The National Mission for Manuscripts was established in February 2003 by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India with a mandate to identify, document, digitize, preserve and render accessible the manuscript heritage of India. Possessing an estimated five million manuscripts, India is the largest repository of hand-written manuscripts, in the world. They are found on materials such as birch-bark, palm-leaf, hand-made paper and cloth, in different languages and scripts, and spread throughout the country in different public and private repositories. These manuscripts are precious reserves of Indic knowledge systems, including streams of science, philosophy, arts and culture.
An integral function of the Mission is to explore, encompass and understand the wealth of information contained in these manuscripts. In an attempt to disseminate this knowledge, the Missions organize seminars, scholarly discussions and public lectures regularly. While the Mission strives to promote and propagate interest in the "traditional" knowledge contained in these manuscripts, it also aims to re-contextualize the approach to this knowledge so that it remains alive and vital to the preset and future generations.
The Tattvabodha Series of Lectures was started in February 2005 as a monthly lecture series held in Delhi and other parts of the country. In accordance with its title, "Tattvabodha" awareness of the Ultimate Reality the lecture series is aimed at providing insights into different areas of knowledge by specialists. Since Prof. Irfan Habib delivered the inaugural lecture in January 2005, the lecture series has established itself as a forum for intellectual engagement on a variety of subjects.
The present Volume is a compilation of the first ten lectures under Tattvabodha. The Mission intends to follow this Volume with more such compilations of the lectures. As the table of contents will reveal, this Volume covers a wide range of topics, broadly categorized into four sections.
Inevitably, India's manuscript heritage has been a recurring theme with the contributors. The first section, "Manuscripts: Context and Relevance", contains four essays. Prof. Lokesh Chandra's paper is a compelling account of the history of the discovery and scholarship of lesser-known Indian manuscripts in Asian countries. It speaks of the often incidental and surprising ways in which these manuscripts were discovered, often in arcane repositories atop Japanese hills and in icy Siberian wastelands.
Prof. Irfan Habib's contribution explores the origins and usages of Persian manuscripts beginning with the thirteenth century, from when they have survived in India, up to the eighteenth century. He addresses questions of patronage, topic selection, biographical traditions, and traditions of writing and illustrations. Between the essays of Prof. Chandra and Prof. Habib the fascinating history of the traditions of Indian manuscripts in broadly covered.
The next two essays, by Prof. Sheldon Pollock and Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan are concerned with pre-modern and modern developments and responses to Indian academic pursuits. Prof. Pollock discusses the processes and assimilation of Sanskrit knowledge and studies on the eve of colonialism. He speaks about the ignorance concerning the intellectual history of India of the late pre-colonial period or "early modern period:, i.e, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. He attributes this to disregard for more recent works by scholars of Indic studies and the fascination of Western scholarship with Indian religious history alone. The result is a narrow focus; only a few texts from a few periods are given due recognition.
However, growing interest in the pre-colonial period has discovered an "explosion of intellectual activities" at the time. Prof. Pollock believes that the assessment of the wealth of early modern Sanskrit history depends largely on the drawing up of an inventor and a thorough study of the texts. However, the effort is often hampered by the reluctance of "owners" individual and institutional to allow scholars access to their collections and the erosion of the philological study of Sanskrit and other classical languages in India.
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan's essay may well be considered the fitting culmination to the section on Indian manuscripts since it raises relevant questions about whether the unpublished manuscript heritage of India is relevant to contemporary academia. Colonial compulsions initiated the decline of India's traditional libraries and its integrated system of knowledge. Cultural amnesia dawned in colonial India, which, unfortunately, continues to the present day. However, today it is increasingly being recognized that the nature of knowledge and the approach to knowledge is and must be multidisciplinary. This, for India, is coming full circle to its roots.
