In its endeavour to conserve manuscripts and historic books in Jammu and Kashmir, the state government has launched several measures to protect the prized possessions for future reference.
The State Archives has registered about 45,000 manuscripts out of which around 20,000 are in private possession. However, in absence of conservation, most of these knowledge and cultural treasures are in bad condition.
Kashmir has through ages continued with the tradition of producing manuscripts and written records on religion, mathematics, medicines and other branches of traditional knowledge.
"Kashmir is known from the earliest times as being a centre for learning and of literature. As such various works celebrated throughout the Indian subcontinent dealing with religion, philosophy, history were composed in the land," said convener of the J&K chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Muhammad Saleem Beg told Greater Kashmir.
These works include Nilamth Purana, Virath Katha, and the chronicles of Kashmir; Rajtarangini. "These early manuscripts, including to what is referred to as Gilgit manuscripts, belong to the pre-Islamic era of Kashmir. Mostly in Sharda or Sanskrit occasionally in pali script these works have been written on birch bark, the only available, durable writing material in Kashmir at that time," he said.
Down the ages, he said this tradition of manuscript writing was further advanced during the Muslim rule, when numerous Arabic and Persian works were either composed or copied for the use of the ruling elite. "Additionally a host of royal libraries established by different Sultans from the 15th century onwards, ensured the need for producing copies of books that were considered to be an essential part of the civilized worlds," he said.
Beg said numerous mediaeval historians have written about these royal libraries which contained thousand of hand written manuscripts. These include books on religion and theology, including Holy Quran, work of secular nature like Shah nameh, Dewan-i-Hafiz, Gulistaan, Bostaan, philosophical, scientific and literary works as well as various histories dealing not only with Kashmir but also the wider Muslim world.
"The huge knowledge and cultural treasure needs preservation and conservation in order for them to remain safe and secure with both private collectors and institutions. However, there is absence of even the basic facility of conservation and guidance for storing and preventive conservation of these manuscripts," said Beg.
To sensitize the custodians of these precious collections, INTACH Kashmir, in collaboration with Department of Archives, Archaeology, and Museums J&K, and support from Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) New Delhi, is organising five-day workshop on 'Preventive Conservation of Manuscripts' at SPS Museum, Srinagar from 23rd – 27th October.
"There are thousands of manuscripts and historic books in possession of private collectors, but they don't know the techniques to preserve them. We will be training stakeholders including private collectors to abreast them about scientific and economical techniques to conserve manuscripts and historic books for future reference," said director Archives, Archaeology and Museums, Muneer-ul-Islam.
Dr. Achal Pandya (HoD, conservation), IGNCA will lead the workshop. Beg said the workshop aims as imparting training through lectures and practical demonstration so that at the participants are equipped with necessary expertise and knowledge about scientific preservation and preventive conservation.
The organisers said the participation for the workshop has been drawn from Research and Oriental Library, College libraries, Department of Archives, SPS Museum and private collectors from Srinagar.
"The workshop will be open for government departments and private institutions and individuals who posses age old artifacts especially books so that those assets can be preserved properly," Muneer-ul-Islam said.