The Vaidyaratnavali is a masterpiece in medical treatment for human beings.
TREASURE HOUSE: Sarasvati Mahal Library.
The Thanjavur's Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal library has one of largest collections of manuscripts in India, which was even noted by the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The core of the library's collection dates back to the Nayak times but much of it was added during the Maratha regime.
The 12th century saw the elevation of Marathi to the status of a court language. Scribes had to therefore quickly record court orders in this language and an enterprising Hemad Pant, influenced by Persian, devised the Modi script for Marathi language. The script was a "Shorthand Marathi" and was used for all official records of the Maratha dynasty.
The Marathas in Tanjore were no exception, their Marathi retained its 17th century purity (as opposed to developments in Maharashtra) and Modi was used for all official correspondence even if it was with the neighbouring Danish and French colonies. Folded paper documents in Modi, stored in bundles and documents in Marathi are in excess of 3,000.
The significant Modi bundles were sent to Madras and the remaining "instructed to be destroyed," fortunately the public and the royal family thought better and the library has not only the collection originally with the palace but also those that were to be destroyed.
Documents in the Modi script are of varying importance, some are mere communications from one building in the palace to another. For instance, "Keep the library ready at 9 p.m. for puja tomorrow," says one from 1865.
Several of the records deal with land grants. A 19.73 metre scroll, accounts meticulous details of the 1787 grant of Tulaja-II of 286 acres, measured with a 14-foot stick to several families of the Melattur Bhagavathamela troupe.
A significant batch of records deals with the 20 chatrams (wayside rest houses) that different queens had built and were administered exclusively by them.
Legal rulings are aplenty. An interesting case before a Kotwal involved a Harijan woman complaining of being disturbed by the night patrol officer while she was sleeping on the North Main Street near Tanjore's Ali Darwaza. Enquiry running across several records and the testimony of the fellow patroller led to Narrainappa Naik being found guilty and sentenced to caning under the knee.
The Maratha administration was divided into 12 Mahals and 18 Karkhanas. It appears that the latter was more closely associated with the needs of the palace while the former with the state itself. Departments included those for provisions, treasury, palanquins, painting, the royal granary, handmade paper, spying (Jasudha Mahal), boxing (Thalim Khana). These are in addition to the dockyard established by Raja Serfoji, who undertook a trip to Kasi in 1819-21. While Modi was the script for palace records, literature and cuisine and other subjects were written primarily in Marathi itself and occasionally in Telugu (the script with its curves being less likely to tear the palm leaf).
PHOTOS: R. SHIVAJI RAO
COURT LANGUAGE: Document in Modi
Much of the works are Marathi versions of the popular epics, stories of the different Vrathas. Amber Hussain's detailed commentary on the Gita is a rare manuscript as is a Marathi dictionary.
Several manuscripts related to music, dance and drama are during Shahaji's reign (1684-1712). He seems to have been a prolific composer of Padams, both philosophical and on sringara rasa. It appears that Thanjavur bags the credit for the first Marathi dance drama.
All manuscripts are not for the student of arts; veterinary science has several tomes on the treatment for Serfoji's pet falcon and leopard. The Vaidyaratnavali is a masterpiece on medical treatment for human beings.
A 1816 work, "Sarabendra Paka Sastra," was a glimpse into the lip-smacking fare the court was given. The Bhoomijala Pariksha is a ready reckoner for water divining.
(The author expresses his gratitude to Dr. R. Vivekananda Gopal, Modi Expert in the library for helping him with the research).
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