bangla newspaper Nihar is a key source to understand the local dynamics of colonialism, Gandhian nationalism, and post-colonial development. The Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha collection and Sadharan Brahmo Samaj Library are of exceeding importance as they represent the best extant archives of two minority religions that crucially shaped modern South Asian public life: the Buddhist and the Brahmo.

The core project team consists of the Principle Investigator, Mr Abhijit Bhattacharya, Dr Rajarshi Ghose as the Co-investigator, responsible for most of the academic input into the project and Ms. Jayeeta Mazumder, another Co-investigator, responsible for technical operations.


The project copied 195 manuscripts, 23 printed books, and old issues of a now-defunct local newspaper, the Chuchura-bartabaha from the collection of Sisir Bani Pathagar, Guptipara; 80 manuscripts from the private collection of Dr. Shyamal Bera along with a few rare books and literary magazines; the entire set of the weekly newspaper Nihar from Nihar Press, Kanthi. We also digitised 57 periodicals, 48 books and 3 manuscripts from the depository of the Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha (Bengal Buddhist Association). From the library of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, as many as 491 volumes of rare periodicals have been digitised.  The project also copied 77 books and 73 manuscripts from two small public libraries in the district of Medinipur namely the Birsingha Vidyasagar Memorial Hall Rural Library and the Rajnarayan Basu Smriti Pathaghar.