|The Department and its Activities
The IAS Index of Palm-leaf Manuscripts
Manuscripts Published in Tamil and English
Works in Progress
Manuscriptology Training at the IAS
UNESCO: Memory of the World
First National Seminar on Palm-leaf Manuscriptology
Collecting Palm-leaf Manuscripts
Tamil Medical Manuscripts
For more information...
The Department of Manuscriptology came into being in 1985 thanks to the unstinted guidance and inspiration of Dr (Mrs) Kapila Vatsyayan serving in the higher echelons of the Central Government and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, the Chairman of the Board of Governors.
The objectives of the Department of Manuscriptology are:
- To host professional seminars and workshops on manuscriptology as well as post-graduate studies and fieldwork in manuscriptology;
- To preserve palm-leaf manuscripts in which lie embodied ancient knowledge and cultural memories;
- To collect palm-leaf manuscripts;
- To establish and maintain a library of palm-leaf manuscripts;
- To translate palm-leaf manuscripts into English;
- To store the information derived from palm-leaf manuscripts on a ditigally searchable database (For details: enquire by e- mail)
- To compile and publish a comprehensive index of palm-leaf manuscripts in 25 volumes;
- To depute scholars to training programmes on preservation of palm- leaf manuscripts;
- To record palm-leaf manuscripts on micro-film and other media;
- To conduct research on traditional sciences;
The IAS Index of Palm-leaf Manuscripts
The Institute is aware of the shortage of reference books on manuscriptology to pursue comparative studies in the field and has taken steps to remedy the situation. Along the lines of the Tamil Department which has begun publishing an Encyclopaedia of Tamil Literature, the Department of Manuscriptology has an ambitious plan of bringing out an Index of palm-leaf manuscripts available on subjects as varied as the history of the Tamil language and literature, Tamil culture, fine arts, logic, astrology, folklore, medicine and magic with a typical Tamil bias. This will be an ideal reference book for scholars engaged in research in their respective fields.
The oldest and perhaps the biggest library of manuscripts, the Government Library of Oriental Manuscripts (Chennai), the U.V. Swaminathaiyar Library, the Saraswathi Mahal Library (Tañjavur) and the Tamil University Library have also brought out indexes to the palm-leaf manuscripts available in the country. But the information containe d in these catalogues is not exhaustive enough to enable a student of research to make use of it effectively. But the database listing of palm-leaf manuscripts prepared by the Institute of Asian Studies contain all relevant information classified under four categories:
- In the first category, material description of the manuscript includes the number of leaves it contains, the present condition of the manuscript, the name of the author and the commentator as well as the name of the copyist.
- The second section can be broadly described as bibliographical description. The date of the publication of the manuscript and the number of editions are given for those that have been printed in book form. In the case of manuscripts which have not been printed, details regarding the use of the information in other printed works, if any, hav e been provided.
- The third section is devoted to the contents of the manuscript. This may be called subject description. Besides the contents, the genre to which the text belongs, its relevance to the social life of the day, its style and historical associations if any, are detailed. The beginning and ending lines of all the manuscripts are given.
- The fourth section highlights the uniqueness of the manuscript, its relationship to similar manuscripts, the views of the scholars and also the impact of the manuscript on the writings of others.
Indeed, the Institute of Asian Studies is undertaking a very ambitious project of assembling indices for all the Tamil palm-leaf manuscripts available in the world in 25 volumes, each volume containing two distinct parts. With the co- operation of the Government of India, the Government of Tamil Nadu and the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Developme nt of National Culture, efforts are underway to collect details of palm- leaf manuscripts.
The extent of indexing work to date may be seen in the following table:
Indices of palm-leaf manuscripts
Library Indexed Manuscripts
|Dr U.V. Swaminathaiyar Library
|Central Research Institute of Siddha Medicine (Chennai)
|Madurai Tamil Cankam (Madurai)
|Kalaimakal Kalvi Nilayam (Erode)
|Theosophical Seminary (Madurai)
|KumAratEvar maTam (Viruddachalam)
|Tamil Nadu Siddha Hospital Library (Chennai)
|Institute of Asian Studies (Chennai)
To date four descriptive catalogues have been published by the IAS:
Descriptive Catalogue Vol I-II
These two volumes contain the list of palm-leaf manuscripts available in the U.V. Swaminathaiyar Library. The spade work was done by M.K. Raman and later it was exhaustively edited by M. Shanmugam Pillai. The first two volumes containing four parts have been published. These two volumes contain commentary for 2,398 manuscripts.
