New Delhi: In India, the history of manuscript preservation has often been a tale of indifference. Access to rare historical documents, spread widely across the world, has also become difficult.
These concerns spurred the creation of the Panjab Digital Library by Ajit Singh Nagar, Punjab-based Nanakshahi Trust. The library aims to preserve the history of Punjab and the Sikhs by digitizing books, records and documents, and making them available online even after the originals cease to exist.
Davinder Pal Singh, the library’s executive director, bemoans the invaluable literary heritage lost on many occasions. “For instance, the Sikh Reference Library was destroyed in a fire on 7 June 1984, destroying a majority of the rare documents. In recent years, more manuscripts have been burnt on pyres in the name of religion,” he says. “Situations like inadequate storage...also add to the problem. Though the originals can never be restored, their digitization could provide for their virtual copy, which could be used continuously forever.”
Even the name of the library has a story behind it. “There is a definite difference between the way the word Punjab is spelt today and the way it should be if one keeps the pronunciation in the mother tongue in mind,” Singh says. “The idea behind naming it as Panjab Digital Library was to connect it with our nationality and the way we speak our mother tongue.”
Launched in 2003, the library progressed fast; by 2006, 10 active working groups were digitizing 5,000 pages every day. Currently, it has installed 35 working stations and digitized five million pages—3,400 manuscripts, 2,990 issues of periodicals, 6,200 books, 15,578 issues of newspapers and 6,152 photographs. The digitization process is painstaking. After a document is assessed and analysed for its historical importance, it is accorded an accession number. With a scanner or digital camera, the document is then digitized and placed on the website. Five backups are created of the same digital file, to ensure its safety.
The documents digitized thus far include copies of the Guru Granth Sahib dating back to 1653, inscriptions of Guru Gobind Singh, an 1866 copy of the Bhagvad Gita, Arabic texts such as the Quran, and manuscripts written in the now-extinct Sharda script.
The library also holds periodicals such as The Indian Express, The Tribune, the Akali Patrika, Ajit, the Hind Samachar and the Jag Bani from 1961, issues of the Sikh Review from 1953, and other rare magazines from 1946. “But the most interesting one,” says Singh, “has been reproducing the coin of the first Sikh nation, which was issued by Baba Banda Singh Bahadur in 1711.”