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Transcription of Introductory Video

Photograph of Shaunaka Rishi das of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
Shaunaka Rishi das of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

Welcome, Jai Swaminarayan. My name is Shaunaka Rishi das of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. In this short introduction, written by Dr. Gillian Evison, the Bodleian Library's Indian Institute Librarian, I will be introducing you to the Digital Shikshapatri website, which tells the story of the Bodleian Library's Shikshapatri manuscript, one of the treasures of British Hindu heritage.

The story of this New Opportunities Fund Digitization project begins in the 1980's when Oxford University's Bodleian Library started to receive requests from members of the public to come and see one of its Sanskrit manuscripts. These visitors did not simply want to look at this manuscript. They wanted to drape flower garlands over its exhibition case; they wanted to sing songs, light lamps and distribute sweets. In short they had not come to see a museum object, they had come to have darshan. Darshan, taken from the Sanskrit verb drish, to see, is the term used by Hindus to express the religious experience of seeing the divine. This can be applied to viewing the deity's image in a temple; gazing on a religious leader, or in the case of the Bodleian's Shikshapatri, looking at a manuscript. For an academic research library such visitors represented a profound culture shock. By the year 2000, the Shikshapatri had become the most visited manuscript in the library's collection, with up to 900 people a year making the special appointment necessary to see it.

The large collection of religious and philosophical Indian manuscripts in the Bodleian, over eight and a half thousand in all, is a direct legacy Oxford University's longstanding interest in India and the Sanskrit language. Oxford's Boden Professorship is the oldest chair of Sanskrit in the United Kingdom. It was founded with a bequest of just over 26,000 from Colonel Joseph Boden of the East India Company and was first held by Horace Hayman Wilson, who was elected in 1832.

Picture of Sir M. Monier-Williams
Sir M. Monier-Williams, the second Boden Professor of Sanskrit, and founder of the Indian Institute and its associated library.

The second Boden Professor of Sanskrit, Sir M. Monier-Williams, founded the Indian Institute and its associated library in 1883 as a focus for Indian studies at Oxford. In a fundraising speech made in Calcutta 1884, he described how his proposed Institute would be, "a great literary repository of where the treasures of two civilizations will be stored, and where the wisdom and knowledge received centuries ago from the East will be repaid, I trust with interest, by the West."

Amongst the 500 Indic manuscripts that came to rest in Prof. Monier-William's great literary repository were two copies of a work called the Shikshapatri. This text of two hundred and twelve verses was written by Swaminarayan, a reforming Hindu from the Vaishnava tradition, who lived in Gujarat from 1781-1830 and who was recognised by his followers as a deity during his lifetime. It is what is known as a dharma text, detailed instructions on how to live. Although Sanskrit had ceased to be spoken as an every day language in India many centuries earlier, it was still used as the language for religious texts and so Swaminarayan composed his blue-print for moral and social order in this ancient sacred language.

Photograph of The Shikshapatri manuscript.
The Shikshapatri, an Indic manuscript written by Swaminarayan, a reforming Hindu from the Vaishnava tradition.

One of the two manuscripts of the Shikshapatri was given to Prof. Monier-Williams when he visited the Vadtal temple in Gujarat in 1875. In his account of the visit, which was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1882, he expressed the intention to publish an edition of the Shikshapatri with a translation. Images of this manuscript and the text of Prof. Monier-Williams translation can be found on the Digital Shikshapatri website.

The other Shikshapatri manuscript was given to the Indian Institute Library by Thomas Blane. There is no record of the date of its donation but it appears in Arthur Berriedale Keith's catalogue of Indian Institute manuscripts that was published in 1903. The catalogue entry records that, according to a note inside the manuscript, it was presented by Swaminarayan and that it was used as the basis for Prof. Monier-William's English translation. In fact in the preface to his edition and translation, Prof. Monier-Williams makes no reference to Thomas Blane's Shikshapatri, so it is highly unlikely that he used it.

Photograph of the Shikshapatri manuscript which was given to the Indian Institute Library by Thomas Blane.
The Shikshapatri manuscript which was given to the Indian Institute Library by Thomas Blane.

The Blane manuscript slips into quiet anonymity for the next 78 years, during which time the Indian Institute ceased to exist and its library was absorbed by the Bodleian. In 1981 the scholar Raymond Williams wrote an article that was to lift the Thomas Blane's Shikshapatri manuscript out of obscurity. In a volume commemorating Lord Swaminarayan's bicentenary, he drew attention to the pencil inscription at the beginning of Thomas Blane's Shikshapatri. He identified the Bodleian manuscript with the copy of the Shikshapatri given by Swaminarayan to Sir John Malcolm, Governor of Bombay at their meeting in February 1830. A copy of Raymond Williams' article can be found in Related Articles section of the Digital Shikshapatri website.

From the 1960s Swaminarayan families had been settling in the UK, having left East Africa as a result of the uncertain conditions economic and political conditions created by de-colonization. Today there are probably around 50,000 in the Swaminarayans in the UK forming part of a community of some million adherents spread throughout India, Africa, Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia. An article by the scholar Rohit Barot on the Digital Shikshapatri website tells the story of the development of the Swaminarayan community in the United Kingdom.

On learning of the connection between the Bodleian manuscript and Lord Swaminarayan, Sawminarayans began to contact the Bodleian asking to have darshan of the manuscript and over the next two decades the number of requests grew steadily. As an academic research library occupying a cramped historical site, the Bodleian is singularly ill equipped to deal with parties of visitors than can number up to a hundred at a time. There is no permanent exhibition area for "treasures" as there is at British Library and so rooms within the library have to be found and equipped with temporary exhibition casing. As the manuscript is displayed in a case, only one opening can be shown at a time, and supporting material to explain how it came to the Bodleian has to be kept to a bare minimum. The library is also unable to accommodate visitors at the weekends, when most Swaminarayans want to have darshan.

Montage of the Shikshapatri.
The manuscript was originally a gift to promote understanding between people of different cultural backgrounds.

An obvious way to increase access to the manuscript outside of the library's restricted opening hours and to provide enhanced contextual information about the Shikshapatri, was to digitize the text and make it available over the Internet.

The Bodleian manuscript was originally a gift to promote understanding between people of different cultural backgrounds and we hope that the Digital Shikshapatri will continue this tradition.

Digital Shikshapatri