Descriptive Catalogue Vol III
This lists with commentary the palm-leaf manuscripts available at the TiruvAvaTuturai aTINam Library and is published in two parts. A total of 1266 manuscripts figure in the list. (Part - I. 603 + Part - II. 663 = 1266).
Descriptive Catalogue Vol IV
This Volume covers 815 manuscripts available in the Institute of Asian Studies (part I 438 + part II 377). Most of them have a bearing on the South, to be more precise, most of them belong to Kumari and Nellai Districts.
Descriptive Catalogue Vol V
Vol V Part I contains descriptions of 470 manuscripts available in the Institute of Asian Studies and Vol V part II contains manuscripts available in CRIS, Chennai.
Published Manuscripts in Tamil with English translation
Among the palm-leaf manuscripts preserved in the Institute, fifty are on magic and medicine. More than a hundred are on folklore. Out of this, seventy are ballads. Some of the ballads are being brought out in book form by the Institute. It is proposed to publish many of these manuscripts in book form in the near future.
In the Kerala University Library of Manuscriptology, containing a large number of manuscripts, most of the manuscripts are in the form of ballads collected from the districts of the deep South. Similarly, the manuscripts available in the Institute of Asian Studies also have their origin in the same area. In fact, next to the Kerala University Library of Manuscriptology, the Institute of Asian Studies has the greatest number of manuscripts on folklore. These have largely for their subject matter the glorification of minor deities and their worship. Some fifty manuscripts deal with astrology, yoga, mantra, etc. About twenty manuscripts have bearing on grammar, literature, drama and purANas. There are some manuscripts in the grantha script carrying the titles PushpAñcali, Vakai, KalacApishEkappiracitti, TaNañcaya nikaNTu and yOjANAppiramANam. Their number is about fifty. The descriptive catalogue (Vol IV Part I & II and Vol V Part I) carries the full list.
The Wandering Voice
This is the first publication of the Department of Manuscriptology of this Institute. This contains three ballads: CiNNattampi katai, KurukkuLAñci katai, UcciNimAkALiyamman katai. The book carries an English translation and exhaustive notes. The protaganist Chinnathampi, born in a low-caste, falls victim to the greed and the caste disc rimination practised by the upper castes is the theme of the ballad. KurukkuLAñci katai also deals with a social theme. The anxiety of the upper castes to establish the supremacy of the caste system is effectively underlined. The theme of UccinimAkALiyamman borders on fantasy -- how Goddess KALi herself tried to annihil ate British power and paved the way for India's independence is poignantly told. The commentary and notes have been prepared by Dr A. Nirmala Devi. Translated by Dr V. Murugan.
The Art of Drumming
MattaLam is a percussion instrument very popular in Tamil Nadu. The grammar behind the technique of drumming and the nuances of the sound patterns that can be generated on the instrument have been exhaustively dealt with. Dr Sundaram has based this on a palm-leaf manuscript salvaged by Dr N.Ramachandran Nair from PUta ppANTi.
The Dateless Muse - The Story of Venkala RAjan
The Venkala RAjan katai traces the genealogy of the NATAr community. The genesis, growth and the evolution have been described elaborately. Venkala RAjan, the protagonist represents the ethos of the community. His conflict with the upper castes, intrigues and counter intrigues constitute the theme. Incidentally, it throws light on the merits and strong points of various communities besides their weaknesses and shortcomings. Venkala RAjan, who loses his life in the struggle, is verily defied by the community and continues to be held in great respect even today. Translated by Dr V. Murugan.
