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How many Indian Manuscripts exist?

December 17, 2013 3 min read

[L. D. Museum Website]

[L. D. Museum Website]

In my readings about ancient Indian texts I came across an interesting article by Wujastyk.

The main page  is linked below.

A few interesting excerpts:

India as a modern nation-state covers the greater part of the South Asian peninsula, from theHimalayas in the north to the tip of Cape Comorin, about 3000 km to the south. However, as acultural-historical sphere, other modern states such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,and even to some extent Burma, Thailand and Indonesia, share aspects of their manuscriptheritage with modern India. Countries such as Afghanistan and even western China, especiallyXinjiang Province, have been important sites of “Indian” manuscript discovery, and the Tibetanmanuscript tradition was strongly influenced by Indian Buddhist models. This is because thesesurrounding geographical areas participated in trade and cultural exchange with South Asia froma very early period, and especially because of the missionary activities of Buddhist monks.

How many Indian manuscripts are there? The National Mission for Manuscripts in New Delhiworks with a conservative figure of seven million manuscripts, and its database is approaching two million records. Foranyone coming to Indian studies from another field, these gargantuan figures are scarcelycredible.


The Jaina manuscript libraryat Koba in Gujarat, which only started publishing its catalogues in 2003, has an estimated 250,000manuscripts. The Sarasvati Bhavan Library in Benares has in excess of 100,000 manuscripts.There are 85,000 in various repositories in Delhi. There are about 50,000 manuscripts in theSarasvati Mahal library in Thanjavur in the far South.

Aone-year pilot field-survey by the National Mission for Manuscripts in Delhi, during 2004-2005,documented 650,000 manuscripts distributed across 35,000 repositories in the states of Orissa,Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and field participants in that project report that they only scratched thesurface.


The KobaTirth manuscript library, perhaps the largest single Indian manuscript collection in the world,has exemplary policies towards the promotion of scholarship, and one of the most advancedtechnical and administrative infrastructures. But there are exceptions. Negotiating access tomanuscript collections can be tortuous and bureaucratic, and sometimes even the most strenuousefforts fail. Some libraries are just inaccessible, locked with several padlocks whose key-holdersare scattered over a whole state (for example, the Jñāna Bhaṇḍāra in Jaisalmere). Others arelocked pending the resolution of family disputes that have lasted decades (the Anup Library inBikaner). Others are located in institutions that have little interest in Sanskrit scholarship (theWoolner Collection in Lahore), are paralysed by internal politics (the Sarasvati Bhavan, Varanasi),or charge prohibitive fees for non-Indian scholars (Baroda Oriental Institute). Reserves of patience, good will and time are the greatest assets inaccessing Indian manuscripts located in traditional settings.

Link to the main article webpage

Link to a Museum Website (Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum)

Link to Museum Website (V&A Museum – Use the Search function to look for Indian Manuscripts)

Link to Jagdish Mittal & Kamala Mittal Collection


december 2013

[p.s. Reading this fascinated me totally. As an Indian and an Indophile the facts presented in this article are eye-openers for me. I had no idea that this much is being done in this area. And so I felt compelled to share this information in the words of the author for maximum impact. The complete article is worth a read]


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