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Manuscripts unfold new vistas of medieval India

The medieval Indian manuscripts relating to Tantras, restricted only to its practitioners till now, have been

india Updated: Apr 14, 2006 16:34 IST

The medieval Indian manuscripts relating to Tantras, restricted only to its practitioners till now, have been brought into the public domain by the National Manuscripts Mission (NMM).

Of the 12 lakh manuscripts documented by the NMM during the last three years, 50,000 are on Tantras -- giving detailed descriptions of the rituals meant for "satisfying" spirits and supernatural elements.

"These manuscripts are the exact texts of mantra/scripts chanted during the tantric practices prevailing at that time in various parts of the country -- Kaula in Kashmir, Bhairava in western India and Yamala in Central India," says Dilip Kumar Rana, Assistant Mission Director of NMM.

The NNM has found nearly 16 lakh manuscripts across the country. It has also digitalised 40,000 of the 12 lakh documented ones. Written on palm leaves, paper and birchbark, these manuscripts show the traditions, ranging from mythology to magic, music, dance and arts.

"During documentation, NMM found texts of manuscripts relating to various areas like Vedas, Vedantas, tantras, religion, history, philosophy, mythology, medicine, economics, art, drama, yoga and agriculture," reveals Rana.

"We have over one lakh manuscripts on the religous epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana," he adds.

Manuscripts on religious subjects like Smriti, Dana, Abhiseka, Upanayana and Vrata have also been found. Puranas like Buddha Purana, Sthalapurana and Jaina Purana constitute the text of manuscripts documented by the Mission set up by the Culture Ministry.

The languages include many existing languages like Assamese, Gujarati, Himachali, Kashmiri, Kannada, Sanskrit etc. Similarly the scripts include Arabic, Dvanagari, Oriya, Persian and many more.

"These manuscripts corroborate the fact that India had a glorious saga of cultural diversity with various languages, social systems, beliefs, practices, music, arts and traditions in medieval period," he says.

Rana says about 60 per cent of the manuscripts documented were in Sanskrit written in Devanagari script followed by those written in Pali and Bodhi script.

The documented manuscripts belong to the period between 12th century and 18th century when India was ruled by the rulers of slave dynasties, Mughals and Britishers.

"As India came under various rules during this period, the culture was enriched with the advent of several social systems, philosophies and ways of living," he says.

NMM, which was constituted in 2003 with the objective to document and conserve the old manuscripts from across the country, has a target to digitalise one lakh manuscripts by next year, says Rana.