HIDDEN TREASURE OF OUR PAST - I
Updated: Sep 20, 2022
“Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.”
Situated in the city beautiful, The Lal Chand Research Library at DAV College Sector 10 Chandigarh offers you the opportunity to get back to our roots and our heritage. It preserves the rare pieces of Indian literary history in the form of ancient manuscripts and rare books that were extricated and bought to India from Pakistan at the time of Independence in 1947. Had it been left in Pakistan we would have not known about this treasure of ours. Many scholars and researchers from India and abroad come to Lal Chand Research Library to know more about our heritage and culture and those who have interest in manuscripts and ancient books.
The library was established in 1917 in Lahore (Pakistan) by the DAV College Management Committee in the memory of its first President, Late Rai Bahadur Lal Chand. Collecting the written text from various areas of Lahore and transporting it to India was a tough task. It was because of the efforts of those people that it was made possible to preserve our cultural wealth. In spite of the tremendous work to safely bring manuscripts to India, many of these valuable rare books and manuscripts were either lost or burnt at the time of migration during the partition. But still they managed to back many manuscripts and books that are still invaluable source of knowledge.
The initiative to send these books and manuscripts to India was started by Padma Bhushan Acharya Vishva Bandhu, the then director of Dayanand Brahm Vidyala, Lahore. The rare ancient books and manuscripts were put in gunny jute bags and were stacked in trucks carrying refugees to India. The army along with the volunteers transported these books first to Amritsar and from there they were taken to Sadhu Ashram in Hoshiarpur and finally in October 1996, Lal Chand Research Library was re-established at DAV College, Sector 10, Chandigarh. DAV College at Chandigarh was keenly interested in preserving and disseminating the valuable knowledge and information incorporated in this precious collection. It embarked on this mission that required infrastructure and dedicated staff who worked tirelessly under the able guidance of the then Principal Dr. K. S. Arya.
“It is a matter of pride and privilege for the DAV Chandigarh family to be the custodians of this priceless treasure of ancient Indian intellectualism. We feel honoured when dignitaries and researchers from around the world visit the library and gain from this treasure. Their words of appreciation jotted down in the visitors’ books motivate us to move on with purpose. “says Deepti Madaan, Librarian, DAVC-10, Chandigarh
It was the effort of the devoted volunteers who helped to rehouse this library by risking their lives in the midst of Partition as the Pakistan government had imposed a ban on the transfer of Hindu-Sikh manuscripts and books. The present picture of the library is only possible because of them and their work will be remembered forever.
COLLECTION OF MANUCRIPTS AND RARE BOOKS
The Lal Chand Research Library contains more than 10,000 ancient books and 8360 rare manuscripts that were brought to Chandigarh from Hoshiarpur.
Manuscripts and rare ancient books in India have a long tradition. These jewels of Indian culture such as literary outputs by old sages, poets, writers were preserved in the medium of manuscripts. Most of these manuscripts are engraved on palm leaf, some on rare papers and others on birch bark. They reflect the admirable past of the Indian civilisation including books pertaining to philosophy, art, polity, religion, languages and architecture.
The manuscripts include copies of the famous works like the Ashvalayan Shraut Sutra, Karika Ratnam, Vedas, Puranas, Smritis, Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra, Amarkosha of Amar Simha, Shri Guru Granth Sahib, Samhitas, Dharmasutras, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Ayurveda, Tantrashastra along with ancient epics The Ramayana and Mahabharata. The collection also includes rare books on the subjects related to religious literature like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam and Christianity, and on other fields astrology, astronomy, art, architecture, ethics, mathematics, economics, poetry, lexicons, geography, culture, sociology, polity, drama, history etc. The manuscripts are available in different scripts such as Sanskrit, Devanagari, Tamil, Kannada, Sharada, Vartula, Nagari, Telugu, Malayalam.
Most of the ancient and rare books that the library possesses are on the subjects related to Vedic, religious literature of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Christianity. Books pertaining Philosophy, Grammar, Ethics, Puranas, Art and Architecture, Scientific subjects like Mathematics, Astronomy, Astrology, Ayurveda and History are present. The collection also includes the ancient epic Ramayana and Mahabharata and publication of the Bhagavat Gita including the French translation of it. The collection also has rare gazetteers which are not even available with the government of India. Some of the rare books stocked here are Charak Samhita, Mahabhasya, and Kamasutra, with the oldest book dating back to the 14th century.
The palm leaf manuscripts have revolutionised the sphere of preserving oral traditions of several millennia. George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. These manuscripts can act as guiding principles to the students. Ancient manuscripts and books contain important evidence about the past that is important to reconstructing what happened. One can understand how to run an empire through Chanakya’s Arthashastra, rituals and customs through Vedas, code of conduct through Manusmritis, how to live a healthy life through Ayurveda, teachings through Bhagavad Gita and many more.
One might feel that studying ancient texts is not significant for the students and researchers of 21st century as most of the ideas used during ancient times were either proved wrong or are not of much relevance to the world today. But we must not forget that all the theories and scientific knowledge we possess or teach are taken from these ancient books and manuscripts only. Much before the introduction of these theories their basis were already laid down in these books.
“The manuscripts in the drawer either rots or ripens”. The words by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, an Austrian writer highlights the importance of manuscripts in todays world in order to feed our minds through past glories and mistakes. The library officials went through an arduous task in order to preserve our most precious national and cultural heritage. For example: - use of dehumidifiers which draw excess moisture from the air, regular dusting, protecting from direct source of sunlight, atmosphere free from chemical pollutants, proper air conditioning, away from magnetic field and many other ways. The officials at Lal Chand Research Library are anxious about preserving these manuscripts, hence they do periodical application of Lemon Grass Oil and coal dust to keep the engravings visible. They make use of fumigation chamber to drive out insects and worms of the manuscripts with the help of thymol crystals present inside chamber. Some other preservation methods include deacidification of the documents, heat treatment and archival binding. The manuscripts are too fragile hence lamination and binding are done to protect it. Photostat copies of these fragile scripts are also being made available by the centre to all those who are involved in research and to preserve the material written on manuscripts.
The Ministry of Human Resource Development has granted financial aid of 63.7 lakh rupees in order to protect these rare manuscripts. The college has already spent an amount of 28 lakh rupees on this monumental work of conservation of this rare collection.
“Nothing but truth is immortal”- Robert Green Ingersoll
The idea of an immortal life is nothing but a lie. Everything comes with an expiry date. Similarly, these manuscripts and ancient books are also prone to damage due to wear and tear or they may get lost. Therefore, in order to preserve our ancient past, emphasis is given to digitisation. The paper manuscripts have been laminated and palm leaf manuscripts have been incised with metal pen.
Flat scanners and Digital camera of 4 mega pixel is used to digitise the manuscripts. Every leaf of manuscript is scanned using roller, scanners and camera and images are transferred into CD’s. Over 7 lakh leaflets have been chemically treated, scanned, digitalised and stored in 300 CDs. About 1,000 books can now be viewed in their original form on computers.
Benefits of Digitisation
1.Records can be integrated with digital systems and made readily discoverable within digital catalogues.
2. Because of digitisation, physical documents will not need to be accessed as often, therefore reducing chances of damage caused by handling.
3. Digitized materials are easy to access for user at any time any were and also single documents can be accessed by more than one user at time.
Manuscripts and ancient books are an important source of knowledge for the future generation to understand the richness of Indian civilisation. These books and manuscripts lay down the foundation of our present world. But today’s reality is bit saddening that these valuable things are losing their importance and they are just treated as things kept in museums and libraries. Manuscripts and ancient books are part of our heritage and to preserve it, is our duty.