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Manuscript house hunt
- Eye-opener on 750-yr-old Buddhist text from thieves

Santiniketan, Oct. 3: An antique thief's confession in Siliguri has led to realisation that a 750-year-old manuscript worth over Rs 2 crore in the black market is in the possession of Visva-Bharati University.

Six months after Rabindranath Tagore's Nobel medal and other memorabilia were stolen from the Rabindra Bhavan Museum here, efforts are underway to take the manuscript out of the Indo-Tibetan department and place it in the memorial museum, which now has a more stringent security system in place.

On a nationwide hunt to locate Tagore's medallion, the CBI recently arrested a couple in Siliguri trying to sell an old Buddhist manuscript along with some antiques. During interrogation, they said they were aware of the 'priceless' manuscript in Santiniketan.

The CBI immediately informed the university authorities, who went into a tizzy. 'That a couple in Siliguri is aware that a manuscript (in Santiniketan) is priceless makes it clear that antique smugglers had set their eyes on it,' a senior CBI official said.

The manuscript seized in Siliguri had a gold-plated cover similar to the one here.

Titled Prajna Paramita, meaning perfection in knowledge, it is one of six Buddhist holy texts. About 750 years old, it runs into 1,000 pages and has been in the Indo-Tibetan department for the past nine years.

'My friend Bimalendra Kumar and myself bought the manuscript from a Lama in Kalimpong for Rs 3,000 nine years ago and kept it in the library for the sake of students of Tibetan culture,' said Naren Dash, the head of the Indo-Tibetan department.

After the arrest in Siliguri came to light, Dash got in touch with the Visva-Bharati authorities with a request to move the manuscript from the departmental library to ensure safe custody.

He said: 'When I came to know about the market value of the manuscript, I thought only Rabindra Bhavan could provide adequate security.'

A university official said the first page of Prajna Paramita is scribbled with liquid gold ink. The manuscript was taken out of the library yesterday and will be kept in a 'safe place' till the formalities to shift it to the museum are completed.

The Indo-Tibetan department has over 6,000 manuscripts and several Mongolian paintings. Many of the manuscripts have historical significance.

Vice-chancellor Sujit Basu assured the Dalai Lama during a programme in Calcutta recently that a manuscript centre will soon be set up to ensure their upkeep.

The ministry of culture is said to be working on the proposal to set up the centre.

Sunil Sarkar, the registrar, today said: 'We are also digitising valuable manuscripts for preservation.'

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