Assam: New museum for ancient manuscripts in Silchar
The oldest manuscript found here was written in 1720 AD

Silchar: Centuries-old manuscripts, preserved in a room at Silchar’s Normal School, have finally garnered the attention of the Central Government. The Union Ministry of Culture recently announced the construction of a museum to preserve these ancient manuscripts, compiled by researchers and scholars here at Silchar.

The history of manuscript preservation at the institutional level in Barak Valley dates back to 1910 when a manuscript preservation centre was opened at the Silchar Normal school on the initiative of the school superintendent, Aghronath Adhikari.

The centre now has more than 200 manuscripts mostly in Sanskrit and Bengali.

Minister of State for Culture and Parliamentary Affairs, Arjun Ram Meghwal, during his visit to Silchar, announced that the ministry would extend financial assistance for a museum at Normal School to preserve and promote the rich and rare manuscripts of the Barak Valley.

The contents of these manuscripts belong to the times of Ramayan, Mahabharat, Mangalkavya, Purana, and Vaishnavite literature and some even date back to days when sorcery was practised.

The year of writing the manuscripts can be traced to the 17th century, according to Manashi Sinha, the school principal. The oldest manuscript, written in 1720 AD, belongs to Karma Kanda of the Smriti Shastra- a Shraddha Vidhi written by Maniram Sharma.

Eminent folk culture researcher of south Assam, Amalendu Bhattacharjee, played a lead role in the collection and preservation of these rare manuscripts.

Speaking to East Mojo, Bhattacharjee said studying these manuscripts will open up many avenues of exploration into the beliefs and values of society in those periods. “In any cultural anthropology, museums make a significant contribution to learning and insights. I was pitching for a museum for this centre for a long time now and I am happy to know that things have started to roll in this direction,” he said.

Expressing displeasure over Assam University’s apathy in preserving the manuscripts, Bhattacharjee said, “The university could have played a significant role in preservation and research of the texts, but unfortunately, we didn’t see any interest from their side.”

Bhattacharjee also underscored the need for the introduction of manuscripts in the academic syllabus for research enthusiasts for them to know more about traditional knowledge that is hidden in these manuscripts.

Manashi Sinha, principal of Normal School, informed that Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies (MAKAIAS), Kolkata has taken the initiative and is cataloguing the manuscripts. “Mostly Bengali and Sanskrit manuscripts have been found here. Those written in Bengali have been catalogued. The work for Sanskrit manuscripts is delayed due to a shortage of experts,” she added. One Assamese manuscript has also been found and preserved.

Sinha added that the contents of Ramayan-era manuscripts found here are somewhat different from what was scripted by Maharishi Valmiki.

Union Minister Arjun Meghwal, while speaking at a programme on September 2, said that the authorities of Silchar Normal School have demanded a national heritage status and his ministry will try its best to accord it. It is ancient and deserves this status, he had said.

Established in the year 1907, Normal School is one of the most oldest and prestigious institutes in Barak Valley.

Bhattacharjee has also authored two books — A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts of South Assam (The Collections of the Normal School) Vol I & II which were unveiled by the minister during his Silchar visit.

Also read | Assam: Hundreds march for justice after gruesome murder of women

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