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Researchers hit upon manuscript treasure trove - Institute of Tai studies takes up project to preserve and digitise documents

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SMITA BHATTACHARYYA   |   Published 28.07.11, 12:00 AM

Jorhat, July 27: The Institute of Tai Studies and Research (ITSR) at Moranhat in Sivasagar district has unearthed more than 500 Tai Ahom manuscripts after it set up a Manuscript Resource Centre sanctioned by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGCNA), New Delhi, in April.

Girin Phukan, honorary director of the Institute, said in the first phase Rs 4.5 lakh out of Rs 50 lakh has been released and the Institute has started a survey to find Tai manuscripts in people’s houses.

The other two such centres in the state are a Manuscript Resource Centre (MRC) at Gauhati University and a Manuscript Preservation Centre at Sankaradeva Kalakshetra, Guwahati.

“There are thousands of manuscripts scattered all over Upper Assam and till date we have surveyed more than 500, all of them in Tai Ahom language. Later, other languages under the Tai group of languages will be taken up,” Phukan said.

He said work had to be stopped temporarily after the rains started, as it was difficult to send people to the interior villages. Explaining the survey process, Phukan said details of each manuscript would have to be put in a prescribed format. “We have to write about the content, number of pages, how old it is, who has written it, length, breadth, material used and address of the owner.” After that, special software will have to be used to upload the material in computers. Those found to be of importance would be borrowed for some time and then digitised.

“It is a time-consuming task to cover thousands of houses where we have received information that such manuscripts may exist. In the second phase, people will be trained in scientific preservation techniques for different material used for the manuscripts whether on animal skin, bark of trees or cloth,” Phukan said.

IGNCA offered to set up a research centre for preservation of Tai manuscripts at ITSR after Prof. Dipti S. Tripathi, director of the National Mission for Manuscripts, IGCNA wrote to Phukan saying she was not aware that so many manuscripts existed in the Tai group of languages as none was to be found in the manuscript preservation centre at Shankaradeva Kalakshetra.

The letter was written in September last year.

Phukan said despite thousands of manuscripts on Tai history culture and literature, MRC in Guwahati has only worked on manuscripts written in Sanskrit, Brajawali and some other languages and Prof. Tripathi had come to know of this vast treasure only after ITSR wrote to her.

ITSR has already taken up an ambitious project of preservation, documentation and digitisation of important Tai manuscripts and owns about 100 such manuscripts.

Besides digitisation in CDs, ITSR is undertaking transliteration of Tai Ahom manuscripts in book form into English and Assamese after creating a software which can transcript Tai Ahom alphabets.

ITSR is a registered non-governmental organisation set up in 1997. It is dedicated to promoting knowledge of Tais all over the world, their language and literature, art and archaeology, religion, philosophy and their scientific and technological progress, their concern for health and hygiene and human rights as well as the impact of globalisation on them.

Tais inhabiting the Northeast include Ahom, Aiton, Khamti Khamyang, Phake and Turung communities.

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