The Punjab Chronicles

DEBUNKING the popular belief that the Punjabis care two hoots for their literary figures, he says: ‘‘The two t revered figures in Sikh history after the Gurus happen to be scribes, Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Mani Singh’’. Bhai Gurdas has a status next only to the Sikh Gurus. ‘‘And even the second Sikh Guru was asked by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev, to write down the hymns’’.

Mann adds that though the status of preservation of Sikh manuscripts needs to be given some serious thought, the original manuscripts still survive. Even before the Guru Granth Sahib was anointed as the Guru, handwritten pothis (texts) containing hymns had already made their appearance. The Guru Harsahai Pothis of 1550s, the Goindwal pothis of 1570s and manuscripts at Guru Nanak Dev University and t importantly the original Kartarpur pothi in 1604. Punjabi writers too seem to have placed an emphasis on making their ink ‘‘worm proof’’. For instance, the recipe of the ink used was unique. Copper Sulphate was dissolved in neem wood to make the
ink bitter, which made it worm proof.

‘‘The Islamic tradition of paper-making had already arrived which made Sialkot the centre of paper producing industry in north India,’’ says Mann. And Lahore was the centre of book binding. An interesting fact about Sikh scriptural texts was that they were bound in cowhide. ‘‘This was unimaginable in the Hindu tradition,’’ says  Mann.

‘‘All historic books had illustrations, while scriptural texts were gilded,’’ says Mann. The Sikh attitude towards the scriptural text was borrowed from Islam, where religious texts commanded religious authority. The three texts,
the Quran, the Sufis Tarkiras and temporal history like Ain-e-Akbari and Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri left a deep imprint on Punjab.

The manuscripts have survived primarily since they are objects of reverence. In the nineteenth century, the royal courts became centres where such manuscripts were presented. Surprisingly, cases of disappearance of such manuscripts have emerged only recently. At least three historically important texts have disappeared in the recent past. The increasing value of such texts in the international market is reported to have contributed to such disappearances. Unfortunately, the techniques of preservation continue to be outdated.

Coupled with this is the emergence of three centres which routinely cremate old religious texts. Located at Goindwal Sahib, Ludhiana and Majun Da Tilla at Delhi, they collect all available old religious texts, and cremate them with pomp. ‘‘This process has led to many handwritten manuscripts being destroyed’’, Mann regrets. At Goindwal Sahib, an entire gurdwara has been constructed only for the cremation of the old Sikh scriptures.

So much for preservation.

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