The unprecedented floods that swept Kashmir Valley last month, have inflicted heavy damage to cultural and archival treasures representing 2,000 yea the historic Sri Pratap Singh Museum in Srinagar have been lost forever. Sources told DNA that the important document, the Gilgit manuscripts, the only surviving testimony to the Buddhist classic knowledge, has been lost forever. Historians across the world were awaiting with bated breath news about the fate of these documents, only to hear that they have been declared 100% damaged with no chances of recovery. Suspecting that tribal raiders may damage these documents in 1947, India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had prevailed upon then government in Jammu and Kashmir to shift them to National Archives in Delhi. On two other occasions, to protect them from aerial bombings during war in 1965 and 1971 they were again flown to Delhi for protection. Ironically, some of the documents placed at the Central Asian Studies Department of Kashmir University were returned to the Museum authorities just a week before the floods. Member of National Monument Authority and former director of INTACH Salim Beg, who has just returned from Srinagar after inspecting the loss said that not only manuscripts but other significant treasures like paintings, shawls, historic textiles, and wood carvings have been damaged. He was aghast that even when the waters receded, no action had been taken to rescue the artefacts. He lamented that state authorities lack expertise or even basic understanding to rescue the objects. Tracing the history of their discovery, Beg says a shepherd had found them in 1931 accidentally and by the orders of then Maharaja Hari Singh, they were placed in the museum. Since then scholars from all over world arrive Srinagar to see these documents. Known as the oldest manuscripts in the world, the Gilgit documents have an unmatched significance in the area of Buddhist studies. They help trace the evolution of Sanskrit, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Tibetan religio-philosophical literature. They were named Gilgit manuscripts as they were discovered in three instalments in the Gilgit region, now part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Fragments of these manuscripts are placed in the British Museum and the Department of Archaeology in Karachi.
From DNA, 3 Oct. 20014