A Case study of Manuscripts preserved in B.C.Gupta Memorial Library of Guru Charan College in collaboration with National Manuscript Mission : A detailed study conducted by Shrimati Jayanti Chakravorty
Manuscript Heritage of Barak Valley in Assam by Jayanti Chakravorty, Library and Information Science Professional
International Seminar onColonial note from thecontinuity of Culture : Emerging Study of Manuscriptology organized by : Department of Bengali Assam University Silchar 1st March, 2012 to 3rd March, 2012
Manuscripts Preserved inB.C.Gupta Memorial Central Library at Silcharin Barak Valley : A Survey Presented by : Jayanti Chakravorty Library and Information Assistant Central Library, National Institute of Technology Silchar
Definition of ManuscriptThe word ‘Manuscript’ is a derivative from the LatinPhrase, manu scriptum, which means ‘written by hand’.The Antiquities Art Treasures Act, 1972 defines manuscript as aRecord of scientific, historical, literary or aesthetic value and whichhas been in existence for not less than 75 years.So a manuscript can be defined as,• a hand written document• which has scientific, historical, literary or aesthetic value and• which is at least 75years old.
Manuscripts treasure of India:The glorious past of the great Indian culture lies in herancient manuscripts.India possesses an estimate of five million manuscripts,probably the largest collection in the world.Since ancient times, the Indians produced high classpainting, sculpture, architecture, music and poetry. Theywrote learned treaties on various subjects, such asGrammar, Philology, Logic, Philosophy, Politics,Astronomy, Medicine and Surgery, Physics andChemistry. They left behind sure proof of their amazingskill in Engineering, Irrigation, Ship-building and inmany other arts and crafts.
It is estimated that out of 5 million Indainmanuscripts, 60 thousand manuscripts are lyingin European Countries and 150 thousand inAsian and South Asian countries.A total of 1 million, out of the 5 millionmanuscripts have been recorded in cataloguestill now.Language-wise percentage of manuscriptsbeing, Sanskrit - 67%, Other Indian Languages 25% and Arabic, Persian and Tibetan 8%
National Mission for ManuscriptsThe Mission set up in 2003, by the Government of India,endeavours to un-earth and preserve the vast manuscriptwealth of the country lying scattered in various institutionsand private collections.The Mission alongwith Indira Gandhi National Centre forthe Arts is working with specially identifiedManuscript Resource Centres – MRCs andManuscript Conservation Centres - MCCsall over the country with the objective of locating,documenting, conserving and disseminating the knowledgecontent of India’s manuscripts. B.C. Gupta MemorialCentral Library, Silchar is such a centre for ManuscriptResource and Conservation in the Barak Valley.
Barak Valley : A brief introductionPhysio-graphically, historically and socio-culturally, the valleyis an extension of undivided Bengal of pre-independent India,known as Surma Valley, comprising of the Districts of Sylhet andCachar in the Assam Province of British India.With hill tracks on three sides and plain land opening only in thewest the valley demarcates the natural border between theriverine Bengal and the hilly Northeast – a factor having a majorhistorical significance on the growth of the valley’s socio-culturaland educational fabric. In Epical period of Indian history, whenAryan Civilization marched into Greater Bengal from the NorthWestern India and a cultural synthesis took place to develop agreat Bengali culture, the same trend, in its east-ward march,advanced towards the Ganga-Padma Basin and to its extension,to Surma-Barak Valley. Thus this Valley, surrounded by mightyhills, remained for a long period, the last outpost of the AryanCivilization in the east.
Manuscript Preservation in Barak ValleyThe history of Manuscript preservation in institutional levelin Barak Valley dates back to 1910 when a ManuscriptPreservation Centre was opened in the Normal School atSilchar at the initiative of the then School Inspector LateAghornath Adhikari with active assistance from otherre-knowned teachres of the school and scholars like LateRamesh Chandra Bhattacharjee, Late Abdul Bari, LateTarini Charan Das, Late Jagannath Deb and others. TheCentre functioned actively for two decades approximatelyand had a preservation of nearly 200 manuscripts, writtenmostly in Sansakrit and Bengali and a few in Persian.
