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Seminar, Workshop, Paper Presentation

Role of Indian Agencies for Conserving Manuscripts with Digitization

Asst. Prof. Baljit Kaur

HOD, History Department,

Trinity College, Jalandhar



India is home to the largest collection of manuscripts in the world. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism initiated National Mission for manuscripts in the year 2003. The study in question concerns digitization of manuscripts and thereby preserves the rich old heritage of our motherland. This paper will bring into light various methods and techniques to preserve our manuscripts. It also highlights the missionary agencies who have Manuscript preserved Rigvedas Manuscript at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune.

Keywords:-  National Mission for Manuscripts, Manuscript Resource and  Manuscript Conservation Centers, DigitizationDigital Manuscript Library


            Manuscript is a key to preserves the culture and essence of a nation. They are indicative of the historical path we have travelled. India is the largest storehouse of Manuscripts which consist of estimated five millions of Manuscripts. They are found on material such as wood/trunk, plants, leaf and handmade paper and cloth that they all need special techniques for  conservation, but unfortunately this heritage of our country is under threat as manuscripts are disappearing with the passage of time. Manuscripts are like the roots of a tree, if the roots are not watered, the tree won’t last long. Therefore, there is a dire need to Project Manuscripts as well as to make the young generation aware of their importance.  Oxford English Dictionary defines manuscripts as ‘a very old book or document that was written by hand before printing facility was invented.’ Etymologically, the word manuscript has been derived from the Latin word ‘Manus’ that means hand and ‘Scribe’ to write i.e. written by hand. Hand written documents are called manuscripts. Hence access, spread awareness and encourage their use for educational and research purposes.

Objectives of study

  • To enhance and preserve the manuscripts to have a database for further research and educational purpose.
  • To refer to the study of  Rigveda manuscripts at Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune
  • To engage and preserve manuscripts through seminars, outreach programmes, awareness and catalogues.
  • A handy and easily accessible life for the future researchers in the form of book and online database.

      A Step Forward to Preserve Manuscripts

         Digitization – is the process of creating a digital image and then presenting it on a computer, local area network or on the internet. One of the significant aspects of science is the notion of change; that is change in observations, change in experimental set up, change in the methods, change in hypothesizing, change in theorization and the change in the overall perspective as well. Thus change is a ceaseless process; nothing remains stationary or static. In other words, we can say that change is eternal and there is a flux. Digital library is a ceaseless change in the total librarianship, is irreversible in its manifestation. For several centuries, paper has been the primary medium for use in the conventional library system, because of its very attractive properties.

India has one of the largest and oldest collections of manuscripts in the world. Today the Palm leaf books, paper manuscripts, birch bark texts, drawings, paintings, art and sculpture etc. are either scanned or converted into analogue material and are preserved on long lasting digital media for the use of future generations. The most important benefit of digital preservation is that it is easy to access and we can conserve manuscripts by digitalizing them for future generation. By reproducing Multiple Digital copies and by putting them for use the originals can be protected. By digitizing the manuscripts, the information can be preserved for a long time on digital media. The paintings and photos etc. of rare manuscripts can be enlarged and reproduction in the colorful environment is possible with digital technology or image technology.

            Dissemination of Information: Most of these manuscripts are stored in museums, libraries, temples and Mutts etc. With a restriction to use them. The digital preservation is not only safeguarding the original documents, but also providing these documents for information dissemination and research purpose via internet and CD-ROM etc.

Transcend Originals: Digital imaging promises to generate a product that can be used for purposes that are impossible to achieve with original resources. It uses special lighting to draw out details obscured by aging, use, and environmental damage. Imaging, this makes use of specialized photographic intermediaries or by imaging at high resolution the study of art factual characteristics has become possible.

Collection Management: Digital preservation provides assistance in retrospective cataloguing, researching, assistance with curatorial functions, managing material movement etc. New Revenue Streams: By making available the digital reproductions at lower resolution to Scholars as a paid service, sale of high quality posters to art patrons around the world  via an ecommerce web site it is possible to generate some revenue. 

     National Manuscripts Library at IGNCA.