The Unsung Melodies
This has an off-beat theme. Instead of describing the conflict between the upper castes and the lower castes, this concentrates on the intrigues that obtained in the Mar\avar community. How the British cleverly exploited this and captured KaTTapomman constitutes the theme. Translated by Dr V. Murugan
Elder Brother's Story ANNanmAr katai Part I & II
ANNanmAr katai tells the story of two brave KauNTar brothers of Coimbatore district with a sociological bias. The story which was popular orally has been compiled and edited with an English translation by Dr Brenda Beck.
The Divine Pilgrimage
This is the oldest manuscript in the collection available at the Institute of Asian Studies. This ballad is nearly 300 years old. Lord PerumAL having his abode in Srirankam is going on a pilgrimage to the temple of Padmanabha at Tiruvanantapuram. This journey is used profitably by the author to describe the fauna and the flora of the countries. While Prof. M. Shanmugam Pillai has exhaustively annotated the text, the English translation has been superbly done by Dr J. Parthasarathy.
A Tale of Romance - Sakuntalai VilAcam
Published in 1993 the text deals with the well- known story of Shakuntala. The version of Kalidasa has not been followed. The ballad has drawn inspiration from the Shakuntala story figuring in the Mahabharata. Incidentlly, the tale throws light on the social conditions which prevailed in the Kumari district. Edited Dr A. Thasarathan and trans lated by V. Gowri Shankar.
Details about the various varmas, the vulnerable points and the drugs to be administered for diseases connected with Varmam are given. This manuscript is published by Dr Shu Hikosaka from the International Institute of Asian Studies, Kyoto. The English translated has been done by Dr M. Radhika. Dr P. Subramaniam has exhaustively prepared the text ual notes.
YaTcakAnam is a kind of drama resembling the terukkUttu of Tamil Nadu. The Institute proposes to bring out a series of books on YaTcakAnam and this one on PaLayaNUr is the first of the series. The story of NiIli, which has captivated even Buddhists and Jains, has several versions. An English version is published under the title A Tale of Nemesis translated by G.S. Balakrishnan and edited by P. Subrahmaniam.
The Valorous Virgins (PeNNaraciyar Katai)
This manuscript, available under the title PurushAtEvi katai at the Institute of Asian Studies, has been exhaustively annotated with textual notes by Dr K. Jayakumar and Mr D. Boominaganathan. The theme has relevance to matriarchal society and the liberation of women. This ballad has great significance in that it dealt with the emancipation of women at a time, some hundred years ago, when such subjects were a taboo. An English version has been released under the title The Valorous Virgins translated by Dr S Mark Joseph.
The Epic Eternal (IrAmar katai) Part I & II
Just as Kampa RAmAyaNam drew inspiration from Valmiki's RAmAyaNa and was written to suit the tastes and the temperament of the Tamils, IrAmar katai is a villuppaTTu running to nearly six thousand lines and tailored to suit the needs of the mass. Edited by Dr K. Jayakumar the Institute has brought out an annotated edition of this bow-song, with English translation in two parts done by K.G.Seshadri.
The Vows Fulfilled (AmaiyAr ammAnai)
The story line is as follows: The son of NAkamAmuni is born as a tortoise, thanks to his deeds in the previous birth. He marries four women to execute the pledge of his mother. Ultimately he attains salvation. The story abounds in improbabilities and underlines the importance of divine grace or bliss. This is edited by M. Maruthamuthu and translated by G.S. Balakrishnan.
Destiny and Divinity (VarAnkata maharAjan katai)
In VarAnkata maharAjan katai, an attempt is made to propagate the cherished ideals of Jainism. VarAnkatan, the hero is persecuted by his step mother. She even goes to the extent of plotting to murder him. VarAnkatan reveals his nobility by making a sublime sacrifice. The kingly duties, which his father had thrust on him, are transferred to the son of the stepmother after his father's demise. In other words, VarAnkatan crowns his stepbrother as the king. Edited by Mr. M. Parimanan and translated by Dr R. Raja Rathnam.
A Tale of Betrayal (CArankataran yaTcakAn\am)
IrajAnarEntaran is the king of IrajamakEntirapuram. CArankataran is his son by the first wife. Due to the intriguing of his wicked stepmother, CArankataran's hands and legs are chopped off. He does not blame anyone and naturally adopts a resigned attitude. This story is very popular in Tamil Nadu both as a ballad and drama. This is the second book which the Institute of Asian Studies proposes to publish under the YaTcakAnam series. Edited by Dr P. Subramaniam and translated by G.S. Balakrishnan.
