Tai-Phake priest reveals 'golden' literary past - Community seeks government's help to preserve five ancient manuscripts on gold plates
|The head priest of Nam-Phake shows one of the gold manuscripts on Thursday. Picture by Rafique Uddin Ahmed|
Dibrugarh, June 25: Five ancient religious manuscripts on pure gold plates are languishing in a monastery library in a Tinsukia village and would have probably remained unknown to the world had a priest not taken the initiative to reveal the “golden past”.
Bhante Gyanpal Bhikkhu, the head priest of the Buddhist monastery in the historic Nam-Phake village, has revealed for the first time that they have in their possession five manuscripts in pure gold.
He has now sought the government’s help to preserve the rare manuscripts which are believed to have been brought to Assam from Myanmar around over 200 years ago.
Nam-Phake village is home to the Tai-Phake, a reclusive and small community.
They were one of the earliest people to have arrived in Assam from Thailand and a branch of the Tai-Ahom race that ruled Assam for 600 years.
The village was in the news recently when Thai princess Rajkumari Mahachakri Sirindhorn made a short trip to the village earlier this year.
Nam-Phake’s head priest today said a large number of manuscripts — written on different objects like handmade pulp-paper and the leaf of sanchi tree — have been lost because of lack of preservation. “We have sought the government’s help to preserve our remaining manuscripts, including the golden ones. We have written to the government for help,” he added.
The gold manuscripts are called Lik-Kham (in Tai language lik means book and kham means gold).
“These sacred golden scripts are read only when a young monk takes diksha and are studied in a special enclosure called the seemagha which is adjacent to the main temple,” he said.
However, it is not known what kind of ink was used to write on the golden manuscript. Generally, the other manuscripts on leaves or bamboo or “sachipaat” are inked with a special composition made from ashes of dry buffalo skin, intestines of rohu fish, rusted iron soaked in water.
The monastery’s library now has only around 400 manuscripts, though there were 2,500 just a few years ago. “In all, there are five such manuscripts in gold. The size of three manuscripts are 18 inches in length and six inches in breadth, while two others are 14 inches by six inches,” the head priest said.
Prof. Bhimkanta Baruah of Dibrugarh University, an authority on ancient manuscripts in Assam, confirmed that “gold manuscripts had never been used in the history of the state”.
Assam’s earliest manuscripts date back to the 13th century.
Baruah, who has also done research on the manuscripts of Nam Phake village, said the community’s library was a “treasure house”.
“When I visited the library in 2006, they had nearly 2,500 manuscripts. But now their number has come down drastically because of lack of proper preservation. Conservation efforts should have been taken up earlier,” he added.
The Nam-Phake village itself is under threat from the Buri-Dehing, a major tributary of the Brahmaputra. The gushing waters are also slowly eating into a huge Buddha temple.