       Recent large-scale document digitization initiatives have created new modes of access to modern library collections with the development of new hardware and software technologies. Most commonly, these digitization projects focus on accurately scanning bound texts, some reaching an efficiency of more than one million volumes per year. While vast digital collections are changing the way users access texts, current scanning paradigms cannot handle many non-standard materials. Documentation forms such as manuscripts, scrolls, codices, deteriorated film, epigraphy, and rock art all contain a wealth of human knowledge in physical forms that are not accessible by standard book scanning technologies. This great omission motivates our development of new technology for digitizing deteriorated bound works, damaged manuscripts, and disintegrating photographic negatives that remains cost-effective and easily utilized by non-technical staff.

                There are various National bodies which help in conserving the manuscripts. The organization works in the field of restoration and conservation Indian manuscripts, and their digitization, to promote access and scholarship through research and publication. It has also established a national network of institutions and manuscript repositories, including Manuscript Resource Centers (MRC-s), Manuscript Conservation Centers (MCC-s), Manuscript Partner Centers (MPC-s) and Manuscript Conservation Partner Centers (MCPC-s), spread across the nation. , Pune, the 30 manuscripts of the Rigveda form a valuable part of the collection. These manuscripts evince several unique features in terms of scripts, accentuation marks and support material used, among others.

       Contribution of National Mission for Manuscripts (NAMAMI) is an autonomous organization under Ministry of Culture and Heritage, established to  preserve and digitalize Indian manuscripts, with an aim to create national resource base for manuscripts, for enhancing their access, awareness and use for educational purposes[ The Mission was initiated in February 2003, by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government Of India and Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA is the nodal agency for the execution of this project. It creates bibliographic databases of Indian manuscripts and is involved in the conservation and preservation of the manuscripts. The Mission also got Rigveda manuscripts preserved at the Bhandharkar Oriental Research Centre, Pune, where it runs a ‘Manuscripts Resource and Conservation Centre’, included in UNESCO’S Memory of the World Registar in 2007 In October 2010, the Sayajirao Gaekwad Library (Central Library), BHU in association with the Mission, held a national workshop on manuscript conservation at the library.[

             Thinking the importance of digital preservation, in India too, numbers of projects are taken by different organizations for the preservation of these valuable manuscripts in digital format. In July 2000, a pilot project for digitization of rare manuscripts had been initiated by National Archives of India, collaboration with Department of Science and Technology and National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. Under this project, rare manuscripts, viz. Bhagwadgita, Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc. have been digitized and stored in CD medium. One of the major functions of the National Library of a country is to collect and preserve nation’s intellectual and cultural heritage. Therefore National Library has taken several steps to preserve this heritage as well as to increase the accessibility and awareness of these records. National Library of India, Kolkata is the apex body of library services India. This National Library has about 3600 rare and historically important manuscripts in different languages. These manuscripts are preserved separately in the Rare Books Division. This library has initiated a digitization programme, known as ‘Down the Memory Lane’, to digitize these manuscripts along with other rare books and documents, from its collection. These scanned documents are captured in CDs. Between the year 1999 and 2001 approximately 6601 books and manuscripts containing 2.5 million pages were scanned and archived in 548 CD-ROMs. Established in 2001, Nanakshahi is a registered trust at Punjab for creating a comprehensive Digital Sikh Reference Library. This trust introduced a Project named Virsa under which one hundred fifty manuscripts of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and other manuscripts available in the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh and Kurukshetra University are digitized. In February 2003, the Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India lunched a national level mission for the preservation of the manuscripts; India’s real treasure of culture.


              This work presents our research to develop new methodologies for document acquisition and conservation. These technologies will enable both large-scale and intra-institutional digitization initiatives to include deteriorating and damaged document types while retaining high-quality representations of the content. The ancient documents were once about to disappear or damage are now have a solution to allow inclusion in digitization pipelines. Being sensitive to the materials and techniques used to make an ancient book can reveal all sorts of information about the documents it contains. But like any other kind of repair job, there are bad restorations, too. Therefore, it is the moral responsibility of all the scholars to work on it as to conserve manuscripts is the need of the hour.


