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The Word is Sacred Sacred is the Word: The Indian Manuscript Tradition

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The Word is Sacred Sacred is the Word: The Indian Manuscript Tradition
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Item Code: NAB712
Author: B.N. Goswamy
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 8189738224
Pages: 204 (Illustrated Throughout In B/W and Color)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 11.3 inch X 8.8 inch
From the Jacket

The Word is Sacred; Sacred is The Word: The Indian Manuscript Tradition and the exhibition it accompanies set out to demonstrate the wealth and diversity of India’s manuscript traditions and to communicate a lasting impression of India as a multifarious and multicultural society that holds knowledge and knowledge systems in high regard. Some one hundred precious manuscripts, books, and related documents introduced in this book span a timescale of almost two millennia of Indian cultural history. Often lavishly illustrated, the works come from the sub-continent’s most important public and private collections. The project was a presentation of India as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2006. The exhibition had been orginazed by the National Mission for Manuscripts, New Delhi and the Museum of Applied Arts, Frankfurt.

The National Mission for Manuscripts has brought the exhibition to India, currently hosted by the National Archives of India.

The National Mission for Manuscripts was set up by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India, in 2003 to document, conserve and provide access to the vast manuscript wealth of India spread in thousands of public and private repositories across the country and abroad.

The National Archives of India is the repository of the non-current records of the Government of India and it holds them in trust for the use of administrators and scholars. It is an Attached Office of the Department of Culture under Ministry of Tourism & Culture. Set up in March 1891 in Calcutta (Kolkata) as the Imperial Record Department, it was shifted to its present location in 1926 subsequent to the transfer of the National Capital from Calcutta to New Delhi in 1911.

The National Archives seeks to help in spreading a feeling of national pride in Indian documentary cultural heritage and ensuring its preservation for posterity. Accordingly, it has a vast collection of records and writings. The records holdings alone run into 40 kms of shelf-space area and are in a regular series from the year 1748 onwards though there are stray records of the earlier period as well.

B.N. Goswamy, distinguished art historian, is Professor Emeritus of Art History at the Panjab University, Chandigarh. A leading authority on Indian art, his work covers a wide range, and is regarded, especially in the area of Pahari painting, as having influenced much thinking. He has received many honours, including the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship, the Rietberg Award for Outstanding Research in Art History, and the Padma Shri. Among his publications are: Pahari Painting: The Family as the Basis of Style (Marg, Bombay, 1968); Painters at the Sikh Court (Wiesbaden, 1975); Essence of Indian Art (San Francisco, 1986); Wonders of a Golden Age (Zurich, 1987); Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India (with E. Fischer; Zurich, 1992); Indian Costumes in the Collection of the Calico Museum of Textiles (Ahmedabad, 1993); Nainsukh of Guler: A Great Indian Painter from a Small Hill State (Zurich, 1997); Painted Visions: The Goenka Collection of Indian Painting (New Delhi, 1999); Piety and Splendour: Sikh Heritage in Art (New Delhi, 2000), and Domains of Wonder (with Caron Smith; San Diego, 2005). B.N. Goswamy has been responsible for major exhibitions of Indian art in Paris, San Francisco, Zurich, and San Diego. He has taught, as Visiting Professor, at the Universities of Heidelberg, Pennsylvania, California (at Berkeley and Loss Angeles), Zurich, and Texas (at Austin), and lectured extensively at museums and universities in Europe the U.S. and India.


An exhibition of manuscripts brings forth multiple expressions of a nation into focus-its history, its thought, its imagination, and not the least, its will to preserve for posterity the many creative impulses of bygone ages. It is with this understanding that the National Mission for Manuscripts has organized an exhibition of Indian manuscripts - a richly textured collection of words, images and artifacts, embodying the written heritage of the Indian subcontinent. Displayed in this exhibition are manuscripts from all corners of India, from a wide range of repositories, textual and visual engagements representing various knowledge systems of the past. We aim to bring to the spectators these treatises not for their knowledge value alone, but the art, stylistics and ‘culture’ that went into the creation, preservation and celebration of the ‘word’.

Our the past four years the National Mission for Manuscripts has been engaged with the location, documentation and preservation of the written heritage of India, aiming to create access to and knowledge about the ‘word’ from the past, in the numerous manuscripts scattered in various corners of the country, in institutions and private holdings. Established in the year 2003 by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India, the Mission has a mandate of creating a national electronic database of manuscripts, to be available online-the first of its kind in India. The Mission, through extensive National Surveys, has succeeded in gathering information on as many as two million manuscripts, from which the first online installment of one million manuscripts has been made available on the internet. Through this work, the Mission seeks to increase public access to the wealth-intellectual and aesthetic-of Indian manuscripts. This exhibition is a step in this direction.

The manuscript wealth of India is estimated at five million handwritten texts. It is not a simple exercise for a representative selection to be made for an exhibition like The word is Sacred; Sacred is the Word, particularly since this is the first time that the Mission has put together a display exclusively featuring manuscripts in all their diversity.

I hope that this exhibition will take the spectators through the manuscript traditions of India developed over centuries, the sheer range of knowledge systems, scripts, languages and materials used in creating manuscripts and their exquisite calligraphies, illuminations and illustrations. Initially put together for the Museum fur Angewandte Kunst and displayed as a part of the India Guest of Honour Programme at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2006, the Exhibition was wrapped up in Germany in January 2007. Now it is being showcased in the National Archives in India between 7 February and 7 March 2007.

I am grateful to Mrs. Ambika Soni, the Honourable Minister for Tourism and Culture, Government of India, for making the exhibition possible. In this project, we have received unstinting help from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, for which I specially thank Mr. Badal Kumar Das (Secretary, Department of Culture) and Mr. Raghu Menon (Financial Advisor, Department of Culture). I thank Mr. K. Jayakumar (Joint Secretary, Department of Culture and Director General, National Archives of India) for offering the premises of the Museum of the National Archives of India for putting up the Exhibition. I am obliged to all the institution and persons who have lent their objects, for without their generous support this Exhibition would not have been possible

The exhibition and this book are a direct outcome of the supervision and guidance provided by Professor Dr. B.N. Goswamy who graciously agreed to become the Commissioner of the project, and I record my sincere thanks to him. I also with to record my appreciation for Mr. Parthiv Shah for conceiving and executing the exhibition design and Mr. Abhimanyu Nohwar for his creative involvement.

I am also obliged to Bikash D. Niyogi, Tultul D. Niyogi and Dipa Chaudhuri of Niyogi Offset Private Ltd. For the design and publication support for the book.


Preface 7
Sudha Gopalakrishnan
Introduction: The Word is Sacred; Sacred is The Word9
The Indian Manuscript Tradition
B.N. Goswamy
The Catalogue49
From Clay to Copper51
The Making of a Manuscript83
Fields of Learning109
Veneration, Submission, Worship135
Word and Image141
Royal Commands and Plain Records191
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