The Dhan Su Kagad Project: 'Blessed is the Paper'

The extended Indus river basin region includes the modern territories of East Panjab (India), West Panjab (Pakistan), Himachal Pradesh (India) Jammu and Kashmir (India and Pakistan) as well as portions of Sindh (Pakistan), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Pakistan), Haryana (India) and Rajasthan (India). As with other regions in South Asia, it had an extra-ordinarily rich tradition of paper-making. Sadly, this tradition had mostly ended by the mid-20th century, although small pockets of traditional paper-making can be found in other parts of South Asia. Handmade paper was fundamental to the development of artistic and book-making traditions. Yet, there has been no technical analysis of historical specimens or the development of a typology for categorising them. Since almost all Sikh manuscripts were all written on handmade papers, a database of Indus river basin papers would be of great benefit for the study of Sikh manuscripts.

The Dhan Su Kagad project (translated as “blessed is that paper” in honour of Guru Nanak Dev Ji's verse) was conceived to fulfil this purpose by surveying a representative sample of papers from the Sikh tradition. The project began in 2018 when it was awarded the Frederick Bearman Research Grant. The video in this link provides an introduction to the project as presented at the 2018 ICON Book and Paper Group AGM where the recipient of the award was announced.

 

The grant helped fund a research trip to Amritsar where we were privileged enough to survey the papers of over 20 Gurmukhi manuscripts. We chose to initially focus on the Sikh tradition due to its importance for Pothi Seva and the fact that it covers a wide time-span from the 15th to the 20th century. The survey involved recording a wide variety of physical features found in historic papers including:

1. Concentration of laid lines

2. Average thickness

3. Fibre appearance under a microscope

4. Technical categorisation of colour according to the Munsell system

Snippets of this research were shared in blogpost you can read here. A more in-depth overview of this research was presented at the Frederick Bearman Memorial Lecture in December 2018.