Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gilgit Manuscripts among oldest manuscripts in the world: UNESCO

The Gilgit manuscripts are among the oldest manuscripts in the world, and the oldest manuscript collection surviving in India, having unmatched significance in the areas of Buddhist studies and the evolution of Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Tibetan literature, according to UNESCO.

Though there are varied opinions on the date of these manuscripts, they are believed to have been written in the 5th to 6th Century A.D, though some more manuscripts were discovered in the succeeding centuries, which were also classified as Gilgit manuscripts.

This corpus of manuscripts was discovered in 1931 in Gilgit in modern day Pakistan and contains four sutras from the Buddhist canon, including the famous Lotus Sutra.

The manuscripts were written on birch bark in old Sanskrit language in the Sharada script. The Gilgit manuscripts cover a wide range of themes such as iconometry, folk tales, philosophy, medicine and several related areas of life and knowledge. While the major portions of these manuscripts are in the National Archives of India in New Delhi and the J&K State Government Libraries and Research Department, Jammu and Kashmir, fragments of the manuscripts are also said to be in the collection at the British Museum, and the Department of Archaeology in Karachi.

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