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Inclusive bid to save an invaluable past for the future

- ITSR manuscript resource centre holds five-day workshop on preservation of ancient manuscripts

Jorhat, Jan. 7: The priests of early Ahom kings consulted the Lit Du Kai Seng, a manuscript, to foretell auspicious and inauspicious moments. For lesser mortals, the Ban Seng was used to foretell the future.

These are among some of the xansi paat (bark of the Agar tree) manuscripts collected by the Institute of Tai Studies and Research (ITSR) at Moranhat in Sivasagar district in the past year or so.

In a bid to preserve these ancient texts of historical importance, the manuscript resource centre at the institute held a five-day workshop on conservation of manuscripts in collaboration with the National Mission for Manuscripts under the Union ministry of culture. The workshop concluded today.

One of the trainees, Medinee Madhav Mohan, of Parijat, Bokota, who was also involved in collecting data for the centre, told The Telegraph over phone from Moranhat that many people did not know the value of these books and kept them atop dhua saangs (lofts above stoves or fireplaces), thus destroying these valuable documents.

“In one house, though, the owner, Bimal Baruah, knew their value and had kept them wrapped up. However, on opening the wrapping, we found all the manuscripts had crumbled. Many people were so superstitious and in awe of the puthis (manuscripts) that they kept them in one corner of the house and gave them away only after performing puja or sprinkling holy water along the passage through which they were taken out. One Naba Naoholiya did not allow us to access the manuscripts through the house. We had to cut down one wall to take out the puthis,” Mohan said.

Mohan, who has 10 manuscripts in his house, said one was a ballad that spoke about creation of the world, another told the stories of two queens of Sukapha (the founder of the 600-year-old Ahom kingdom in the Northeast) and the others were religious texts.

Explaining how the Lit Du Kai Seng was consulted, Dulen Phukan, an assistant researcher at the institute said sticks were stuck into a chicken and the different positions in which the chicken had been pricked were drawn in detail on the manuscript along with the predictions for that exact position.

Likewise, the smaller Ban Seng foretold sickness or portended bad omens and was used by the common people.

A rare find was a Ban Seng written on a bunch of thin strips of bamboo. One prediction was written on each strip and the one that stuck out when a person consulted it was considered his fate.

“All these interesting things have been lost in time and are in need of preservation,” Phukan said.

About 40 participants, including Nam Phake Buddhist monks, librarians, scholars in the Tai Ahom language, museum staff and a few people who possessed such manuscripts participated in the training on how to preserve these barks from damage by insects, microbes, weather and other factors.

The institute’s honorary director, professor Girin Phukon, who has recently been given a national fellowship in social science by the Indian Council of Social Science Research under the ministry of human resource development, said after the manuscript resource centre was set up, a survey helped them unearth more than 6,000 scrolls lying in houses, many in remote rural areas.