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Longer life for manuscripts

Textual scholars would not have to sift through dusty manuscripts for their research at the central library of Patna University anymore.

The first-ever project of conservation and documentation of old documents that began at the library on Monday would give a fresh lease of life to around 5,000 manuscripts. The oldest one dates to the 16th century. Over the next six months, experts from Manuscript Resource Centre and Manuscript Conservation Centre (MRCMCC) of Patna Museum — a unit of the National Mission for Manuscripts — would continue with the preservation work.

Vibhas Kumar, assistant project co-ordinator, MRCMCC, Patna Museum, told The Telegraph: “The manuscripts at Patna University are possibly the largest collection of such documents at any university in Bihar. We got the approval from the vice-chancellor for conservation work on August 11 last year. But we did not get the formal communication till February 7 when we were told that we can start the project on February 25.”

On the first day, the team of conservationists took care of 27 manuscripts on Vedas, Vedanta, grammar, astrology, justice, philosophy, yoga, Ayurveda, music and Chanda (a Vedic tale). These are written in Arabic, Hindi, Persian, Sanskrit, Urdu, Maithili and Awadhi. The experts also found several dictionaries.

“Two interesting manuscripts we documented today (Monday) were — Kavya Kamdhenu, a 114-page text in Sanskrit written by Mop Dev in 1622, and Shukla Yejurveda, a 213-page document in Mithilanchal script, written 1731,” said Vibhas. He added: “Initially, we found that the manuscripts at the central library have high acid content and are very wrinkled. So we have prepared a cleanliness and primary condition report that we shall submit to the university tomorrow (Tuesday).”

The conservation process is a long and complicated one involving many steps. First, the manuscripts are photographed and disinfected. Then they are kept in a fumigation chamber for around 24 hours to remove fungus. Finally, they are tested for acid content.

“If the acidity is high, we conduct a de-acidification and then dry the manuscript. Then, we laminate them with Japanese tissue paper. Once conserved though this process, the age of manuscripts increases by at least 45 to 50 years,” said Vibhas.


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