Between 1956 and 1990 the French Institute of Pondicherry and the École francaise d’Extrême Orient at Pondicherry undertook a programme of collection of ancient South Indian manuscripts. In due course some 11,000 manuscripts were collected. The collection, ranged from the 6th century to the colonial period, contains manuscripts relating to every branch of traditional South Indian learning (including texts on astrology, medicine, philosophy, grammar, poetry, politics, epics, myths and legends, and literary works), but the largest part of the collection is of religious texts. Some 4,000 texts are relating to the worship of and devotion to God Šiva, and a further 650 relating to God Višnu. Some of the texts in the collection are modern transcripts but the bulk (9,849 volumes) are original palm-leaf texts. Most date from the late 18th century or later. The texts are inscribed onto the leaves rather than written on them.
The collection is of great historical and cultural value, as it is the largest archive of material on the worship of Šiva and is also probably the most complete witness to traditional South Indian (Tamil) learning. The Šiva material is of particular significance because it witnesses the Saiva Siddhanta, one of the major religious traditions in India, which has slowly moved towards extinction in recent centuries. The material when collected was in many cases damaged, and in some cases very seriously so, reflecting the fragile nature of palm leaves in the climate of South India. The entire collection was inscribed on the International Memory of the World Register in 2005.