B.C.Gupta Memorial Library,G.C.College, SilcharEstablished in 1935, this library is the oldestacademic library of this region. It has been servingthe higher education students, teachers, researchscholars and people from other walks of life sincelong past, much before the Public Library systemor any sort of library service was set up in thisremote part of the country. This Library has aholding of nearly 40,000 Print Vol. and 50,000 E-books. The Library introduced Open AccessSystem in 2003, E-Library facilities in 2005, &Digitization initiative in 2010.
The Manuscript Resource and Conservation Centre ofthe Library is assigned to operate in 12 Districts ofAssam, 3 of them in Barak Valley and 9 in BrahmaputraValley. The Centre, operating since 2005 runs variousprogrammes in survey, documentation and outreachevents. It has surveyed and documented approximately10,000 manuscripts in Jorhat, Sivsagar, Golaghat andNorth Lakhimpur districts and provided preventiveconservation treatment to approx. 3000 rare Vaishnavaitmanuscripts at Majuli island. The centre has surveyedand documented approx. 2700 manuscripts in BarakValley. Conservation activities of the Centre started inDecember, 2010 and so far, 91 rare manuscripts havebeen preserved and accessed.
SURVEY OF THE PRESERVED MANUSCRIPTSLabeling : The core of the Library’s Manuscript collection comes from thedonation of 9 individuals and 1 family. All the Donors are inhabitants ofBarak Valley or descendents of scholars hailing from the Surma Valley inEast Bengal. These gifts are reflected on the labels of the manuscripts aswell as in the Accession Register. The Donors and number of Manuscriptsdonated are reflected hereunder : Shri Amitabha Chakraborty 35 Dr. Bidyut Kumar Bhattacharjee 16 Shri Shib Sadhan Bhattacharjee 15 Shri Mrinmoy Chakraborty 4 Shri Rajarshi Chakraborty 3 Dr. Usha Ranjan Bhattacharjee 2 Shri Shankar Chakraborty 2 Shri Umananda Bhattacharjee 2 Late Kali Prasanna Bhattacharjee 1 Family of Late Mukunda Das Bhattacharjee 11
Types & Contents of the ManuscriptsThe manuscript collection of the Library reflects a broad outline ofthe kind of books people of this area wrote, compiled or editedduring the early eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. Themanuscripts include Books on Vedas, Puranas, Smriti, Darshan,Mantra, Tantra, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Literature and Sanskrit Grammar.No books on Science, History, Geography, Sociology, Fine-arts andsuch other subjects have yet been procured. However, the centre hasjust started its activities and with the present accession of 91manuscripts in total, no conclusive assertion can be made.The quality of the manuscripts are fairly good. The style, the hand-writing and the layout of the pages bear the testimony of sincerityand devotion of the authors or the scribes.
Subject-wise Classification of Manuscripts is as under :Veda 1Purana 11Smriti Shastra 35Darshana - Nyaya Shastra 1Dharshana – Shrimad Bhagawad Gita 3Mantra 6Tantra 4Jyotish 3Ayurveda 5Literature 8Sanskrit Grammar 12Assorted manuscript of Smriti, Jyotish, Ayurveda 1Un-classified 1Total 91
The only manuscript on Veda relates to KarmaKanda of Shukla-Yajur Veda.All the 11 manuscripts on Puranas are from theMarkeyanda Purana, 9 of them are on Chandi, 1on Ruchi Stava and 1 being a Chandi ShapoddharVidhi. It indicates that there was a prominentShakti cult of worship-form prevalent in this area.
The majority of the manuscripts accessed are onSmriti Shastra, a total of 35 of them. Thoughthe term Smriti in a broader sense covers allHindu Shastras except the Vedas, here the termrefers to the compiled codes or manuals ofHindu life. Out of the 35 manuscripts on SmritiShastra, 17 are on Puja Vidhi, 7 on ShhradhhaVidhi, 4 on Brata Vidhi, 2 on Dana Vidhi, 2 onSamskar Vidhi and 3 are of general category.Bratas are generally observed by the womenand availability of manuscripts on Brata Vidhiindicates that the women also took equal partsin performing socio-religious rites in thisregion.
