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HERITAGE WATCH: Archaeology Dept archiving pearls of great price

  • Rare antiques, from centuries old manuscripts to royal decrees, in storage at National Archives
KATHMANDU, AUG 09 -

Some of Nepal’s finest historical assets dating back to the eighth century are preserved carefully at the National Archives under the Department of Archaeology (DoA). More than 30,000 centuries old handwritten texts on traditional Nepali papers, palm leaves, birch barks and various other mediums along with microfilms of over 180,000 ancient texts and scripts are in its storage.

“More than just texts, this collections is a reflection of culture, civilisation and the transformation of religions,” says Prakash Darnal, chief of the National Archives. According to him, the manuscripts are reservoirs for a number of endangered scripts such as Ranjana and Bramhi. “As long as these archives are intact, these scripts are safely recorded in our pages,” he says.

The ancient texts in the collection are in various languages and scripts, namely Nepali, Sanskrit, Newari, Tibetan, Maithali, Hindi and Awadhi. Many of the texts are unique in their usage of gold and silver ink. While some are legends and myths, others are moral stories passed down from generation to generation. There are dramas and hymns, and treatises on astrology, medicine, philosophy and religion. Among the collection are 8,000 rare Tibetan manuscripts and block-prints dating back from the 11th and 12th centuries through to the 19th century, relating to oriental history, culture and religion.

A palm leaf manuscript of the Hindu Skanda-Purana, copied in 810 AD in Lichchhavi (Gupta) script is one of the oldest available Nepali manuscripts. An eighth century Saddharma-Pundarika, a palm-leaf Buddhist manuscript in the Sanskrit language but also written in Lichchhavi script, is another of the oldest treasures in the National Archives. The archives also possesses Nyayabikasini (Manavdharmanyaya Shastra), King Jayasthiti Malla’s legal code, believed to be the oldest Nepali written code of law dating back to 1308 AD. Additionally, there are a number of copper-plate inscriptions and approximately 3,000 rubbings, primarily from stones.

Royal decrees, orders issued by past governments and authorised officials, treatises, and sundry historical letters, including Shyaha Mohars, Lal Mohars, Sandhipatras, Ekchhapatras, Dwichhapes, Rukhas and Eshtihars, form another section of invaluable documents in the collection. Lal Mohars (official decrees) from King Grivana Yuddha Bikram Shah, dated 1812 AD, deputing Kedar Nath Jha to look after the palace books is yet another interesting document. According to Darnal, the King’s Lal Mohar signifies the beginning of royal interest in books and ancient scriptures. “Many of the ancient manuscripts we have now were collected and preserved by

Kedar Nath Jha after the decree was issued,” says Darnal. “The collection in the royal palace continued until Bir Shumsher shifted it to the Bir Library at Ghantaghar in 1900.” After that, the collection was shifted to the DoA after its establishment in 1952 and then again to the National Archives in 1967.

Between 1970 to 2001, the manuscripts were preserved under microfilm by the Nepal German Manuscript Preservation Project. Apart from its own collection of 30,000 texts, the National Archives also collected scripts from various other sources to place under microfilm record, totalling 180,000.

Posted on: 2012-08-10 07:21


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