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Need to decode manuscripts stressed

A.D. Rangarajan
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The oldest Telugu manuscript which is preserved at Oriental Research Institute in Tirupati.
The oldest Telugu manuscript which is preserved at Oriental Research Institute in Tirupati.

Palm leaf manuscripts, the ancient medium of communication, are not merely a treasure-trove of mysterious knowledge meant to be saved for posterity, as the content has to be deciphered for common good.

While written script evolved in other languages between 4th and 6th century AD, Telugu literature developed from the 11th century and hence this period can be taken as the origin of Telugu manuscripts. Although palm leaves were the general base medium, a softer and wider ‘Sri Thalam’ leaf found in Kerala and Sri Lanka was brought all the way to the Telugu land for writing scripts considered more important, as it is flexible and durable.

The oldest original manuscript available in Telugu dates back to 1547 AD, which is a work titled “Bala Bhagavatham” by Donuri Konerunatha Kavi. A court poet in the Araveti Empire of the present Kadapa region, he wrote the Bhagavatham both in poetic and in ‘Dwipada’ forms.

Script-writing developed with the advent of multiple writers, which was popularised by Tarigonda Vengamamba. She used ‘Ashta Ghantalavam’ (eight writers) to simultaneously scribble her compositions that made eight copies. Though many original works (autograph) are lost, the transcriptions are available even today.

Paper became the medium after the British brought it to India. Surveyor General of India Colonel Colin Mackenzie toured many villages of Andhra and Tamil Nadu (then in the Madras Presidency) and collected a whopping 3,000 village records (Kaifiyats) available on palm leaves and reproduced them on paper. It was the British civil servant-turned-Telugu writer C.P. Brown, who got the 3,000 fading and damaged records rewritten during his stint.

Oriental Research Institute (ORI), Tirupati, is home to rare manuscripts, including the oldest ‘Bala Bhagavatham’. Established by the TTD in 1939, it was handed over to Sri Venkateswara University after its birth in the 1950s. “We have a rich collection of 14,000 bundles comprising 60,000 manuscripts, mostly in Telugu and Sanskrit, while the Hyderabad facility has more of Urdu, Arabic and Persian manuscripts,” the ORI Director V. Venkatramana Reddy told The Hindu .

Funds crunch is hitting hard the publication of manuscripts in book form. About 15 per cent of the manuscripts are yet to be published, including the four commentaries to Srikrishna Devaraya’s ‘Amuktamalyada’. A small step from the TTD or SVU in this direction will help bring rare knowledge to light.

Funds crunch is hitting hard the publication

of manuscripts in

book form


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