Poetic Petal in the Interior Landscape (UttaNTan kOvai)
This manuscript is edited by R. Jayalakshmi, Research Associate in the Department of Manuscriptology. This belongs to the genre called kOvai and is classified as minor literature. The protagonist is UttaNTan hailing from IrAcakEsari nallUr on the banks of the river PAlAru. This kOvai is divided into 400 sections of akam genre such as love at first sight, hero's suspicion of heroine's beauty. The story of UttaNTan incidentally throws considerable light on the cultural life of TonNTaimaNTalam. Translated by Dr K. Chellappan and Dr P. Paremeswaran.
MEriI KaruttammaL ammANai
KaruttAL, around whose life the story is woven, is a brave woman with an unusual sense of fortitude. She follows the Christian way of life fervently. Her scholarship in Hinduism helps her and adds an additional dimension to her preaching. Set in the KaliveNpA ( a kind of metre), this belongs to the genre called ammAnai , broadly classified as minor literature. Edited by C. Arunachalam and translated by Dr R. Raja Rathnam
Where Justice Chimes(TErUrnta cOLan yaTcakANam)
The protagonist is a Cola king setting much store by justice and fair play. Thanks to the blessing of Lord TiyAkEca, the issueless king begets a son who grows up into a young man of parts. Riding a chariot, the prince runs over a calf and kills it. The bereaved mother cow rings the bell of justice quite frantically. the king comes to its rescue. He equates the calf's life with the life of his son and punishes him by running the chariot over him. The kind gods intervene and all ends well. Edited by Dr. P. Subramaniam with English translation by G.S. Balakrishnan. (480 pp.)
To order copies of these and other IAS publications:
Visit the Publications Division
Works in progress
Other than the seventeen manuscripts that have been published in book form, the Institute has plans to release another seven books in 1997 on the following titles from YaTcakANam, AmmANai, and Jain literature:
TinkaLur MAmalaiyAn noNTinATakam
This work, written by the poet AvinAci, falls under the genre noNTinATakam, one of the kinds of minor literature. It extols the greatness of Lord Murukan, residing in TinkaLUr near Erode. The work that depicts many histrical characters and events is being edited by M. Maruthamuthu.
This text, which belongs to the kalampakam genre of minor literature, glorifies the greatness of the Jaina god, Aruka tEvar and Jain philosophy. The author of this text is UtIcittEvar. The manuscript is being edited by M. Parimanan.
This manuscript which glorifies the God residing in Cinkapuram, near Ceñci, is being edited by Dr P. Subramaniam and M. Satiyabama.
This manuscript which is a sequel to the epic Mahabharatam, depicts the voyage of PANTavas to heaven in AmmAnai form. Editing this manuscript is entrusted with Dr K. Jaya Kumar.
Dr P. Subramaniam and Pirasanna have colloborated in editing this medical manuscript available in Anna Hospital.
This is another medical manuscript preserved at Anna Hospital. Dr K. Jayakumar and ALakapparAcu are collobarated in editing this manuscript.
Manuscriptology Training at the IAS
Time was when Tamilians recorded their ideas in palm-leaf manuscripts. Thanks to the printing press, this method of preserving knowledge for posterity fell into obsolesence. Still today, surviving palm-leaf manuscripts are store-houses of age-old knowledge and wisdom.
If these palm-leaf manuscripts are to be saved and recorded, it will demand the time of many trained scholars. And yet, there are very few people who know the intricacies of palm-leaf writing and can decipher them. So the urgency to train people to read the manuscripts cannot be minimised. The Institute of Asian Studies has sought the help of the Government of India to run workshops on manuscript reading. Earlier the workshops were held once in two years; now it has become an annual affair.
First Workshop on Palm-leaf Manuscript Deciphering
The first workshop was held on 21.3.90 in the presence of the Chairman of the Governing body, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer. Prof. M. Shanmugam Pillai was the project head. Twenty-five participants were trained over a period of 21 days.