One manuscript in the archive is on Dol Yatra Vidhi byRaghunandan Bhattacharjee, edited by Madhusudan DevaSharma. Raghunandan’s Smriti is of a much later agethan Manu’s and it is applicable particularly to the Hindusociety of Bengal. From these findings it can be assertedthat the Surma-Barak valley is, literarily and culturally, anatural extension of Greater Bengal.There are 4 manuscripts on Darshan – 1 on NyayaDarshan and the rest 3 are on Shri Shrimad BhagavadGita, an appertain from the Mahabharata.
There are in total 6 manuscripts on Mantras –Gangastakam, Vatuk Stava, Chandika Shapoddhara,Mahimna Stostram and 2 anthologies of various mantras.The 4 manuscripts on Tantra are basically guidelines forcertain Kabach preparation – 1 manuscript is onBhutadamani Kabach, 1 on Sarva Siddhi PradayakaAbhisheka Vidhi and 2 anthologies of Kabachpreparation.There are in total 8 manuscripts on Jyotish and Ayurvedaand 1 manuscript on assorted subjects. The availability ofthese manuscripts show that there were scholars in thesesubjects in this area in ancient times.
There are as many as 20 manuscripts onlinguistics – 12 on literature and 8 on SanskritGrammar, a testimony of the fact that theacademic atmosphere of the Barak-Surmavalley was very rich since the earlier times.Out of the 12 manuscripts on Literature, 3 areon Epics – the Ramayana and theMahabharata, 3 on Narrative Literature – theMangal Kavyas and Pachalis, 1 on Niti Shlokaand 1 on Kavya.
Language & Script of the Manuscripts and the materialsused for writingOut of 91 manuscripts, the language of 85 manuscripts isSanskrit, 5 are written in Bengali and 1 in both of the languages.Of the 85 manuscripts in Sanskrit, 84 are written in ArchaicBengali script and 1 in both Archaic and Modern Bengaliscript. Of the 5 manuscripts written in Bengali language, 3 arewritten in Archaic script, while 2 are in modern script. Thescript of 1 bi-lingual manuscript is Archaic Bengali.In middle ages, the materials used for writing manuscripts weretree skins, tree leaves, paper and mainly parchments – madefrom the skins of animals. But in our survey not a singlemanuscript was found on parchment – they are either on TreeSkin or Sachi Patra or on Paper.
Time Period of the ManuscriptsThe year of writing the manuscripts could betraced out only in case of 12 manuscripts; theyears range from 1720 AD to 1886 AD whichcovers a long period of nearly two centuries. Theoldest manuscript, written in 1720 AD belongs toKarma Kanda of the Smriti Shastra – aShhraddha Vidhi written by Maniram Sharma.This manuscript points out to the fact that thewave of Aryanization came to this part of thecountry long back, at least in the late part of theseventeenth century or even earlier to that.
General ObservationProduction of a manuscript required intricate andlaborious craftsmanship. Though the details of theprocess varied in different regions, the materials andmethods were almost the same, sincerity and devotionbeing the yardstick of perfection.Availability of as many as 20 manuscripts on literatureand grammar brings forth the fact that the academic andliterary pursuits of the area was of a very high order andas pointed out earlier, this area was always been a part ofthe greater Bengal – socially, culturally and emotionally.
ConclusionThe manuscripts in possession of the G.C.College-M.C.C are unique in their contents and value. Theyoffer fascinating glimpses into the ancient culture of theregion. A detailed study of these manuscripts will openup many avenues of exploration into the beliefs andvalues of the society in those periods of Indian history.Proper dissemination of the contents in the manuscriptswould open up new arena of knowledge and variegatedinsight in to the socio-religious-educational backgroundof the entire area.