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?
3 thoughts on “The only world that matters”
Nowhere do you find it mentioned in the story that the National Mission for Manuscripts was the brainchild of the previous, communal government, and that it has somehow survived the current commie-led “detox” purge.
Rajiv Malhotra’s Infinity Foundation is running a programme called Traditional Knowledge Systems, the objective of which is to unearth and document Indic knowledge hidden in, among other media, old manuscripts. However, Washington Post viciously attacked Malhotra. The sepoy hired for the hatchet job though was not Rama Laskhmi but a dude who answers to the name of Shankar Vedantham.
Yes, it is indeed commendable. The key is to keep it going and get as much evidence as possible. Because, what we lacked in the past was evidence. With it firmly under our grasp, we can win any debates.
To a certain extent, I believe, the circumstances have also played a part in the way India has been portrayed in the past. As you may know, the ancient Indian roots such as the remains of Mohanjedaro and Harappa were unearthed only in the last century and hence Indian civilization wasn’t at all considered ancient to the outside world until then. It is perhaps not too surprising that these facts lay submerged and not many Indians cared much on this, considering the lack of a political union….
Something which has amazed me is the fact that when so many travellers from foreign countries have visited India, and in spite of our trade with so many countries, we are yet to find any travelogue written by an Indian who might have travelled to the west. Were they too illiterate not to write? or disinterested? or history was not a concept back then in ancient India? or are there any manuscripts hidden somewhere? maybe some scribbling by a Gujarati merchant??
If you read Pankaj Mishra’s “India in Mind”, you will find out the real culprits who changed the image of India in the west (among the layman, because intellectuals in the west were profoundly influenced by Indian philosopohy since the 18th century: voltaire,T.S.Eliot, R.W.Emerson to name a few)
To a certain extent, I believe the negative image of India is largely due to ignorance among the western public, due to the lack of literature portraying India by the Indians…Things though seem to change, with the recent upsurge, “Argumentative Indian” by Amartya Sen, being one of them….
worth your attention:
“Geopolitics and Sanskrit phobia” :
“In Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote that the ancient past of India belonged to all of the Indian people, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and others, because their forefathers had helped to build it. Subsequent conversion to another religion could not deprive them of this heritage; any more than the Greeks, after their conversion to Christianity, could have ceased to feel proud of their achievements of their ancestors (Nehru 1946: 343). Considered the pioneer of Indian secularism, Nehru wrote:
” ‘If I was asked what was the greatest treasure that India possesses and what is her finest heritage, I would answer unhesitatingly – it is the Sanskrit language. This is a magnificent inheritance, and so long as it endures and influences the life of our people, so long the basic genius of the people of India will continue…India built up a magnificent language, Sanskrit, and through this language, and its art and architecture, it sent its vibrant message to far away countries.’
Overview of essay:
This paper discusses the historical and contemporary relationship between geopolitics and Sanskrit, and consists of the following sections:
I. Sanskrit is more than a language. Like all languages, its structures and categories contain a
built-in framework for representing specific worldviews. Sanskriti is the name of the culture and
civilization that embodies this framework. One may say that Sanskriti is the term for what has recently become known as Indic Civilization, a civilization
that goes well beyond the borders of modern India to encompass South Asia and much of Southeast Asia. At one time, it included much of Asia.
II. Interactions among different regions of Asia helped to develop and exchange this pan-Asian Sanskriti. Numerous examples involving India, Southeast Asia and China are given.
III. Sanskrit started to decline after the West Asian invasions of the Indian subcontinent. This had a devastating impact on Sanskriti, as many world-famous centers of learning were destroyed, and no single major university was built for many centuries by the conquerors.
IV. Besides Asia, Sanskrit and Sanskriti influenced Europe’s modernity, and Sanskrit Studies became a large-scale formal activity in most European universities. These influences shaped many intellectual disciplines that are (falsely) classified as “Western”. But the “discovery” of Sanskrit by Europe also had the negative influence of fueling European racism since the 19th century.
V. Meanwhile, in colonial India, the education system was de-Sanskritized and replaced by an English based education. This served to train clerks and low level employees to administer the Empire, and to start the process of self-denigration among Indians, a trend that continues today. Many prominent Indians achieved fame and success as middlemen serving the Empire, and Gandhi’s famous 1908 monograph, “Hind Swaraj,” discusses this phenomenon.
VI. After India’s independence, there was a broad based Nehruvian love affair with Sanskrit as an
important nation-building vehicle. However, successive generations of Indian intellectuals have replaced this with what this paper terms “Sanskrit Phobia,” i.e. a body of beliefs now widely disseminated according to which Sanskrit and Sanskriti are blamed for all sorts of social, economic and political problems facing India’s underprivileged classes. This section illustrates such phobia among prominent Western Indologists and among trendy Indians involved in South Asian Studies who learn about Sanskrit and Sanskriti according to Western frameworks and biases.
VII. The clash of civilizations among the West, China and Islam is used as a lens to discuss the future of Sanskriti across South and Southeast Asia.
VIII. Some concrete suggestions are made for further consideration to revitalize Sanskrit as a
living language that has potential for future knowledge development and empowerment of humanity.