TIRUVANANTHAPURAM : The Ramayana remains one of the most compelling stories ever told. Now, the public has an opportunity to check out some of the oldest palm-leaf Ramayanas in the possession of the State Archives Department. The rare specimens are on public display as part of an exhibition and awareness campaign that opened on Wednesday to coincide with the Ramayana month observance.
The oldest specimen on display at the department headquarters next to the Vyloppilly Samskrithi Bhavan dates back to Kolla Varsham 1051 (1876).
Many of the manuscripts are Sanskrit texts, but the script used is Malayalam, points out Archives director P Biju. The exhibition aims at generating awareness about the multiplicity and variations of the basic story and also the importance of preserving palm leaf manuscripts which are no longer in use now.
‘’The Ramayana has remained a symbol of our plural society. We had a society that accepted the plurality of the Ramayana tradition. An example is the Mappila Ramayana which was popular in the Malabar and the Adivasi Ramayana (texts on these variants are not on display) popular among the tribal communities. The Karkadaka month is also a time when the text is brought out and read in homes. We thought it an ideal occasion to generate awareness in people about its variety and the need to protect palm leaf manuscripts,’’ Biju said. Texts from the Mahabharata also are part of the exhibition.
Many of the specimens on display are not dated and neither do they give the name of the person who copied it down using the ‘Naraayam’ (stylus). The texts on display include ‘Valmiki Ramayanam Sundarakaandam,’ ‘Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilipaatu,’ ‘Mahabharatham: Ezhuthachchan’s translation of Udyogaparvam, Bhishma Parvam,’’Kannassaramayanam’ and ‘Sree Mahabhagavatham.’ Around 35 books on the Ramayana including the ‘Pathala Ramayanam Kilipaatu’ from 1877, Uttararamayanam’ and ‘OutharaRamayanam Alphabet’ from 1878, ‘Balaramayanam’ from 1909 and the ‘Mahila Ramayanam’ from 1934 also are part of the exhibition.
The department preserves these rare texts of the Ramayana at the Central Archives at Fort, according to the director. ‘’Twice a year, they are treated with lemongrass oil as part of the preservation process. We also encourage people to donate or let digitise palm-leaf manuscripts in their possession. This is part of our Community Archives programme,’’ he said. Minister for Archaeology and Archives Ramachandran Kadannapally inaugurated the exhibition. It will be on till August 16.
The exhibition aims at generating awareness about the multiplicity and variations of the basic story and also the importance of preserving palm leaf manuscripts which are no longer in use now.