National Archives has made ancient Buddhist manuscripts accessible to scholars through a facsimile edition
In a bid to make one of the oldest historical documents available to scholars, the National Archives of India along with Soka Gakkai International and Institute of Oriental Philosophy is launching the facsimile edition of the Gilgit Lotus Sutra manuscripts today.
Estimated to have been written between the 5 and 6 century, the manuscripts are believed to be the only corpus of Buddhist manuscripts discovered in the country.
Mushir ul Hasan, director general, National Archives of India, the man who has taken the initiative to see the project to its culmination, believes that this will help greatly to preserve the rare documents for posterity and make them available for further researcher. Following the launch, 250 copies of the facsimile edition will be distributed to select libraries and scholars.
The Gilgit Lotus Sutra manuscripts were discovered by herdsmen who while grazing their cattle uncovered a circular chamber inside a Buddhist stupa which had within it hundreds of votive stupas and relief plaques found generally in Central Asia and Tibet. The ancient manuscripts were tucked away in a wooden box, which when discovered was sent to Srinagar and studied by Hungarian-British archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein. It was he who announced the discovery of these manuscripts that were written on the bark of the Bhoj tree and hence survived the vagaries of nature.
The freezing temperatures of the Gilgit region (described as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) also helped to preserve the documents which were found in three stages.
Soka Gakkai International has also been actively involved with the project as these scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism are a precious resource for it. “It is by no means a mere relic of a past culture… (it is) a sacred text eternal in nature and unending in the creation of value,” says Dr Daisaku Ikeda, president of the organisation.
So, are there other similar projects that the National Archives plans to take up? “There are many,” says Prof. Hasan, “We have released Persian and Arabic documents from the 13 century. Besides, there is a huge collection of ancient documents from South India. We have almost 1,50,000 such documents which we aim to digitize in the coming days.” That means there are more treats in store for history scholars in the days to come.