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Institute of Asian Studies Tamil Palm Leaf Manuscript

Documentary heritage submitted by India and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 1997

Mostly Tamil Medical Manuscripts preserved at the Institute of Asian Studies reflect the ancient system of medicine, practised by yogis. This system explains the methods of obtaining medicines from herbs, herbal roots, leaves, flowers, barks, fruits etc. The proportions of the ingredients as well as the specific processes are explained in detail.

The Institute of Asian Studies has a collection of palm-leaf manuscripts with inscriptions on the subject of medicine. A record of the traditional methods used in the ancient system of medicine, largely followed by the yogis, these manuscripts were recognised to be of great value. As a result of which they were inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in the year 1997. 

Prior to the use of paper, palm leaf was a common material used to maintain records. The abundance of palm trees in India, largely in South India, resulted in easy availability of palm leaves for this purpose. The leaves were not directly used for inscription but were first processed, the method of which varied from region to region. They were then incised with the help of a tool called stylus. In order to give colour to the inscription lampblack mixed with oil was rubbed on the leaves. There is a great collection of palm leaf manuscripts kept safely in libraries and repositories throughout India.

The collection of Tamil Palm Leaf Manuscripts from the Institute of Asian Studies was recognised by UNESCO for its contribution in the field of medicine. They contain details of preparing medicines, methods of obtaining them from various sources and the diseases that can be cured by using them. This set of manuscripts covers major areas of medicine, including indigenous medicine such as Siddha, Ayurveda as well as Yunani systems, human anatomy, agriculture, animal husbandry and much more. 
These manuscripts have recorded the minutest details and have been indexed in a particular manner starting with the name of the author followed by the name of the medicine, name of the practitioner and then the name of the disease. Other than this the manuscripts have mentioned in detail the proportions of ingredients required to make each of these medicines. 

Most of the medicinal properties are obtained from the herbs, fruits, flowers, roots etc. It is said that the cure for certain diseases which are not curable using allopathic methods can be achieved by following the instructions on these manuscripts. The added advantage of using natural substances or metals ensure that there are no major side effects. 

The Institute of Asian Studies makes sure that these manuscripts are conserved and preserved in the best possible way. Every week these manuscripts are treated with lemongrass oil and are kept safely in glass doors. 
It is believed that the availability of these manuscripts in the digitised format will be a major contribution in the field of medicine throughout the world. In India, many medical institutions have resorted to the traditional methods of curing major diseases such as AIDS and diabetes and the success rates have been high. It is believed that making these manuscripts available to the rest of the world will help save millions of lives on a daily basis.