Gilgit Manuscripts: A National Heritage at Large
Syed Mujahid Ali Shah
According to United Nation Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the ‘Gilgit Manuscripts’ are the oldest of any written collection surviving in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Numbered at between 3000 to 16000, they are birch leave pages written in 5th or 6th century A.D and comprise the historical knowledge of iconometry, folk tales, philosophy, medicine and several related areas of life and knowledge of the primitive ages.
According to Sir Aurel Stein’s report in The Statesman of 24th July 1931, Gilgit Manuscripts were found in 1931 by some local flock herding boys in the village of Napura situated in the foothills of southern rocky heights of Gilgit (now the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan) where centuries old carving of Buddha sputa of Yachini is also located on the rocks.
The then Maharaja of Kashmir, as the occupying ruler of Gilgit, took the manuscripts from the then Gilgit Wizarat to Sirinagar in Kashmir.
Currently most of the manuscripts, numbered as 3, 366 are laminated in National Archives of India in New Delhi and other many in Srinagar. Some eleven manuscripts are in the British Museum taken by Sir Aurel Stein from local villagers of Napura, Gilgit in 1931 and only a few exist in the Department of Archaeology at Karachi.
Declaring Gilgit Manuscripts as assets of India in 2007 the Indian government submitted a nomination request in UNESCO to include them in “Memory of the World Register”. On whatever grounds the request was not recommended.
Gilgit Manuscripts are the rightful property of Gilgit-Baltistan and the national heritage of Pakistan. The Gilgit-Baltisan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) should table a resolution to bring back the historical assets of Gilgit and the Federal Government should take the issue to the United Nations so that the historical documents are returned to the place of their origin, from where they have been taken to elsewhere in the world.
Syed Mujahid Ali Shah is a Nagar based sociologist and nature conservationist.