Preserving the written cultural heritage of Nepal
Nepal is home to unique manuscript collections. They contain important texts on a great variety of topics, among them Hinduism and Buddhism, poetics, philosophy, medicine, yoga and law. These manuscripts and documents were either produced in Nepal or originated in other regions of the subcontinent and thus constitute a considerable gateway to the history and culture of the entire region. They are written in many scripts and languages, such as Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, Hindi, Newari and Nepali; some on very fragile writing supports such as palm-leaf and birch-bark, others on more solid traditional paper. An estimated 25–30 % of the known 180.000 manuscripts in Nepal are kept in public institutions, such as the National Archives of Nepal and the Kaiser Library, both in Kathmandu. The greater portion belongs to non-governmental groups and private parties, e.g. monasteries, temples, foundations, and of course private individuals or families. Numbering among them are well known collections such as the Āśā Saphūkuthi (Asha Archives).
Due to the lack of appropriate facilities and techniques for conservation and poor storage conditions many of the collections were already under severe threat before the devastating earthquake of 2015. Many manuscripts were stored in glass-fronted cabinets or simply piled up on open shelves, some wrapped in cloth others with no protective cover whatsoever. The most common problems are exposure to high humidity, contamination by insects, mould, fungi and unprotected edges simply breaking off in time. Furthermore, many buildings housing these treasures of Nepal’s rich writing traditions were damaged during the 2015 earthquake, and the urgency to implement measures providing for the systematic preservation of the collections has increased dramatically.
Between November 2017 and July 2018, a pilot project focusing on the long-term preservation of palm-leaf manuscripts in Kathmandu was carried out by the CSMC. The German Federal Foreign Office and the Gerda Henkel Foundation has generously supported these efforts to preserve the written cultural heritage of Nepal since July 2018.
The project; ‘Safeguarding the Manuscripts in Nepal’ aims at
- Training local staff in preservation/conservation and digitization techniques,
- Preserving manuscript collections by implementing conservational treatment, appropriate storing, and digitization,
- Making collections accessible for research.