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Saiva Manuscript in Pondicherry

Documentary heritage submitted by India and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2005.

Within a collection of 11 000 manuscripts that concern mainly the religion and worship of the Hindu God Siva, is included the largest collection in the world of manuscripts of texts of the Śaiva Siddhānta. In the 10th century CE, this religious tradition, a major current of Hinduism, was spread right across the Indian subcontinent and beyond, as far as Cambodia in the East. It long represented the mainstream of Tantric doctrine and worship and appears to have influenced every Indian theistic tradition. Its surviving texts, the majority of them unpublished, range from the 6th century CE to the colonial period. This unique collection thus furnishes much of the dwindling evidence remaining today for scholars to reconstruct a chapter in the religious annals of humanity. The collection is presently housed in the French institutions of research in Pondicherry. We have now framed a collaborative Indo-French project with the Indian government’s National Mission for Manuscripts. Our ultimate objective: to put the whole Śaiva collection online and so make it available to scholars throughout the world.

A collection of around 11,000 manuscripts based on the doctrine of Shaivism has been preserved in the French institutions of research in Pondicherry, India. These manuscripts primarily capture the texts of the philosophy of Shaiva-Siddhanta. Since manuscripts are precious remnants of history, UNESCO has collaborated on an Indo-French project with the Indian government’s National Mission for Manuscripts to preserve and make these manuscripts available online. These manuscripts were given UNESCO Memory of the World inscription in 2005, based on a submission made by India in the same year.  

Shaivism is a body of religious Hindu traditions devoted to the worship of Lord Shiva. Along with the principles of Vaishnavism and Shaktism, it forms the core of Hinduism. The origins of Shaivism can be traced back to the 2nd century B.C, to the concept of Rudra in the Rig Veda. Here Rudra is embodied as a terror-inducing deity, and Shiva, meaning ‘the auspicious one’ is mentioned as an epithet of Rudra. In the present day, several Hindu traditions perceive Shiva and Rudra as the same personality, namely Rudra-Shiva. In the later Vedas, Rudra-Shiva is revered as the supreme figure. 

While it is difficult to trace the exact origins of physical manifestation of Shiva worship, the discovery of the Pashupati seal from the archaeological sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation suggests that the earliest form of Shiva worship began around 2000 B.C. Later Shiva came to be worshipped in the form of a linga (a phallic column) carved out of rocks, which symbolised the paradoxical virility and chastity associated with Lord Shiva.  It was with the rise of the Pashupata sect (between the 2nd century B.C and the 2nd century A.D.) that there was the development of organised sectarian worship. It is from then on that India has seen the worship of Lord Shiva, in temples, festivals and places of pilgrimage. 

Modern-day Shaivism encompasses a multitude of schools of thought that range from pluralistic realism (multiplicity and changeability of reality) to absolute monism (one infinitive divine reality). Shaiva-Siddhanta is one of the most popular schools of Shaivism. The first systematic philosopher of this school was Meykanadevar (13th century A.D.). This philosophy recognises three universal realities - Pati (Shiva), Pashu (the soul) and Pasha (that bonds that bind one’s soul to earthly existence). It has influenced every Indian theistic tradition, including the Tantric doctrine. This religious tradition spread not only throughout the Indian subcontinent but even beyond, to many parts of Southeast Asia like Bali, Java, and Cambodia. 

The tenets of this philosophy have been captured in these manuscripts.  These texts cover a period from the 6th century CE to the colonial period. A majority of these texts are unpublished, and thus hold much value in filling the gaps in reconstructing the religious history of India. Also, scholars from all across the world show a keen interest in gaining insights into this rich and multi-layered philosophy. Thus the UNESCO inscription of these manuscripts will go a long way in spreading information about them and also simultaneously lead to their digitization and preservation.