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Palm-leaf manuscripts at Andhra University to be digitised

The over 1,600 ‘tala patras’ are centuries old and date back beyond the Gutenberg era

The Dr. V.S. Krishna Library in Andhra University is said to be biggest library in the residual state of Andhra Pradesh after its bifurcation in 2014.

The library, started in 1927 and rechristened Dr. V.S. Krishna Library in 1968, houses over five lakh books and periodicals in its space of 60,000 sq ft.

But this does not make the library unique; what makes it different is the collection of over 1,600 ancient manuscripts that are written or ‘ tala patra’ (palm leaves).

Rare books

Apart from the rare books, it is these manuscripts that are the prized possession of the 91-year-old university. And the manuscripts are housed in a separate room in the reference section of the library.

According to former chief librarian Prof. S.S. Janardhana Rao, all the ‘tala patras’ are centuries old and date back beyond the Gutenberg era (15th century).

The ‘tala patras’ touch a variety of subjects, including religion, medicine, astronomy, agriculture, law, grammar and defence strategy.

There are a few copies of Valmiki’s Ramayana , Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsam , Ramanuja’s and Adi Sankara’s commentaries and Chanakya’s Arthashastra .

According to the present librarian Prof. Visweswara Rao, the manuscripts include over 1220 in Sanskrit, about 450 in classical ancient Telugu, about 12 in Pali language and about 15 each in classical Bengali and Tamil.

Donated by royal families

Most of the ‘tala patras’ were donated by the erstwhile royal families such as the Vizianagaram Raja and other zamindar families of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, Srikakulam and southern Odisha.

A few were collected by the founding Vice-Chancellor,C.R. Reddy, and his successor, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, said a senior staff of the library.

Though a couple of years ago, an expert team from the Salarjung Museum in Hyderabad had treated the tala patra s to increase their longevity, AU has now decided to digitise all the manuscripts under the National Mission for Manuscripts.

“We have already entered into an MoU with the NMM for a period of three years and will be digitising all of them, at a cost of ₹7 lakh,” said Prof. Visweswara Rao.

The process is going to be complicated, as it involves preservation and conservation and then digitisation. Most of them are in a brittle state and need trained hands, said Prof. Janardhana Rao.

“Digitisation is now the only way to preserve this treasure and we have already embarked upon it,” said Prof. Visweswara Rao.