Two years back the National Mission of Manuscripts was launched to catalogue India’s ancient documents. These documents in temples, monasteries and mosques are decaying fast due to lack of proper care. For this project some 30,000 manuscript hunters are moving across the whole nation.
After Rana takes off his shoes and washes his hands, he prays at the shrine. Then Jain leads him to the temple’s dimly lighted manuscript room. He opens a creaky steel cupboard and reveals rows of old texts, bundled in yellow cotton cloth. Rana squats on the ground and cautiously holds some pages up to the window light to examine the writing.
“It is in Prakrit language,” he says, referring to a popular dialect of classical Sanskrit, no longer spoken. “The period is early 1600s. It prescribes a model code of living for Jain monks,” a religious order that arose along with Buddhism in the 6th century B.C.
The manuscript project’s officials say the nationwide survey will open a window to India’s ancient knowledge systems: religion, astronomy, astrology, art, architecture, science, literature, philosophy and mathematics
This project has led to the discovery of some very ancient documents.
The oldest manuscripts that India possesses are a set of 6th-century Buddhist texts that were found buried in the hills of Kashmir about 60 years ago. In the last two years, the surveyors have found rare ancient Sanskrit and Arabic treatises on such subjects as diabetes, astrophysics, interpretation of dreams, surgical instruments, concepts of time and the art of war. A 400-year-old handwritten Koran was also found in a locket measuring three inches..[In India, Marking the Paper Trail of History]
Whoever thought of this should be commended.
The article also credits some 18th century European scholars for translating ancient Sanskrit and Buddhist manuscripts and making them available to the world. I hope he means the western world because there was this thing called the eastern world, which apparently does not qualify as a world.
Buddhism spread to China, Korea, Japan and Sri Lanka and many Indian manuscripts were translated into those languages. In fact the very technique which Buddha taught – Vipassana was lost in India and survived only in Myanmar. A ninth-century Chinese translation of the Diamond Sutra was the oldest-known printed book in the world. In fourth century AD, Kumarajiva was invited by the Chinese emperor to translate Sanskrit texts into Chinese and he translated among other things, the Lotus Sutra. Around the same time the Indian scholar Buddhaghosa went to Sri Lanka. The Indian monk Paramartha went to China in 546 AD and Santarakshita translated lot of documents to Tibetan. Besides this many Chinese and Korean students travelled to India and studied and translated documents.
It was in 1844 that the first attempt to explain Buddha’s teachings to the west was done by Eugène Burnouf, an academic at the Collège de France. Only that seems to matter now.
Note: I am currently reading Pankaj Mishra’s book on Buddha and hence the focus on Buddhist history.
Related Links: On China and India, Alberuni, the father of Indian Historical writing?