Second Workshop on Palm-leaf Manuscript Deciphering
The second workshop was held from 17.2.92 to 9.3.92 and was conducted by Prof. M. Shanmugam Pillai. Most of the people who underwent training were practitioners of the Siddha school of medicine.
Third Workshop on Palm-leaf Manuscript Deciphering
This was held from 14.02.94 to 07.03.94. Dr A. Thasarathan was in charge. Mutual exchange of ideas and the work to be done in future were the subjects on the agenda.
Fourth Workshop on Palm-leaf Manuscript Deciphering
A fourth workshop was held between 1.3.95 and 21.3.95. Dr P. Subramaniam and Dr K. Jayakumar were in charge of this workshop.
Fifth Workshop on Palm-leaf Manuscript Deciphering
The fifth workshop was held between 3.2.97 and 27.2.97 at the new IAS campus. This was conducted by Dr P. Subramaniam and Dr K. Jaya Kumar.
The Usefulness of Workshops - Programme of work
The first few classes of the workshop are devoted to the following topics:
- What is Manuscriptology?
- Aims of the workshop
- Methods employed in the preparation of palm-leaf manuscripts
- The script
- Related topics
Next the origin of the Tamil script, its growth, the nature of the script, etc. are exhaustively analysed and discussed. This introduces the student to the art of deciphering the scripts. The letters of the alphabet in the old form, morphology, Tamil numerals, the mixing of Grantha letters with Tamil letters, etc., are then dealt with.
The next stage in the training includes the following topics:
- variations in texts
- examination of the originals
- word usage
- methods of publishing palm-leaf manuscripts.
Demonstration lectures with concrete examples follow.
The student is also taught to identify Tamil letters, letters in the Brahmi script, Tamil numerals and Tamil measuring units. The methodology of sorting out the genuine verses from spurious ones on a scientific basis and bringing out an authentic and authoritative translation is taught with reference to subjects as varied as astrology, magic and medicine. The course also includes the interpretation of manuscripts which have a bearing on the teaching of various religious sects such as the Christians, Muslims, Vaishnavites and so on. Enough background information is provided to do this work with skill and competence. Lectures concentrate on the collection of manuscripts from various sources and their preservation. Details about the pioneers in the field of manuscriptology and their interesting experiences go a long way in equipping the student adequately to decipher manuscripts with confidence.
Having acquired this knowledge, trainees visit institutes of manuscriptology and see for themselves a few manuscripts. The most important part of the training programme consists in assigning to each trainee a manuscript for editing. He or she will be expected to concentrate on every item of publishing including the cover page, front piece, contents, abstract, editorial notes, research notes, interpolations, variations, morphology, etc. The work of each candidate is assessed against an absolute standard of excellence.
The training motivates students to take up the following tasks with great confidence and competence:
- collection of manuscripts
- manuscript preservation
- duties as librarian of an institute of manuscriptology
- duties as a publisher and editor of rare manuscripts
The training also helps one to function effectively as a research scholar by adding to one's range and depth of scholarship. Experts on manuscriptology, eminent epigraphists and specialists in different fields associated with manuscriptology comprise the resource personnel for the workshops.
The Department was started with the idea of examining Tamil palm-leaf manuscripts only, but its range of operation has grown to include other languages as well. This has added to its stature as a regional center of manuscriptology where palm-leaf manuscripts of a diverse nature written in different languages are studied and published authoritative ly. Under the guidance of IAS Director for Research Programmes Dr G. John Samuel, the Department has evolved an ambitious programme to study the scientific truths lying embedded in old palm-leaf manuscripts dealing with diverse subjects like astrology, medicine, architecture, astronomy and geology, among other fields.
UNESCO and the Memory of the World
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has recognised the ongoing contribution of the IAS to the preservation of the world's cultural heritage. In its Memory of the World programme covering all the cultural relics available in the world, UNESCO has commended the substantial achievements of the Institute of Asian Studies.
The Institute's Director Dr G. John Samuel has been serving on the World Expert Committee of the UNESCO appointed to identify the world's treasure- stores of knowledge since 1993. As India's expert on the World Expert Committee, Dr Samuel has underscored India's unexplored contribution to the world's body of knowledge.
