Many in India may think Timbuktu is just a byword for a faraway place. Few may know that it does exist, somewhere in Africa.
But the unique heritage of the proverbial end-of-the-world city is now set to come alive in India. The Government will host an exhibition of Timbuktu's ancient manuscripts. This will be the largest exhibition of manuscripts – dated between late 13th and early 20th centuries – of Timbuktu, anywhere outside the ancient spiritual capital of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The exhibition, titled “When Taj Mahal meets Timbuktu”, will have on display the manuscripts, saved by a few braveheart bibliophiles from the onslaught of jihadist organisation Ansar Dine, an affiliate of al Qaeda, which had overtaken the ancient city in 2012.
New Delhi also provided assistance of $0.5 million to the efforts to reconstruct the monuments vandalised by militants, officials of the Ministry of External Affairs said.
Its legendary remoteness gave birth to the adage “From here to Timbuktu”, but the ancient city in West African nation Mali once thrived as a trading hub and a centre of learning. It also played an important role in spread of Islam in Africa. Timbuktu is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. What made its heritage priceless to the world is not only its ancient mausoleums and mosques, but also its hundreds of thousands of manuscripts, inherited by its residents from their ancestors and preserved in households and small libraries.
The ancient manuscripts cover a range of subjects – spiritualism, art, medicine, philosophy, science, governance and jurisprudence as well priceless old copies of the Quran.
The Ansar Dine jihadists invaded and took over Timbuktu and other cities in Mali in 2012. They went on a rampage, demolishing centuries-old mausoleums and mosques and terrorising Timbuktu's residents, who have been practising a Sufi-influenced moderate form of Islam for centuries. But most of the manuscripts survived the onslaught, as they were smuggled out to safety by local bibliophiles, led by Abdel Kader Haidara, who owned the biggest private collection of ancient texts. After Malian and French military drove out the jihadists in early 2013, efforts began to scientifically preserve the manuscripts, with support from international organisations and foreign governments
India’s aid for reconstruction of ancient sites in Mali was handed over by Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar, who visited Bamaco, the capital of the West African nation, early this month.