Preserving old letters in the digital age

Bags of letters at Siddaganga Math, Tumakuru

These days, the old-fashioned handwritten letter has nearly become extinct as words are typed on the keyboard. Now, letters written in the past, involving leading personalities, are considered as historical documents for their unparalleled connection to the past. Siddaganga Math in Tumakuru, which has played a dominant role in shaping art, culture, literature, academics and politics in the State, has now taken up a project, the first of its kind in the State, to archive letters involving its pontiff Shivakumara Swami.

The math has a huge collection of letters, spanning over 80 years. Devotees from various walks of life, including leading politicians, writers, scientists, technocrats, diplomats, industrialists, rich and not-so-rich, old and young, women and men have written to the pontiff. There are letters written by pontiffs of various maths seeking advice.

The Siddaganga Education Society (SES), which has taken up the project, has begun the process of tracing letters involving the pontiff. There are plans to chronicle the letters under various categories. “These letters are valuable windows for looking into the rich past. They are also important for elements of personal texts and narratives,” Nanjundappa, honorary secretary, SES, explains.

“These letters are accumulated records of individuals, religious centres and institutions, and merit preservation,” he says. “These letters help future generations recall how letters take their shape as cultural conventions of expression,” says a teacher involved in the project. Many of these letters offer eyewitness accounts of famous incidents and references, he adds.

Though SES was planning to safely record the math’s history, the idea to archive letters is a recent one. “Writer and documentary filmmaker Dinanath Gopal Tendulkar’s eight-volume biography of Mahatma Gandhi has inspired the project,” reveals Nanjundappa.

“These letters are an irreplaceable record of Karnataka’s past. We will have a museum where these letters will be displayed,” he adds. Although thousands of letters have been collected so far, SES requests people who have communicated with the pontiff to share either originals or photocopies of such letters. The letters can be sent to The President, Siddaganga Education Society, Siddaganga Math, Tumakuru.

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Preserving old letters in the digital age

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