The Virsā project is an effort to preserve numerous historical documents and manuscripts relevant to the Sikhs. Through digitization, libraries of information will be replicated and made readily available to the masses.
According to a 1968 publication of SGPC called ‘sādā hath likhat sāhit,’ the Sikh Reference Library contained 383 volumes that covered 980 different topics. Amongst this repository were several Hukamnāmās, 2500 hand-written sarūps of Gurū Granth Sāhib, and other rare historical documents. One historical document was written by Bhāī Gurdās and bore a hand-written Mūl Mantr page by the Ninth Nānak.
The library also consisted of a manuscript dated 1739 Bikramī that was prepared by Gurū Gobind Singh Sāhib five years after the martyrdom of Gurū Teghbahādur Sāhib – in this document, the Tenth Nānak added the writings of the Ninth Nānak at Damdamā Sāhib to the Gurū Granth Sāhib.
Unfortunately, the Indian Army set the building on fire on June 7, 1984, destroying a majority of these rare documents. In recent years, the Indian Defense Minister has also admitted to the burning or removal of material from the Sikh Reference Library.
Today, access to the remaining collection of historical documents is quite difficult because of their widespread distribution throughout Pañjāb; many manuscripts and objects remain undocumented, uncatalogued, or simply unknown, posing a significant threat of loss and deterioration. The handling of originals establishes a damage-risk from wear and tear, a damage classified as a permanent loss because no duplicates exist. Inappropriate storage conditions further compound the deterioration of precious materials.
Regrettably, many universities and academic institutions fail to see the importance of preserving such works. Thus, efforts in this field must be done on a widely accepted framework not yet introduced within the Sikh community – the Virsā project aims to improve expertise in the field and to establish common grounds for future collaborative work by specialists from the global Sikh community.
Digital technology and integration to reference tools have revolutionized the ability to create electronic replicas of print materials.
Recently, Professor Stephen Brown and a team of IBM technicians were able to assist the Vatican digitize the Vatican Library, and currently, Hewlett-Packard is working with Pope John Paul II to provide public online access to the Vatican's Apostolic Library.
This tool will include images of millions of manuscripts that have only been accessible to professional scholars and professors in the past.
The Virsā project aims to digitize manuscripts, rare historical documents, old printed posters, maps, twentieth-century political documents, and photographs.
Historical buildings in Pañjāb will also be digitally photographed and architects will create blueprints to preserve the original layout and design.
Furthermore, all digitization will be utilized to create an Online Digital Library of the entire collection – a means of offering rare and fragile originals for viewing to the public.
As many scholars cannot presently study these documents closely due to limited time and travel constraints, a digital library will allow scholars to view the images via the Internet through a simple subscription process; a simple solution to the formidable task of finding and accessing rare manuscripts for the serious scholar.
The world is moving ahead with projects to digitize full texts of selected books and manuscripts, photographs, maps, architectural drawing, films and sound recordings in their collections. It has become essential for all communities to leverage from the latest technologies to preserve political documents and collections to be made accessible to the rest of the world. The Virsā project seeks to do just that.
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