Rare Buddhist relics survive J-K deluge

Ishfaq Tantry
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, October 12
Rare Buddhist treasures housed in the historic Sri Pratap Singh (SPS) Museum survived the September-7 floods that ravaged Srinagar city, thanks to timely action by local authorities.

The cultural and archival treasure representing 2,000 years of heritage of the region, including 6th Century Gilgit manuscripts — the only surviving testimony to the Buddhist classic knowledge — was earlier reported to have been lost in the floods.

The museum complex, which stands on the left bank of the Jhelum in the Lal Mandi area of Srinagar, was severely hit during the flooding, as water entered its galleries showcasing rare items. “But quick action by our teams ensured that organic and inorganic collections, including paintings, manuscripts, textiles and art objects, were retrieved in time,” said Mohammad Shafi Zahid, Director, Archives, Archaeology and Museum Department of J&K.

The items saved included 6th Century Gilgit manuscripts, which were “intact and not even touched” by the floodwater, he added. It was earlier believed that the manuscripts had been lost during the flooding. The Gilgit manuscripts or Gilgit documents were the “oldest known Buddhist manuscripts in the world”, he added.

The museum officials also successfully removed all “oriental manuscripts” housed in the museum, including those in Sharda and Persian scripts that depict the Chak Dynasty of Kashmir, especially the rule of Yousuf Shah Chak, said Zahid. These manuscripts are penned on a host of writing material ranging from the bark of birch tree (“bhoj patra” or “burza”) and cloth to fine Kashmiri handmade paper called “koshur kagaz”.

“However, a few relics of papier-mâché could not be saved as they have turned pulpy,” he added.

A three-member team of experts, headed by RP Savita, Direction Conservation National Museum, New Delhi, inspected the flood-hit museum on October 10.

The Gilgit manuscripts

  • Gilgit manuscripts or Gilgit documents (pics) are the oldest known Buddhist manuscripts in the world and hold significant importance in the field of Buddhist studies
  • These were named so after their discovery in Jammu and Kashmir’s Gilgit region, now a part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK)
  • They depict Buddhist works that helped in the evolution of Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Tibetan religio-philosophical literature

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