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2. A Study of Digitizing Manuscripts in Punjab   (India)

Asst Prof, Trinity College Jalandhar (Pb.), India

Asst Prof, Trinity College Jalandhar (Pb.), India


In old days before invention of printing machine the medium for writing was used clay tablets, metal plates, birch bark, palm leaf, sanchipat, tulapaat, cloth, paper, etc. which have now become a valuable source of information about the past. This old hand-written document is known as Manuscript. preserving and digitizing the manuscripts thereby providing a global access to the scattered,hidden or accumulated treasures of information of Punjab.


 Manuscripts, Digitization of manuscripts, Punjab State Archives Department, Languages Department of Punjab, Directorate of Cultural Affairs, Archaeology and Museums, Punjab


In old days before invention of printing machine the medium for writing was used clay tablets, metal plates, birch bark, palm leaf, sanchipat, tulapaat, cloth, paper, etc. which have now become a valuable source of information about the past. This old handwritten document is known as Manuscript.   

The National Mission for Manuscripts also defines manuscript as the handwritten documents containing knowledge which are at least 75 years old.

India’s manuscripts have for centuries captured the imagination of the world.

seventh century Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang took back hundreds of manuscripts from India. Later in the late eighteenth century, the Nawab of Awadh gifted a superb illuminated manuscript of the Padshahnama to King George III of England.


India is one of the largest repositories of manuscripts produced in different languages and in scripts.

These collections of rare manuscript reflect the rich culture and tradition of this country.

These manuscripts are treated as rare commodities

A sense of religious sanctity and reverence are associated with them.

Different communities still worship the manuscripts as relic.


Image1. Lyrics Sentiment scores plot, 2015

The major writing medium of ancient India was Palm leaf.

Paper was used in place of palm-leaf for writing the manuscripts from the fifteenth century onwards.

A variety of the manuscript on palm leaf a writing material in ancient and medieval India available in Oddisha.

The website of the National Mission for Manuscripts (http://www.namami.org, 2007) also explains the historical aspect of Indian manuscripts.


The North Eastern States are treated as the living museum of people of different castes and creeds.

North East India is known for producing special and indigenously developed types of paper, writing ink, painting material and innovative processes to preserve manuscripts and paintings.

The idea of laminating paper or book covers by using red shellac is also regarded as an indigenously developed technology of this region


The manuscripts are the priceless possession of the library.

Despite of best efforts it is difficult to preserve manuscripts in physical form beyond certain time limit.

A majority of manuscripts are paper and leaf based which have a limited life.

Moreover  so their ageing, deterioration, mishandling, direct human access and intervention, weather, fire and bugs put them to the greatest risk of permanent extinction.

These cultural assets and treasures of information can best be replicated, reproduced, preserved and transmitted for free information use by way of digitization.

Digitization will ensure the security and safety of manuscripts from further deterioration and damage and their multiple accesses by users’ world over at any period of time.


Digitization Initiatives

Many famous libraries took initiatives :

Rampur Raze Library in Uttar Pradesh is one of the World’s magnificent, unparalleled repositories of cultural heritage and treasure house

Digitization started in 2003

In the first phase the library planned to digitize 25,00000 pages.

  1. Joshi Library, Chandigarh started the digitization process in the year 2004.
  • First and foremost was the importance of the collection of the manuscripts
  • The second was the process          of         physical preservation.
  • Third and the most important factor are guidelines from the National Mission for Manuscript (NMM) for digitization and digital preservation.

Punjab University library is also riding digital wave to preserve its rare manuscripts.

Once converted into digital format, the manuscripts would be available online, making them accessible at the click of a mouse.

The library at present has 1,493 manuscripts, of which 537 manuscripts have been digitalized as part of the National Mission for Manuscript.

Department at Patiala has completed the digitization of their manuscripts with the help and expertise of Punjab Digital Library, Chandigarh.


It is  difficult to find experts because the scripts are very old. But, once the process of digitization is complete library would select the software to archive them.

The project intends to make the manuscripts widely available.

It is not possible for everyone to use them at present but users will be able to access them easily once the material is available online. 




