Varsity in Kerala to digitise palm leaf manuscripts

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Kozhikode, Jun 22: The Calicut University (CU) in Kerala has embarked on an arduous venture of digitising more than 12,000 palm leaf manuscripts to preserve the rare literary and scientific heritage for future generation.

The documents, included a 13th century work 'Thirunizhalmala,' 'Ramacharitam' of 14th century, 'Tantrasamuchayam' dating back to 18th century, collected from Kodungallur Kovilakam, and a copy of the first 'Mahabharatam Kilippat' of 1862.

They were written in Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada.

The smallest among the collections was 'Kuvalayanandam' of seven cm length and three cm width, the largest being the copy of a one-metre long 'Harivamsam' and the voluminous 368-page ''Sreedareeyam' collected from Mr Ravi Namboodiri of Varikkamancheri Mana.

The varsity accorded special attention to the digitisation project as slight mishandling could result in damage of the rare manuscripts, copies of which were not available, University's Malayalam Department Head T M Vijayappan, who was coordinating the project told the sources.

The main intention of the venture was to make available the ancient documents on different subjects, including history, palmistry, mathematics, ayurveda, in digitised format to students of research, he said.

In the first phase, more than 12,000 manuscripts, comprising 3,250 works, preserved and catalogued under the 'Tunchan Manuscripts Repository' of the Department of Malayalam and Kerala Studies, would be digitised under special care, he said. Later, in the second phase, it would digitise manuscripts identified in a survey in ancient 'Tarawadus' (houses) and temples in northern part of the state , he said.

The university had proposed to send a team to these houses and temples for digitisation as many of them were hesitant to part with the rare documents, Mr Vijayappan said.

Meanwhile, the university had decided to entrust the digitalisation project with Kerala State Electronic Development Corporation (KELTRON) as they had undertaken similar works in the past, University Systems Administrator V T Madhu said.

Palm leaves had been a popular writing medium for over 2,000 years in South and Southeast Asia. Use of palm leaves for recording literary and scientific texts were reported from fifth century B C, with the oldest existing documents dating back to second century A D.

The leaf for writing were produced from two main types of palms: palmyra and talipot. The manuscripts are typically created by using a metallic stylus to etch letters into the dried leaf and enhancing the contrast and legibility of the script by applying lampblack or turmeric mixed with aromatic oils chosen for their insect repellent qualities.


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