Kauai Aadheenam's interest in the Saiva Agamas dates back decades to Gurudeva's insistence that they be identified and made available for study and use. These ancient texts are the key scriptures defining the Saiva denomination of Hinduism. The Agamas are the authoritative texts on temple construction and worship. But they contain much more, from cosmology to the intricacies of the guru-disciple relationship, to initiations and instructions for meditations on the nature of Lord Siva. This knowledge has remained mostly inaccessible, hidden within thousands of palm leaf manuscripts scattered throughout India.
Once state-of-the-art technology, the palm leaf manuscripts were painstakingly recopied every hundred years or so to preserve them. But this process stopped in the 19th century. Well cared for, palm-leaf manuscripts last for hundreds of years, but if neglected they can be destroyed by nature within a short time. Fortunately, in the 1950s and 60s, Jean Filliozat and Pandit N.R. Bhatt of the French Institute of Pondicherry set out to collect and preserve these manuscripts, with a focus on the Saiva Agamas. The result of their work is the 8,000+ bundles now preserved at the Institute.
Early efforts to copy and thus preserve the manuscripts were thwarted by the cost and complexity of microfilm. It is only recently, with the advent of high resolution digital cameras, that efficient and economical methods became available.
(Photos above, bottom to top) Two heavily damaged leaves; a pair of typical leaves from the bundle of Sukshma Agama; side view of the Sukshma Agama; and top view of wrapped Sukshma Agama bundle.
(Photo left) Acharya Arumuganathaswami sets up the team in December, 2008, as Dr. S. Sabharathanam, expert on Saiva Agamas, looks on.
In 2005 Bodhinatha approached the French Institute with a proposal to digitize the Saiva-related bundles--about half the collection. But once he saw the precarious condition of the rare manuscripts, which could easily have been destroyed completely by fire, tsunami or other natural disaster, he offered to digitize and thus protect the entire collection.
The Institute is owned by the French Government, and getting permission to digitize the collection was a slow process. Experts in ancient manuscripts and photography were consulted, and a simple system using Nikon cameras tethered to Macintosh computers was set up at the Institute. Starting in December 2008, four young men were hired to do the work and process the photos. They took 2,000 photos daily and completed the collection (save 200 heavily damaged bundles) on January 1, 2011. Altogether, they took 775,261 photographs. These have been assembled into PDF files, one for each bundle, and will soon be available for download on the Institute's website. This is possibly the first of India's ancient manuscript collections to be entirely digitized.
Until now, anyone wishing to view a bundle had to go to Pondicherry and physically inspect it. If he wanted a copy, he had to make it by hand, perhaps damaging the brittle leaves in the process. Such obstacles impeded the study of the Agamas, and only a few have been put into print (most in Sanskrit, with no translation). Now, further deterioration is no longer an issue and anyone in the world can download a manuscript in minutes.
The Aadheenam's long-term plan is to create a collection of excerpts from the Saiva Agamas, translated into English, on key concepts of Saiva Siddhanta, such as the inner meaning of temple worship and the function of the guru. Now, only succinct summaries of Vedanta philosophy, such as from the Upanishads, exist in many languages. The scriptural basis of other aspects of Hinduism, as found in the Agamas, should be equally available.