Islamabad (PT Monitoring Desk)- The recent floods in Srinagar have reportedly caused extensive damages to the 6th century birch-wood Gilgit manuscript housed in Shri Pratap Singh (SPS) Museum in Srinagar. According to Times of Indiat the staff of the 116-year-old museum has declared their collection of 6th century Gilgit manuscripts and other objects “irretrievable”. The report also mentions that a three-member expert team, headed by the National Museum director (conservation), has left for Kashmir on Wednesday for initial assessment.
The Gilgit manuscripts are among the oldest surviving manuscripts in the world, having major significance in the areas of Buddhist studies and the evolution of Asian and Sanskrit literature. The manuscripts are believed to have been written in the 5th to 6th Century CE during the rule of Patola Shahis in Gilgit.
This corpus of manuscripts was discovered in three installments in Gilgit. The first set was discovered by a group of shepherd in 1931 in a wooden chamber in Napura Gilgit. The chamber was also filled with hundreds of votive stupas and relief plaques. In August 1938, the archaeologist Madhusudan Kaul Shastri led a systematic excavation of Naupur site and discovered another set of the Gilgit Manuscripts along with other objects.On the orders of Maharaja Hari Singh, the 6th century AD manuscripts were placed in then newly established SPS Museum at Srinagar. In 1956, an Italian scholar Giuseppe Tucci obtained the third small set of the manuscripts from a street vendor in Rawalpindi which is now in possession of Department of Archaeology in Karachi the Karachi museum.
The manuscripts were written on birch bark in Buddhist hybrid Sanskrit language in the Gupta Brahmi and Post Gupta Brahmi script. This manuscript collection contains such Buddhist works, both canonical and non-canonical which helped in the evolution of Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Tibetan religio-philosophical literature. The Gilgit manuscripts cover a wide range of themes such as iconometry, folk tales, philosophy, medicine and several related areas of life and general knowledge.
In 1947, during Indo-Pak war over Kashmir, on request of Jawarharlal Nehru major part of the manuscript was shifted in a special plane to Delhi for temporary safe-keeping. These were then never returned even after continuous demands from the Government of Indian held Kashmir.