The next section, "Manuscripts and Oral Traditions", contains the papers of Prof. G.N. Devy and Prof. Namwar Singh, which are reflections on the oral traditions of India and their relevance in relations to traditions of writing. Prof. Devy considers it a form of aphasia I modern terms, a loss of speech recognized as a motor damage which condones the non recognition of oral practices as literary practices as in the case of tribal languages. Thus, the collection of manuscripts must encompass all forms of communication, not only the written.
In his paper, Prof. Namwar Singh explains that oral traditions are as important as the written in the Indian context with its history of Smrti literature, which emphasises memory. He warns against the privileging of one against the other, and urges that both be recognized and appreciated.
In the third section, "Textual Traditions", Prof. R. Champakalakshmi's essay illustrates the concurrence of the Bhakti movement and the development of the Tamil textual tradition. She explains that the study of canonical traditions of South India from the sixth to seventeenth centuries cannot ignore the study of literary and textual sources merely on the ground of their alleged modifications and tampering, or the perishable nature of the palm-leaves on which they are written. In fact, the redaction of a text and the creation of a textual tradition are often a part of the developmental process of a religious community. Begun as oral texts, written texts may have simultaneously developed. The author discusses the three major traditions, the Saiva, Vaisnava and Virasaiva, reflecting three major phases of changes in socio-religious, economic and political processes.
Prof. Byrski pays tribute to the text and context of Bharatmuni's Natyasastra in his essay. He dates the Natyasastra, commonly attributed to the third century, earlier by a millennium through the contextualization of the mention of the gods in the text. In the form of theory of theatre, the Natyasastra enshrines the philosophy of action. Prof. Byrski argues that it is possibly the earliest known theory of communication which emphasizes body language rather than speech, and that this kind of theory is without precedence.
Dr. Valiathan's essay elucidates the history of Indian medicine through a study of relevant canons, tracing the development of Ayurveda and its application as a medical system today. Dr. Valiathan's affirms the scientific relevance of Ayurveda but calls for more comprehensive studies of the concerned ancient texts and greater archaeo-epidemological research in India and other countries where the tradition had flourished, including Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Japan, before Ayurveda in fully revived.
The last section, "Knowledge and Beyond", contains Prof. D.P. Chattopadhyaya's essay. An apt finale to this Volume, it is a profound reflection on the position of man in his this world and his quest for understanding life in its totality. Covering different topics and thought-fields, the paper traverses the domains of philosophy, sciences and metaphysical thought. While acknowledging the immense contribution of scientific studies to map and understand immense contribution of scientific studies to map and understand the universe, it challenges the positions that mathematical calculations are absolute and irrefutable. Prof. Chattopadhyaya concludes with powerful observation that despite considerable successes in every field, the human being is intrinsically incapable of transcending the limited self and gaining Absolute Understanding, since he is not, cannot, be God.
About the Book:
The National Mission for Manuscript was established as a five year mission to February 2003 by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India with the purpose of locating, documenting, preserving and disseminating the knowledge content of India's handwritten manuscripts, said to be largest collection of handwritten knowledge documents anywhere in the world. While looking ahead to reconnect with the knowledge of the past, the Mission is in the process of trying to re-contextualize the knowledge contained in manuscripts for the present and the future generations.
The Mission launched a lecture series titled "Tattvabodha" in January 2005. Since then, a monthly lecture series in Delhi and other centres in the country, Tattvabodha has established itself as a forum for intellectual discourse, debate and discussion. Eminent Scholars representing different aspects of India's knowledge systems have addressed and interacted with highly receptive audiences over the course of the past year and a half.
The present volume comprises the first ten lectures under Tattvabodha. A glance at the list of contributors will reveal that the Mission has had the privilege of hosting the finest exponents of Indian culture and the Compilation of their lectures makes for invaluable literature.
The Contributors are listed in alphabetic order: M.K. Byrski, R.Champakalakshmi, Lokesh Chandra, D.P. Chattopadhyaya, G.N.Devy, Irfan Habib, Sheldon Pollock, Namwar Singh, M.S. Valiathan and Kapila Vatsyayan.
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