72,300 rare, centuries-old palm-leaf and paper manuscripts are set to be digitized by the government of the south Indian coastal state of Tamil Nadu. The manuscripts are currently housed in the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library in the state’s capital city Chennai. Once digitized, they will be hosted on the library’s internet portal.
The manuscripts cover a vast range of subject matter, including discourses on the Vedas, Agama Shastra, mathematics and temple-building. The library is almost a century and a half old, and some of the manuscripts are over 500 years old, though most are in the range of 300 to 400 years of age. Almost two-thirds of the manuscripts are Sanskrit works, while the rest include famed pieces of Tamil drama such as Tirukkural and Tolkappiam.
The project has the blessings of J Jayalalithaa, the state’s Chief Minister or head. The total budget allocated for the project is $470,000, of which $375,000 have been allocated for manuscript digitization. The rest will be used to make digital copies of stone inscriptions.
The project will be handled by the Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu, with direction from experts, both from within and outside the library. Overhead style scanners will be used to avoid damaging the brittle manuscripts.
The Sanskrit manuscripts were already stored in microfilm format by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, and will therefore be taken up later. The non-Sanskrit manuscripts will be given first preference.
Half the work is expected to be complete within a year’s time, based on inputs from the library’s staff.
Much of India’s heritage is crumbling and under retreat. This welcome initiative is fine step in the right direction.