By Panchanan Agrawalla
Orissa boasts of its exquisite and priceless palm-leaf-manuscript-heritage of textual and illuminating illustrative diction. The varied palm-leaf manuscripts galore, now found in the collection of museums and private institutions amply speak of the exuberance and efflorescence of this great tradition from about 10th century ad, as is evident from the epigraphic reference to Oriya language and Kutila scripts found in an inscribed sculpture of Jaina monk?Kumarasena discovered from Gandhibedha in Balasore district. They formed the treasure-house of wisdom and knowledge on different aspects of Orissa: history, culture, artistic and architectural legacy. Because of the easy availability of palm-leaf in abundance in Orissa, the palm-leaf-manuscript culture became very popular through the ages. It also becomes easy to inscribe and engrave different subject matter with an iron stylus. The Oriya writing, due to its round and liner shape, facilitated the growth and development of palm-leaf-manuscripts writing and the tradition even continues till the present day in the diminishing idiom.
Interestingly, the European scholars were greatly attracted to study the Oriya palm-leaf-manuscript collections during the 19th century. Rev. J. Long published the first research article in the Jounal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and subsequently scholars like Col. Makenji, Sir John Beams, the then Collector of Balasore, R.L. Mitra, M.M. Chakravarti, H.P. Shastri and Prof. Macdonel, etc. contributed significantly to the study and research of palm-leaf-manuscript tradition of Orissa which threw a flood of new light on the manifold aspects of variegated and glowing Orissa culture.
After Orissa became a separate province in 1936, a series of serendipities and reconnaissance works were taken up to prepare a list of palm-leaf manuscripts found preserved under different agencies through the help of local Pandits. As many as 15 thousand titles were recorded out of which eleven thousand are now available in Orissa State Museum. The Education Department, government of Orissa thereafter, collected a larger variety of palm-leaf manuscripts with the initiative of Prof. G.S. Dash and Prof. N. Banerji with the assistance of Prachi Samiti, under the banner of newly founded Revenshaw College museum. Scholars like Padmashri Paramananda Acharya, Purna Chandra Rath and Kedarnath Mohapatra contributed enormously in their official and individual capacity to the enrichment of palm-leaf-manuscript collection, when the Ravenshaw College museum was shifted to Bhubaneswar during 1947-48. Shri P. Acharya, the then Superintendent of Orissa state museum and K.N. Mohapatra, the then curator, opened a separate section of manuscripts in the museum. This has now pro-literated into an institution of international reputation with about fifty thousand manuscripts compris-ing six sections. Manuscripts have been classified under 1.Veda, 2. Tantra, 3. Jyotisha, 4. Dharmasastra, 5. Ayurveda, 6. Ganita, 7. Silpasastra, 8. Sangita, 9. Abhidan, 10. Vyakarana, 11. Sanskrit Purana, 12. Sanskrit Kavya, 13. Alamkara, 14. Bengali (Sanskrit), 15. Bengali, 16. Devanagari, 17. Oriya Purana, 18. Oriya Kavya, 19. Oriya Prose, 20. Oriya Historical Literature, 21. Sanskrit Paper Manuscripts, 22. Oriya Paper Manuscripts, 23. Arabic Manu-scripts, 24. Darshan Manuscripts, 25. Telugu Manuscripts, 26. Copied Manuscripts, and 27. Illustrated Manuscripts.
Dr N.K. Sahu organised a palm-leaf-manuscript section in Sambalpur. This has developed into a palm-leaf-manuscript library of Sambalpur University which has in its collection manuscripts covering a wide range of subjects. They are Veda, grammar, Tantra, astronomy, medicine, religion, philosophy, epics, Puranas, etc. Berhampur University has also a number of rare collections of manuscripts including that of renowned poet Upendra Bhanja. Many private organisations like Raghunandan Library at Puri, Banchhanidhi Library, Nayagarh, Saintala College, district Bolangir and Veshja Patel College of Duduka, Sundergarh, Titilagarh College, Titilagarh, individual collection of Sri Jitamitra Singh Deo, Khariar, Dileswar Patel of Katapali district, Jharsuguda and Dr M.K. Mishra of Kalahandi have housed different varieties of palm-leaf manuscripts.
Sarala Das, the writer of Mahabharat in Oriya, has contributed a number of works of eminence like Sapta Kanda Ramayana, Chandi Puran, Valmiki Ramayan, Mahalaxmi Vrata, etc. These manuscripts are now found in the collection of state museum. He established Oriya as a rich language in the 15th century ad. Mahabharata of Krishna Singh, Purushottam Das, Jagannath Das and Kapileswar Nanda are also some of the prize collections of the manuscript section. The Madla Panji, the temple chronicle of Puri, written on palm-leaf, is a storehouse of knowlege which needs a thorough and separate study. The most interesting is Kandarpa Rath, illustrated on a bunch of palm-leaves cut to size and stitched together horizontally in a rectangular shape. Enchanting and impressive maidens are intricately arranged to form the chariot with Radha and Krishna in embrace placed at the centre. Another most important treasure of the section is the Gita Govinda. The plates are of palm-leaf size and every plate contains about 17 lines on each sides.
Many manuscripts are found uncared for in the villages which are in state of decay and destruction. They are depositories of our cultural heritage and should be restored by a popular drive through various institutions and individuals dedicated to the cause of saving the extinct palm-leaf-manuscript heritage of Orissa.