Bringing alive the world of Indian manuscripts

At home with the title of the show, executed on the behalf of National Mission for Manuscripts, Dr Goswamy says: “ The title came naturally to me. It stems from the quintessential Indian attitude of honouring the written word. From the t banal of subjects to the t elevating ones that the written word seeks to convey – this attitude persists. It is from this attitude that the title comes.”

No wonder an element of sanctity shines through the manuscripts that form part of the show. But weaving the show into the desired pattern was not easy, considering close to five million manuscripts are still extant.

“And these are only a fraction of the numbers that must have been written over the centuries. Those that survive have been written in a bewildering range of languages; they spring from a layered network of different knowledge systems and address a complex range of issues. All this makes the study of manuscripts challenging,” says Dr Goswamy, who has structured the show around six sections – each one well-etched out and comprehensively sourced.

But before you arrive at sections, two masterful epigraphs focus your attention on the source of the show. The first epigraph by Bhartrihari reads: “All knowledge of what is to be done in this world stems from the word ”. The second one sourced from Abul Fazl’s “On the Arts of writing and Painting”, says: "The letter, a magical power, is spiritual geometry emanating from the pen of the invention; a heavenly writ from the hand of fate.”

Dr Goswamy admits: “ Europe is full of illuminated, fascinating manuscripts. So when the National Book Trust, coordinator for India’s exhibition at the fair, desired a show around manuscripts, the challenge was to design it differently. That was when I thought of fashioning it around the element of sanctity which Indians attach to the written word. The epigraphs mirror the show’s purpose perfectly.”

As the show matures, it leads the visitor through the magical world of manuscripts, their origins, their purpose, their execution and their range. The first section "From Clay to Copper" showcases exhibits that establish the range of materials used to write manuscripts. The second is laced with images of objects used in the making of the manuscripts. Then comes a section that underlines the significance of veneration in the manuscript tradition. The final part of the show is about royal commands and calligraphy.

In totality, the show is intended at giving an overview of the Indian manuscript tradition with a certain sense of gravity. 

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