By Mansi Choksi
More than 4,000 Jain manuscripts, some dating back to the ninth century BC, are being immortalised in a digitised encyclopaedia that will be thrown
open to the public early next year.
‘Jainpedia’ is the brainchild of the Institute of Jainology (IoJ), formed in 1983 mainly by the Jain diaspora in Britain. The collection of manuscripts include scriptures from British institutions like the Victoria and Albert Museum, British Library, Bodleian Library and Wellcome Trust.
“Many have beautifully illustrated folios on paper, cloth and palm leaves with a diverse range of subjects related to Jain beliefs, tradition and practices,’’ said Mehool Sanghrajka, IoJ’s director of education.
The manuscripts cover areas like hymns and prayers, accounts of the lives of the founders of Jainism, didactic literature, lexicography, poetics, philosophy, astrology, karma literature, texts on pilgrimage places and on daily rituals.
Most manuscripts have travelled with British officers posted in India who returned after Independence.
“While compiling these catalogues, the Institute realised that the collections were being used only by scholars and learned monks and nuns,’’ said Sanghrajka.
That’s when the institute decided to make the collection accessible to a wider audience. “This question of access was multi-faceted — physical contact with these manuscripts can be difficult as some are rare, many centuries old and fragile. Even if one could get to them, many are in languages that have not been spoken for a millennia and more. And, if one could perchance read the script, the contents are themselves difficult without an understanding of Jain philosophy, history and culture,’’ he says.
To make them more intelligible, the digitised images will be contextualized with commentaries from modern scholars, audio and video material and translations of the original texts apart from material for schools and young people.
Even Jain elders and members of Jain trusts in Mumbai have given ‘Jainpedia’ the thumbs-up. “The effort taken by the Jain community in Britain will reinforce our own efforts of reaching out to youngsters,’’ says Puspasen Panachand Zaveri, who is a trustee of many Jain trusts including Chadraprabhu Derasar.
Sanghrajka adds that independent research had shown that over 3 lakh people would benefit from the project.
“In particular, school children in England, where the institute has brought Jainism into the English National Curriculum will benefit.” A series of lectures is being planned by the institute to create awareness about the website in Mumbai.
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