Retrospective conversion of ancient knowledge: issues and challenges: a case study of Central Library, Banaras Hindu University, India.

Author:Tripathi, Sneha
Position:Case study


Indian civilization is one of the world's oldest and most developed civilizations, i.e., the Indus civilization. India's culture is marked by a high degree of syncretism and cultural pluralism. The diversity inherent in Indian society makes it unique. Indian culture reflects the influence of geography, with a long history of foreign invasions and rule, to which India reacted patiently and created a space for the new customs, traditions, and ideas within their own established traditions.

Earlier, the literary tradition was mostly oral and was passed from generation to generation. Later, written transcription was adopted to ensure longevity and wider dissemination of information. Materials such as birch bark, palm leaves, cloth, wood, and handmade papers were used to store the precious knowledge belonging to different areas of the arts, science, social science, etc.

Everyone is directly or indirectly influenced by their society, which, in turn, is reflected in its literature. Thus, these old scriptures symbolize the social and cultural life of any era. Manuscripts mirror our past. The historical and social change is reflected in the different styles and forms of writing over the centuries. Writing as a craft and writing as a communication skill are inseparable in Indian cultural development.

India has the largest and most varied collection of manuscripts in the world. But due to lack of awareness, a vast amount of literature is already lost and the rest available is mostly in a state of decay. There was no effort to document, preserve, or even explore these rare manuscripts lying within personal possession.

The content and style of manuscripts echo the changing concerns of society. They are required to be documented, preserved, and made accessible to the present and succeeding generations to reinstate the glorious past.

National Mission for Manuscripts is an initiative of the Government of India. The project has helped organizations like Banaras Hindu University to preserve their rare and precious collection of manuscripts and make it available to users.

History of the Sayaji Rao Gaekwad Library, Banaras Hindu University (BHU)

The library was established in 1916 in Telang Hall of Central Hindu College. Initially, it had a small collection which was donated by the son of Justice K. T. Telang, Prof. K. P. Telang. The library was nurtured by the eminent historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar. The library was moved into Central Hall of BHU Faculty of Arts in 1921. In 1926, Sir Sayaji Rao Gaekwad made a generous donation of Rs. 2 lakh (200,000) to establish an independent building for the library. In 1941, the construction of the building was completed and library was established. The architecture of the library followed the archetype of British Museum Library. The present collection of manuscripts in Sayaji Rao Gaekwad Library (also known as Central Library) BHU has been built over a period of time by the generous donations from scholars and their families. These donations helped the library to enrich their collection with many invaluable manuscripts and rare documents. Earlier, these manuscripts were kept under lock and key because of the fear of irreparable damage. The access was restricted to research scholars and eminent personalities.

In 2003-04, the manuscript collection of the library was opened to the public. The driving force was the IXth five year plan (1997-2002) of the Government of India in which set a high priority on conservation and preservation of manuscripts and rare documents (9th Five Year Plan, Vol. 2.) This was aided by the efforts of the National Mission for Manuscripts. Better preservation technologies have helped gain the trust of authorities on this issue.

National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM) of India

NNM is an ambitious project launched in February 2003 by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, under the 9th Five-year plan (1997-2002). It was an effort to save national heritage through documentation and representation in different forms and provide more visibility to ensure wider cultural inheritance (National Mission for Manuscripts, 2005).

The mission operates in different states of the country through a network of specifically identified Manuscript Resource Centres (MRCs), Manuscript Partner Centres (MPCs), and Manuscript Conservation Centres (MCCs). These centres work with the objective of collecting data on manuscripts located in different places, from universities and libraries to temples, mathas, madrasas, monasteries, and private collections. An MRC does the job of documenting its own collection and conduct surveys for collections in and around areas/districts. MPCs mainly look after the documentation of their own collections. MCCs look after conservation of manuscripts.

The Mission provides assistance for infrastructure for conservation and preservation of manuscripts. It organizes training...

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