View Ancient Manuscripts at Asa Archives

Asa Archives is situated in a private house in Kulumbbhula on the western fringe of the older part of Kathmandu town in Nepal. Visitors are invited to view the collection of rare and ancient manuscripts displayed at Asa Archives, all of which offer insight into the history and traditions of medieval Kathmandu. The archives contain more than 6,000 loose-leaf handwritten books and about 1,000 palm-leaf manuscripts. The oldest manuscript in the collection is believed to date back to 1464 AD.

Asa Archives was named in honor of the late Mr. Asha Man Singha Kansaker, the father of Mr. Prem Bahadur Kansakar (1917-1991). As a prominent activist, educationist, social worker and Newar writer, Mr. Prem Bahadur Kansakar founded several social, cultural, literary and educational institutes. The personal collections of this well respected family formed the foundation of the Asa Archives, which opened to the public in 1987.

Most of the manuscripts and documents housed at Asa Archives are written in Sanskrit or Nepal Bhasa, also known as Newari Script. Sanskrit is a classical language which is spoken in India and Nepal. It is one of India’s 23 official languages, as well as being a sacred or liturgical language of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. Vedic Sanskrit is an archaic form of Sanskrit that dates as far back as 1500 BCE. Nepal Bhasa, or Newari Script, is one of about 500 Sino-Tibetan languages and is one of the foremost languages of Nepal. Nothing can be stated with certainty about the origins of Nepal Bhasa and the language has evolved over time. “The Palmleaf from Uku Bahal” from 1114 AD is the earliest dated document in Nepal Bhasa.

Recognizing that these ancient documents deteriorate with time, a project was undertaken in the summer of 2005 for the conservation and digitization of the manuscripts and books stored at Asa Archives. The documents include Buddhist and Hindu texts, manuals of magic and divination, medical texts, and manuscripts on astrology and astronomy. Unique to Nepal are the land grants written on rolled palm leaf manuscripts with clay seals.

Great care was taken to restore manuscripts where possible before digitally copying them. Unfortunately, some of the rolled manuscripts had become very brittle and could not be unrolled without damaging them. Further research needs to be done on how to deal with these. However, the best part of the precious collection of documents stored at Asa Archives has been preserved for the benefit of future Nepalese generations as well as for visitors from all over the world.