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Assamese Handwritten Manuscripts

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Assam has a very rich literary history. Assamese authors have been publishing books for several hundred years. For example, Assamese is known to have written literature starting the thirteenth century although the first printed books were published only in the early 1800’s. Before the Europeans brought the printing press to Assam, thousands of books were written in Assam. The books were handwritten painstakingly on especially prepared paper from locally available resources. A large number of such books that predate the printing press are still available in Assam.

The climate of Assam is very humid. It rains torrentially during the Monsoon season. The Brahmaputra and the many hundreds of big and small rivers and tributaries in Assam are prone to damaging floods almost every year. Earthquakes are fairly common as well. There are hardly any scientifically maintained archival facilities, and as a result of the natural calamities, sheer neglect and lack of knowledge, the precious handwritten books, dating back centuries are slowly getting destroyed.

A project for preservation of such Assamese handwritten manuscripts using modern computer technology was started during Assam 2002 held in Denver, Colorado, USA. The first book to be copied into digital images is Parijata Harana, available at the museum of Borduwa Satra. The book was photographed during January, 2003, using digital camera by a well-known professional photographer of Assam by the name Utpal Barua & then converted into a CD. All the pages have been published in the recent issue of Amerikar Oxomi (available at http://pikespeak.uccs.edu/~kalita/Asomi2003). Another such book in manuscript form, Bhakti Ratnawali was scanned in Kuruwabahi Xatra, Bokakhat, in August of 2003.

Currently, digitization of such books is going on at Kuruwabahi Xatra, of Bokakhat, Elengi Satra of Titabar and other places. The equipment used in the project include a digital camera (donated graciously by Samar Gogoi of Omaha, Nebraska), and lighting equipment. A laptop is used (borrowed from well-wishers in Guwhati, Assam, whenever available) to enable digitization of several books in one session, since the camera has got just 256 MB storage.

The project members include Naren Kalita, Nagaon, Assam; Babul Gogoi, Guwahati, Assam; Chandan Mahanta, St. Louis, Missouri; Jugal Kalita, Colorado Springs, Colorado; Prabodh Nath, Nagaon, Assam; Vavani Sarma, Secane, Pennsylvania; Sarat Nath, California; Kedar Bhuyan, Mays Landing, New Jersey; Dhrubajyoti Kalita, Torrance, California; Mantu Baishya, Omaha, Nebraska, and Mahesh Baishya, Dublin, California and many others.

Updates on the project will be posted at Assamnet as well as Assam.org. We intend to publish articles in newspapers and magazines in Assam as well.

The manuscript preservation project is sponsored by the Assam Society of America and Assam Foundation of North America. Funding so far has come from members of Assam Society of America. Any generous individual who wants to help in this project, financially or otherwise, is requested to contact Mantu Baishya, President of Assam Society of America at mcbaishya@hotmail.com.