History & Culture

17th century Ramayana manuscript under lock and key after theft

A rare sketch of Goswami Tulsidas made in the 17th century that is among the collection at Akhara Goswami Tulsidas at Tulsi Ghat, Varanasi.  

On December 22, 2011 when the only original pandulipi (manuscript) of Sri Ramcharitmanas (also referred to as the Ramayana) dated Samvat 1704 (1648 AD) and a few precious articles of its writer, Goswami Tulsidas, were stolen from the Hanuman temple in the Akhara Goswami Tulsidas on Tulsi Ghat, the Mishra family was shocked. Its then ‘Mahant’ or head priest, a noted environmentalist and professor at IIT-BHU, Veer Bhadra Mishra, had to face charges of theft conspiracy.

It led to massive search operations by the Varanasi police, which was ‘informally’ aided by the CBI and the intelligence agencies as it was feared that these rare articles could be smuggled abroad. It took seven months before the police recovered all the articles — the rare pandulipi of Sri Ramcharitmanas, the piece of Goswami Tulsidas’ boat and a few ornaments of the temple — from two people in Varanasi. “But this theft changed everything…The articles that were so far available for public viewing were safely locked only to be taken out once every year to celebrate the Tulsi Jayanti,” says Professor V.N. Mishra, son of Professor Veer Bhadra Mishra, who is now the ‘Mahant’.

Perturbed by all kinds of insinuations that his family had to face and the national and international media coverage, the Mishra family decided to make foolproof arrangements for safety and security of all articles related to Goswami Tulsidas in the temple where the great saint lived, even as they faced pressure from top government officials to hand over these items for greater safety. “My father thought how could he hand over the articles to the government when his family has been the custodian for centuries. So we brought a special fire and bullet resistant safe that weighed three quintals and placed it inside the temple. All the precious articles were then placed safely.”

Those seven months till the police recovered the rare manuscript of Sri Ramcharitmanas led to an interesting development. “As the chances of recovering the original manuscript dwindled with each passing day, I decided to collect as many manuscripts of Goswami Tulsidas works as possible, including Sri Ramcharitmanas, from whatever source I could,” says Dr. Vijay Nath Mishra, a leading neurologist and younger son of Professor Veer Bhadra Mishra. “And since then I have collected 173 handwritten manuscripts from all over India. These include the Ramayana and other works of Goswami Tulsidas. I also found Sri Ramcharitmanas in Urdu that was printed in a Lahore press 90 years ago, which contains rare handmade pictures related to the Ramayana. I even have manuscripts in Farsi and Awadhi,” says Dr. Mishra.

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Printable version | Jul 22, 2021 8:37:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/17th-century-ramayana-manuscript-under-lock-and-key-after-theft/article6301530.ece

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