Scripting the scripted. leaf by leaf

The vistas of Tripunithura have known royalty.

Published: 11th January 2019 10:24 PM  |   Last Updated: 12th January 2019 02:03 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

The vistas of Tripunithura have known royalty. The palace and the temples reflect the yesteryear glory the place once stood for. Which is why this is the perfect place to start a journey to teach and learn the history of Kerala. Located in the heart of Tripunithura but slightly away from the bustle of the growing town is a two-storeyed building, which currently houses the efforts of ‘Thrirakshaa’ in digitising palm leaf manuscripts preserved in different parts across the state. 

KOCHI:  Locally headed by Tripunithura native Dileep G Menon, who has been in the banking and finance sector since 1998, the project comprises professionals from various other sectors putting their heads together for a common cause. And what is that? “When we try to visualise our heritage, we don’t know exactly where the story of Kerala begins. This is what we attempt to bridge. When we don’t let the younger generation know about our heritage, our lineage dies there. We might be the last generation which will be able to transcript these manuscripts, or it might be lost forever,” says Dileep. 

A R Krishnakumar and Dileep G Menon

For the cause, Dileep has collaborated with Unmesha Institute of Indology in Mysore to study and translate palm leaf manuscripts. “A lot of people have manuscripts but don’t know what to do with it. The thing about ancient manuscripts is that they are written in ancient languages and there are only a few people who are experts in the language, transcription and translation of these manuscripts,” says Dileep. 

There is a lot of misconception when it comes to these manuscripts. “It has always been caged within the limits of religion. What people need to understand is that there is a lot of useful information in these manuscripts we can make use of. For instance, the popularity of yoga has increased over the years,” says Dileep. 

To top this, there is little research work going on in the state. “We have noticed that other states have brought out knowledge series from the manuscripts found in their regions. However, nothing of that sort exists in Kerala. We are just managing with what we already have,” he says. 

A R Krishnakumar, the director of Unmesha Institute of Indology, is the brain behind the project. His deep knowledge in ancient manuscripts awes anyone who hears him. “The earliest manuscripts we have accessed is in the Brahmi script. There are also manuscripts which are pictorial from the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation. However, these haven’t been deciphered yet. From what we have deciphered, we believe Brahmi is the mother script. The literary value in Brahmi manuscripts is very less.

The Sharada script which came later is currently considered an authentic script. Now, Brahmi is divided into two: north Indian Brahmi and south Indian Brahmi. We focus on the scripts in south India,” he says. Explaining aspects ranging from the cover of the manuscripts to different types of manuscripts and the type of stylus used to various natural dyes, the palaeographist’s (someone who studies manuscripts) passion is pretty evident. 

Unlike translation, converting manuscripts is nothing close to an easy task. “These manuscripts are usually about a specific subject area. It is important to be an expert in the subject area before going anywhere near the manuscript,” says Krishnakumar.

Under the project, over 15 books have been published after hours, days and months of research. “Apart from books, we are also planning to bring these manuscripts into a single application so that anyone can access it. Materials for the platform are ready. We are working on the continuity factor after launching the application,” says Krishnakumar.

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