I am delighted to be writing this blog as it is the culmination of 6 years of effort for the Institute of Jainology (IoJ) on the Jainpedia project. As a small charity with a handful of trustees, this project is one of herculean proportions. However, from its very early origins, it became clear how important it was for the Jain tradition, especially in the UK.
The IoJ spent some 12 years in cataloguing the collection of Jain manuscripts in the British Library – a testament to the dedication of the scholars who worked on this task. The collection has many beautifully illustrated folios on paper, cloth and palm leaf and covers a diverse range of subjects related to Jain beliefs, tradition and practices. This makes it not only of importance to the Jain community, but also because it is a part of Britain’s imperial history and a constituent of modern, multicultural Britishness.
Producing the catalogue was a milestone in IoJ’s history, and its launch by Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace was the icing on the cake. Although the catalogue brought much wider awareness of the collection, especially its newer acquisitions, it had already become apparent that the collection was not being fully utilised except by a few scholars and learned monks and nuns.
The challenge was a simple one: how do we make this collection accessible to a wide and diverse audience? This question of access was also a multi-faceted one – physical contact with these manuscripts can be difficult as some are rare, many centuries old and fragile; even if one could get to them, many are in languages that have not been spoken for a millennia and more; and, if one could perchance read the script, the contents are themselves difficult without an understanding of Jain philosophy, history and culture!
Out of this challenge came the seed of Jainpedia: a rich online resource that would have at its heart a digitised collection of some 5,000 folios from the Jain collections at the British Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bodleian Library and the Wellcome Trust Collection. The digitised images would be contextualised with commentaries from modern scholars, audio and video material and translations of the original texts. Alongside this there would be material for schools and young people, as well as somewhere for the Jain community to record their views and practices in the 21st century.
This resource would then be launched in the community through major exhibitions at the V&A and the British Library, activities in schools and events at other regional religious and heritage centres and at Jain temples.
I am excited by both the scale and opportunity that Jainpedia brings. I am grateful to the stakeholders, funders and the Jainpedia team for making this project a reality and I eagerly look forward to its launch in the coming months.
Project Director – Jainpedia
Director, Institute of Jainology