India has been predictably slow to respond to UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World’ programme initiative
The Memory of the World (MoW) programme is a UNESCO initiative based on the fundamental premise that the world’s documented heritage belongs to all, and should be identified and preserved.
Apart from worldwide recognition of literary documents, it’s also important to ensure their preservation and facilitate digital access. However, although the programme was launched in 1992, India has responded to it only recently, and has submitted just nine documents to the MoW.
The sheer diversity of these submitted documents is astounding, and after glancing at them, it’s clear that many more need to be included.
The nine documents are: Archives of the Dutch East India Company; the Gilgit manuscripts (birch bark documents from the 500 AD, relating to Buddhism, currently in the Shri Pratap Singh Museum); Vimalaprabha (texts on astrology, astronomy, Ayurveda etc, in the Asiatic Society, Kolkata); Maitreyavyakarana (10th-century Buddhist document; in Asiatic Society, Kolkata); the Rigveda and Shaiva Agamas (at the Institut Francais de Pondicherry); Shantinatha Charitra (a Jain text); Tarikh-e-Khandan-e-Timuriyah (illustrated text from Akbar’s reign, at the Khuda Baksh Public library); and a Tamil medical manuscript (at the Institute of Asian Studies).
Bengaluru-based Sanskrit scholar and musicologist T.S. Satyavathi says that manuscripts relating to ancient Indian musical traditions are unparalleled.
The Natyashastra, of course, is the oldest extant document in the world relating to the arts, and should be submitted, but there are other equally relevant manuscripts for scholars of music.
So much to include
As a musician herself, Satyavathi feels the 12th-century Sanskrit treatise by King Someshvara III of the Western Chalukya dynasty, variously termed the Manasollasa or Abhilashitartha Chintamani, though not exclusively on the arts, gives wonderful information on the practice of music and its place in society.
Spread over 100 chapters, this highly informative document also deals with kingship, governance, cuisine, entertainment, and games. A later text that cannot be ignored for its rich content is the 13th-century Sangitaratnakara by Sharngadeva.
The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) is the nodal centre for the programme. According to Ramesh Gaur, Dean (academics) and HOD, Kala Nidhi, IGNCA, “The nominations to the programme are divided into three categories — International, Regional and National. Till now, India has only submitted documents in the International Register.” (Incidentally, Gaur in his personal capacity is a member of the International Register Committee.)
No committee yet
India has not yet set up its National Register; apparently the committee, which is a prerequisite, is yet to be formed. Going by the guidelines, its 10 members should include experts in library science, archives, conservation, museology, and heritage.
Hopefully, the Ministry of Culture will act on this soon, as the last date for nominations to UNESCO is November 2, and the last date for submission to IGNCA, which will forward it, is September 30.
IGNCA will be holding training sessions on how to submit manuscripts.
Though the guidelines for submission are fairly transparent, many institutions may need help in preparing the elaborate dossier. Documents can be submitted by libraries, archives, even individuals.
The guidelines and nomination forms are available for downloads on the en.unesco.org website.
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