THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:Last week, the State Archives Department embarked on an ‘epic’ exercise – to unravel the mysteries of the Ramayana.To be precise, the mysteries of the two brittle palm-leaf copies of the Ramayana that are as yet undated and possibly a few centuries old.
The department started the work on restoring the two palm-leaf copies loaned to it, under a community archives programme that aims to conserve rare and culturally valuable palm-leaf manuscripts and documents in private hands.The first set, submitted for restoration by Shinu S M of Kollam, is in a relatively good condition. Containing roughly 200 leaves, the set has been fumigated and treated with lemongrass oil as part of the restoration, said Unikrishnan S S, an assistant conservator with the department.
It is the second set loaned by Ganesan Kallingal of Nedumangad, Thiruvananthapuram, that poses a serious challenge to the conservators’ skills. It runs into approximately 300 leaves of the fine script – old ‘Vattezhuthu’, according to Ganesan – etched with the Narayam, the old-fashioned metal stylus.
“‘The leaves are fragile and the latter half of the set has solidified due to a flawed restoration process attempted by the owner. We hope to restore it and digitise the contents before handing it back to him,”’ Archives director P Biju said.
Only a detailed examination of the text will prove whether it is indeed a copy of the epic. But one of the two wooden planks that act as its cover displays an intricately painted scene from the ‘Sri Rama Pattabhisheka,’ the coronation of Rama.“‘The set came into my hands eight years ago. I didn’t know how to restore it. So I approached the department,”’ Ganesan said.
Under the community archives programme, members of the society can either donate the manuscripts and documents to the Archives Department or loan it for restoration. The department will digitise the content, keep a copy and return the original. Incidentally, both palm-leaf sets were handed to the department during an exhibition of palm-leaf Ramayanas organised to coincide with the Ramayana month observance. The oldest in the department’s own collection dates back to 1790.
The department embarked upon the project at a time when old palm-leaf collections in private hands are being either destroyed willfully or being sold off for huge sums.“‘In some cases, people are afraid of keeping them in their homes, especially if the manuscripts are suspected to have anything to do with sorcery or magic. In others, they are being commercially exploited,” Biju said.
Under the community archives programme, members of the society can either donate the manuscripts and
documents to the Archives Department or loan it for restoration.