From ancient times
From time immemorial, books have been the best friends of man. When there were no media like radio, television, internet etc, books have been always there, as man’s primary source of information. They are also one of the main sources of information in the present day world, with printing being made easy by the technological advances. Thus we see, ever increasing publishers and books. The book stores are filled with large number of books on a large number of subjects, as never before.
From Childhood itself
As a child, one learns and understands the various aspects of life through a book. Many of us may recall reading some inspiring book or story in our childhood that greatly influenced and shaped our lives. Our school lives are invariably linked to the books.
But it is also true that, our interest in reading has been dwindling, over the last many decades, with the advent of electronic and digital media. Reading has been limited to our school text books. And, we abandon this friend of ours, once we have passed our education.
In recent times thought, eBooks have become a favourite among some.
World Book Day
World Book Day is a yearly event observed every year on April 23rd organized by the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNICEF), to promote reading and publishing.
Scripts and Manuscripts
When we speak of books, script and language are intrinsic to it. A book is a flow of ideas that is expressed in scripts.
In ancient and medieval times, when printing had not yet made its advent, Books were all in the form of Manuscripts. Palm leaf manuscripts were common in ancient times.
Any script consists of alphabets, in a particular language. Alphabets are called Aksharam in Samskrt. Aksharam means that which cannot be destroyed or diminished. Kshara is that which is destructible.
Why did they call an alphabet as Aksharam, something that does not diminish or get destroyed?
The notion of an alphabet comes mainly when one wants to transform spoken words, speech, sound, into some other form, here a written form.
In this form, a word is broken down into phonemes, units of speech that can be discerned by the mouth and ear separately and when combined in various combinations, gives rise to different spoken words. Each phoneme is represented visually by a pattern of lines and dots called alphabets.
Unlike spoken sound or the phonemes which fade away with time, a written alphabet, which represents the same sound in a visible form, does not fade away or diminish. It remains as long as the medium on which it has been drawn, lasts. Hence the apt word Aksharam in India for an alphabet.
Phoenician script is considered to be the precursor of all European and West Asian scripts such as Latin, Greek, Roman, Hebrew (through Paleo-Hebrew), Aramaic, Arabic (through Aramaic), etc. The Phoenician alphabet is dates back to around 1200 BCE.
The Phoenician script comprised 22 alphabets, called abjad, which were listed in a sequence.
Bible from Byblos
The word Bible for “the book”, traces its origin to Phoenicia. The city Byblos of Phoenicia was a major trading centre for papyrus, the medium for writing in those days. So, what came from Byblos was the Bible meaning the book.
Christians are thus known as “People of Book”.
Jews were originally the People of Book. For, the Torah is their main book of worship, which comprises of the first five books of Old Testament, also known as the Books of Moses.
More on this in our book, Breaking the Myths – About Ability.
Two forms of Communication
Any languages consists of two forms –the spoken word and the written scripts. Thus in ancient India, there were two ways in which knowledge system were passed on in ancient times
- Orally recitation
- Through books
Veda, were parts of the oral tradition in India, where this knowledge was passed on verbally from the Guru to the Shishya. The Guru Parampara is an important aspect of this tradition.
While books like Purana, Upanishad, Ramayana, Mahabharata etc, belonged to the latter method of passing information, through written manuscripts, books.
Ancient Manuscripts, Books
The writing and creation of manuscripts in Byblos, dates back to 1500 BCE.
Before that, the concept of writing and scribe existed in Egypt around 2000 BCE.
The art of writing manuscripts, books dates back to much before that in India.
Mahabharata, Purana and Upanishad were written around 3100 BCE. The image of Veda Vyasa dictating to His scribe Ganesh is a familiar one.
Mahabharata being dictated by Krishna Dwaipayana to Ganesha
And even before that was Ramayana authored by Adi Kavi Valmiki dating back to 5100 BCE.
Valmiki composing the Ramayana
More on this in our book and film, Historical Rama and book Historical Krishna.
Need to excavate ancient manuscripts
Today, there are hundreds of manuscripts scattered all across the country. But, alas, only a 6% of them have been read.
On this World Book Day, let us make efforts to revive them, and thereby get access to a huge reservoir of information, that could verily transform the fortunes of our country.