After more than four decades, some 5,560 rare manuscripts in the Oriental Research Library(ORL), have been shifted to the newly constructed modern premises in Srinagar. The manuscripts are in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, and other languages and it comprises a treasure trove, the only of its kind in north India.
The shifting of the manuscripts from the Allama Iqbal Library of the University of Kashmir was completed during December-January to the modernized premises of the Sri Partap Singh (SPS) Library in the heart of the Srinagar city. The new building is fire and water-resistant; rgw ORL portion is housed in top storey to keep it safe during the recurring floods in the River Jhelum. These manuscripts were originally housed in the SPS Library and Museum at Lal Mandi, on the left bank of river Jhelum.
However, this collection was highly vulnerable to vagaries of nature and the threat of recurring floods. In 1975, the then Chief Minister, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had ordered it to be shifted to a relatively safer Allama Iqbal Library in the University of Kashmir. The Oriental Research Library is the only such repository in Northern India. Three other similar libraries are based in South India—---Mysore in Karnataka, Pune in Maharashtra, and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. The rare manuscripts on Central Asia, from Turkey and Persia, have since been digitized under the National Mission Manuscript of the Union Culture Ministry in 2005, officials said.
The rare manuscripts are in 17 languages and this is a treasure-trove of religious, philosophical, historical, literary, and scientific writings, said Zahida Bano, Assistant Director, Libraries and Research of the Jammu and Kashmir Government. Scholars, researchers, and students regularly visit the library.
The new SPS library building in Srinagar
An exhibition of these historic manuscripts, rare books, and miniature paintings was organized here recently jointly by the Oriental Research Library (ORL) and Sri Pratap Singh (SPS) Library, to commemorate Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav. Due to Covid protocol, the entry was restricted and only the invitees were allowed in.
The attraction of the exhibition was the oldest manuscripts like Qarabai-Din, Sadh Pand Luqman, and Shahnama Firdousi. Some of the rare books including Rajtarangni by Kalhanna, Tareekh-e-Rasheedi, Gazetteer of India, and Kashur - a history of Kashmir were also displayed at the exhibition. The collection, Zahida Bano said, is rich in classical languages like Persian, Sanskrit, and Arabic.
These languages have left a deep impression on the Kashmiri language by conditioning its growth in terms of forms and scope, she said. The Sanskrit, language of the court, and culture in the 9-10th century in Kashmir that contributed to religious, aesthetic, and poetic articulations are preserved in the ORL.
According to Zahida Bano, “Some manuscripts on Geometry and Medicine could also help to reveal the untold truth and discoveries.” She said such exhibitions will also make our younger generation aware of the culture, traditions, heritage, and history.
Built at a cost of Rs 31 crores, the newly constructed Sri Pratap Singh Library was inaugrated in 2018. Maharaja Pratap Singh, laid foundation of first State library called SPS Library in Srinagar in 1898.