British-born Sikhs, Amandeep Singh Madra and Parmjit Singh began their journey of discovery in the early 1990s

They travelled to museums, academic institutions, private collections and libraries around both the UK and the Indian subcontinent to learn more about their cultural heritage.

They discovered a huge wealth of material relating to the rich and fascinating legacy of Punjabi and Sikh culture.

Brought them to light through exhibitions, lectures, TV and radio and a series of books.This brought a light to digitalization.


Unfortunately the government efforts in Punjab for digitizing manuscripts till date have been very slow for many reasons.

Understanding the value and importance of richness of information of manuscripts and other historical rare informative records, the government through its department of Punjab State Archives, Chandigarh has floated an open tender (August 2013) for the digitization of manuscripts, rare books and other records.


Out of 658  manuscript records about 70% of the manuscripts have been digitized at a budget of INR 12 Lakh. The funds are provided in a fixed proportion of 25% and 75% by the State Government and Government of India respectively. The state government has floated a tender based on the parameters and norms of digitization as prescribed by National Mission for Manuscripts, New Delhi.The State Archives Department has already started the process of digitization of their records and Languages with the help of Punjab Digital Library.

Punjab Digital Library 

Punjab Digital Library, Chandigarh  is one of the major contributor of Digitalization of manuscripts in Punjab Its  started its operations as NGO in the year 2003 as a small organization but is now providing services to majority of government, religious, private institutions .

As on 11-01-2013 Punjab Digital Library managed to digitize 7 million pages without charging a single penny from the custodians of these precious treasures of knowledge.

About 2 million pages are available at www.panjabdigilib.org for free global access.

The digitized collection of manuscripts at PDL dates back to 15th century

subjects which includes theology, history, philosophy, medicine etc. in different scripts and languages with a thrust on Gurumukhi.

Over 4500 manuscripts have been digitized so far and it includes 1000 sacred scriptures of ‘Guru Granth Sahib” and the oldest scripture is of 1653.

Besides Gurumukhi, manuscripts in Sharda, Devnagri, Punjabi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Farsi scripts and languages have also been digitized at PDL.

A complete metadata is available with PDL for each of the digitized manuscript including title, year, description, keywords, script, language, author, custodian, completion status, condition, orientation and pages.

The precious collection of 29 manuscripts with Chief Khalsa Diwan, Amritsar, has been completely digitized with the efforts of PDL.

37000 folios have been created and a digital library has been established at the headquarters at Amritsar.

Punjab Virasat Charitable Trust, Chandigarh has been able to complete digitization of 650 manuscripts out of a collection of 800 manuscripts with the help of PDL that started in 2007.

The total collection comprised 58000 folios covering subjects of medicine, literature, religion and language.

The year 2008 saw digitization of 36    manuscripts available with Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee, Delhi culminating into 23000 folios. Shrimoni Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee, Amritsar has offered PDL in 2008  a massive project of digitizing complete treasure of manuscripts and other literature and the project is running in the Parikarma of Golden Temple at Amritsar.

A total of 300 manuscripts and 114000 folios have been digitized and work is being carried out for rest of the 435 manuscripts at Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple).

Image 4. Scatter plot of 2013 with classification based on their mean scores.


The manuscripts undoubtly are the matchless possessions of ancient information which normally remains unscrutinised by the information seekers mainly because these invaluable rare pieces of information are seldom allowed a free access by its keepers. The government efforts must provide a much needed support in terms of providing adequate funds for their maintenance and upkeep, technical and infrastructure support for their preservation, digitization and access, skilled human resource for their careful handling, space for their proper display and use of these artefacts. National Mission for Manuscripts and the state governments should join hands and involve all stake holders to unearth the hidden wealth of manuscripts. An effort should also be made to provide training to scholars, researchers, information seekers and keepers of manuscripts for their handling and usage through lectures, seminars, workshops, exhibitions and programmes that would cover educational institutions.


  1. National Mission for Manuscripts, New Delhi, www.namami.org
  2. Ibid.
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Manuscripts: An Overview. OHRJ, Vol.xlvii, No.3, p.28-32. orissa.gov.in/emagazine/


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