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Sanscrit , Manuscript in Punjab

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Some time back I saw a news in the web




By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Voice of Silence, Jammu, Saturday August 18, 2007, Page 3

Believe it or not, it is a fact. A rich treasure of knowledge -- an invaluable collection of 9075 Sanskrit manuscripts on various branches and disciplines of Sanskrit literature -- is lying unexplored in Punjab University (PU) library in Lahore since partition. Though they have been preserved properly for decades, hardly any effort was made in the past to study the contents of these manuscripts in detail. Insiders say this indifference was because that the state was least interested in seeking expertise of Sanskrit scholars in India and sharing even an iota of knowledge with them.

This highly guarded secret was exposed when a team of South Korean researches signed a triparty Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in February 2007 with PU to study these manuscripts in detail. Under the project, scholars from Geumgang University of South Korea and University of Vienna, Austria will work hand in hand with their counterparts at PU to explore the contents of the manuscripts.

Geumgang University is a South Korean Buddhist university located in the countryside, under the shadow of Gyeryong Mountain, near Nonsan, South korea. It was the Korean Dr Kang, Professor of South Asian, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Vienna, Austria who played a major role in bringing the three universities together. On a visit to PU library last year, he was stunned to find a sea of knowledge in front of his eyes.

On his return to Vienna, he mobilized all his resources and contacts to win exclusive rights to benefit from these manuscripts before anybody else could put their hands on them. As the story goes, these Sanskrit manuscripts were discovered from PU premises, packed in sacks, soon after the partition.

Written mostly on palm leaves and man-made paper, they date as back as 14th century AD according to careful estimates. The scripts used in these manuscripts are Devnagri, Dravidian, Andna, Sarada, Keral and Prakit. This valuable collection was given the name of Woolner Collection in recognition of Dr A C Woolner who was a professor of Sanskrit in PU. Dr Woolner was also an honorary librarian of PU library from 1903 to 1928 and became vice chancellor of the university in 1928. Earlier, he had been selected as principal and registrar of the university in 1903. Dr Woolner’s statue stands intact right in front of PU’s Pharmacy Department in Lahore even today while no other human sculpture does.

Hamid Ali, librarian and custodian of Sanskrit manuscripts at PU library, tells TNS that about half a dozen manuscripts were acquired in the 1880s when Pundit Kashinath Kante catalogued some of the famous manuscripts in libraries at Lahore, Gujranwala and Delhi. He says after that there were no systematic attempts at any level to collect manuscripts. “It was only when Dr Banarsi Das, Professor of Hindi Oriental college, then a student of Masters, brought to the notice of Dr Woolner the availability of Sanskrit manuscripts which could be purchased on reasonable terms that steps were taken in this direction,” he says. During the period from 1913 to 1936, the PU collection of Sanskrit manuscripts increased rapidly and the figure reached 9075. After that not even a single addition has been made to this treasure of knowledge. The classification and cataloguing of these manuscripts started in 1925 with the help of Sanskrit language specialists.

Hamid says though the list had not been prepared according to international bibliography standards it provides enough information about the manuscripts. Two catalogues of Sanskrit manuscripts in PU library were published in 1932 and 1941 respectively. The catalogues have recently been uploaded on PU library’s website. The 28 disciplines covered in these manuscripts are Nyaya (Justice), Vaisesika (Buddhist school of thought -- Indian philosophy), Sankhya (Another school of thought of philosophy), Yoga (Meditation, Act of self-realisation), Vedanta (Vedic Methods, Self realisation, knowledge of Veda), Sikhamata (Sikhism), Gita (hindu religious book, commentaries on verse), Vyakarana (Sanskrit grammar), Chandas (Sacred poetry), Kosa (Dictionary and Lexicon), Itihasa (History), Purana (Archeology), Mahatmya (Glorious acts, Greatness), Vrata (Religious vow, Simplicity), Bhakti (Devotion in Faith-Doctrine), Stotra (Hymn, Religious Anthem), Alan Kara (Decorative Art-Decorating with ornaments), Sangita (Music), Silpa (Statuary & Sculpture), Kamashastra (Sex, lust, art of love), Jyotisa (Astronomy), Vaidika (Vedic literature), Ratna Sastra (Gems, Essences), Kavya, Campu (Classical Sanskrit poetry, prose, composition of music), Niti (Ethics), Nataka (Drama) and Buddha & Jaina (Jainism & Buddhism). Hamid tells TNS that proper fumigation is done every three to four years to preserve these manuscripts.

Describing the procedure, he says that they are placed in a fumigation chamber turn by turn for 72 hours. “Quality fumigants like Thymol and para-dichlorobenzene are used to increase life of these manuscripts,” he adds. The manuscripts are not accessible to the general public and only researchers can see them in the presence of library officials. “None of the researchers have ever been allowed to take a photograph of them or get any of them photocopied,” he says adding: “You are definitely the first one to take these photographs.”

The level of security is kept very high to save these manuscripts from rackets dealing in illegal trade of artefacts, he says. Needles have been used to write scripts on uniformly cut palm leaves. Once engravings were made, the authors of these scripts would pour lemon grass oil on these leaves.

The oil would seep into the deep spaces and make the writings legible. All the palm leaves with Sanskrit manuscripts available at the library are 1.5 inches wide but their length varies from 3 inches to 24 inches. “The leaves carrying information on particular subjects were kneaded together with the help of a thread without disturbing their sequence,” says Hamid. Chaudhary Muhammad Hanif, Chief Librarian at PU Library tells TNS, that international scholars started coming to Pakistan in groups when all the catalogues were made available on PU library’s website in 2004. “The interest of Korean scholars was worth-seeing as they practice Buddhist religion and have great reverence for ancient Sanskrit scripts on religious topics,” he says. Explaining the contents of the MoU, Hanif says: “So far we have received high-tech cameras and equipment from Koreans to digitise all the contents of these manuscripts. To date, we have not handed them over any manuscript either in original form or in duplicate.”

He says at a later stage -- once the digitization process is complete -- Koreans can come here to teach Sanskrit to our people or take our people with them under a scholars exchange programme. He says once there are sufficient scholars available at PU -- who can read and understand Sanskrit -- translation of these manuscripts will be started with the help of partner universities.”

On completion of this process, the translated content will be the joint property of the Korean university and the PU who will get different books on myriad subjects jointly published in their names,” says Hanif. He says PU’s priority is to get exclusive rights to market such books. “I am dead sure if things go as planned, we’ll have many best-sellers to offer to the global audience in times to come,” Hanif adds.
Really informative. Let us hope that the South Koreans bring the contents to the benefit of the world.
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