The first meeting of the World Expert Committee was held in Warsaw during 12-14 Sept 1993. At the first meeting, discussion centerd around the memorable relics of the world and various recommendations were made to the General Conference. The memorable relics included rare manuscripts, palm- leaf manuscripts, oral traditions and the knowledge of tho se whose language lacked a script, inventions, unexplored arts and religious practices, beliefs and mores. The need to record and catalogue all the above items was unanimously agreed upon. Subsequent to the Committee meeting in Warsaw, Dr Samuel also participated by invitation in the meeting of the Advisory Committee when it met in Oslo on 1-8 Jun e 1996.
MOWCAP 5th committee meeting
IAS Hosts the First National Seminar on Manuscriptology
Following the recognition of palm-leaf manuscripts as memorable relics of the world, the Institute of Asian Studies drew up a programme to assess and study the Tamil manuscripts available in the world. It was decided to hold an international seminar to underline the urgency. As a first step, a national seminar on palm-leaf manuscripts was jointly organised by the Institute of Asian Studies and Pondicherry Central University.
Dr A. Pandurangan organised the seminar, which was presided over by Dr Gnanam with keynote address delivered by the Director of the Institute of French Culture, Pondicherry, Dr. Francois Gros. Information regarding palm- leaf manuscripts in Assamese, Oriya, Gujarathi, Sanskrit, Punjabi, Pali, Bengali and Marathi was exchanged. Scholarly papers on palm-leaf manuscripts available in the South Indian languages, namely Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Tulu and Malayalam were presented.
The Sanskrit manuscripts were discussed separately under two heads: Sanskrit manuscripts available in India those available outside India. The discussion also centred on the denominators of various scripts employed in the palm-leaf manuscripts such as Bengali, Moti and CAratA. There was a presentation concerning palm-leaf manuscripts found in the Raghunath temple in Jammu. Three articles were presented on the collection and preservation of palm-leaf manuscripts. The conference brought to light the places where Tamil manuscripts had been found and highlighted the location of manuscripts in other languages. The proceedings of the seminar were published under the title Palm-leaf and other Manuscripts in Indian Languages in August 1996.
The collecting and preserving of palm-leaf manuscripts
Director of the Institute of Asian Studies Dr G. John Samuel has pioneered the collecting and documenting of palm-leaf manuscripts from diverse sources. Many others like Dr A. Thasarathan, Dr N.Ramachandran, Dr Govindasami, D. Boominaganathan and Pulavar B. Kannaiyan followed his example, collecting many invaluable manuscripts.
Most of the manuscripts that have been collected are from the Southern part of the PaNTyanATu. Thus far, palm-leaf manuscripts have been obtained from the following localities:
Sources of palm-leaf manuscripts in Tamil Nadu
The Institute acknowledges with thanks the contribution of manuscripts by the following individuals:
Palm-leaf manuscript contributors
|Mrs Arumuga Perumal Nadar
||Dr N. Ramachandran
||Pon Ratna Sapapathy
|Dr A. Thasarathan
|Dr K.D. Tirunavukkarasu
|| N. Balasubramanian
|Peria Nayinar Nadar
||N. Ponnulinga Nadar
|R. Meenakshi Sundaran
|Medai Dalavai Ku. Shanmuganathan
||Dr K. Jaya Kumar
||M. Sathiya Bama
Unless steps are taken to preserve them, old palm-leaf manuscripts deteriorate steadily under tropical climatic conditions. Fungi also destroys manuscripts. Insecticides and pesticides are useless as the pests develop immunity over time. The use of smoke and other venomous gases in a library is ruled out.
The faculty of the Department of Manuscriptology includes trained people who are conversant in the intricacies of preservation and conservation of manuscripts. They treat manuscripts scientifically using a fumigation box or chemicals like Thymol and chloromate solution.
Tamil Medical Manuscripts
For more information...
To find out more about the Department of Manuscriptology:
See The Journal of the Institute of Asian Studies Vol. xiv No.2
To order publications: Go to the Publications Division.
Or enquire by e-mail