Evam Vadati Pustakam: Manuscripts Tell Their Stories

Evam Vadati Pustakam: Manuscripts Tell Their Stories

‘Evam Vadati Pustakam: Manuscripts Tell Their Stories’, an exhibition of a selection of digitised South Asian manuscripts from national and international repositories, was inaugurated on September 13 at the India International Centre (IIC) by S Jaishankar, Minister for External Affairs, at 6:30 pm.

The exhibits illustrate what manuscripts can tell audiences about their authors, the process of composition and the worlds of their readers. It traces the journeys of texts across languages and to different parts of Asia, as well as stories of how manuscripts were collected down the ages.

To be held until September 28 at IIC’s Art Gallery, Kamaladevi Complex, from 11 am to 7 pm daily, the exhibition forms a part of ‘SAMHiTA’ (Sanskrit for ‘compilation’ or ‘collection’) or ‘South Asian Manuscript Histories and Textual Archive’, an initiative of the IIC supported by the Ministry of External Affairs to create a database of South Asian manuscripts in institutions outside India.

South Asia has been a melting pot of cultures and civilisations for centuries. The exchange of ideas and knowledge systems from as early as the 2nd–3rd centuries CE has been preserved in manuscripts crafted out of palm leaf, birch bark or handmade paper. These historical records show how texts connected different regions, linking disciplines and the processes of synthesis through which knowledge evolved. This is a heritage that represents a diverse literature that goes beyond what people view as separate disciplines today, such as medicine, mathematics, linguistic science and metaphysics.

Sometimes, manuscripts might be objects of veneration or serve as guides to practice, including the meditative contemplation of deities. There are theoretical treatises and practical manuals on applied sciences like architecture and agriculture and literature on aesthetic theory and the performing arts; biographies of rulers, ‘sants’ and Sufis; histories of individuals and dynasties; an array of imaginative literature; texts on games, on lovemaking and culinary matters including alcohol.

This exhibition is an ode to the artistry of the scribes, painters and binders who handcrafted these texts with great care; the patrons of authors and translators who facilitated the transmission of knowledge and made the texts more accessible and scholars who studied the manuscripts and restored legacies dispersed over time.

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