Nabadwip, a small town in the Nadia district of West Bengal (India), is said to have been the capital of the Sena kingdom of Bengal until the 13th century and was well into the 20th a preeminent center of Sanskrit learning. Traditionally held to be the birthplace of Chaitanya (circa 1486-1534), the founder of the Gaudiya Vaishnava movement, Nabadwip remains a very important pilgrimage center for Hindus across the world. Nabadwip’s reputation as a center of Sanskrit learning however was not dependent solely on the Gaudiya Vaishnava networks and in fact predated the birth of Chaitanya. As demonstrated by historians such as Dineshchandra Bhattacharyya, Jonardon Ganeri, Joel Bordeaux, and Samuel Wright, the scholarly networks centered in Nabadwip and adjoining regions excelled in several disciplines of Sanskrit learning including Vyakarana (grammar), Alankara (poetics), Smriti (law), and Nyaya (logic).
In the early modern period, scholars based in the town who were almost without exception Brahmin men experienced unprecedented success as Nabadwip emerged as the main center of Navya-nyaya or “new reason” school of Sanskrit thought. The emergence of Navya-nyaya scholarship in the Nabadwip region impacted not just the discipline of logic but changed for good the methodologies of several other disciplines as well. Patronized by the landholding and mercantile elites, the Sanskrit educational institutions or chatushpathis in the Nabadwip region attracted students from all over South Asia and even Tibet. Nabadwip was also home to Vaishnava theologians and Tantric scholars. Given Nabadwip’s preeminence as both a center of learning and Vaishnava devotionalism, the town was also a hub of manuscript production and a home to scribal communities.
As several surveys since the 19th century have evinced, Nabadwip and its adjoining regions were exceptionally rich in Sanskrit manuscripts, most of which were in custody of Brahmin scholarly lineages that presided over the educational institutions on a hereditary basis. As Sanskrit learning declined, many of these families donated their manuscript collections to public libraries in the region. Nabadwip Sadharan Granthagar, a public library in Nabadwip town owned by the Government of West Bengal, is one such repository and has in its collection more than 2500 manuscripts. Upon request, the Government of West Bengal’s library administration in the Nadia district has granted us permission to digitize for open access the entire collection of manuscripts in the custody of Nabadwip Sadharan Granthagar. We have closely examined the collection. Many manuscripts are severely damaged and they need to be urgently digitized. The library does not have the requisite infrastructure or financial resources to have the manuscripts restored and store them in climate-controlled facilities. The manuscripts, which are on various media such as hand-made paper, Palmyra-palm leaves, and Birch tree barks, are increasingly becoming fragile and need to be digitized without any further delay. The library authorities fear that the manuscripts may be even stolen or forcibly taken away.