“The purpose of studying history is not to deride human action, nor to weep over it or to hate it, but to understand it. And hopefully then to learn from it as we contemplate our future”. ~ Nelson Mandela
In order to enrich our knowledge about history and culture we always go in search of books which are ocean of knowledge. These books are available to us in libraries across the world. One such great library is Lal Chand Research Library which is an inherent part of DAV College, Sector 10, Chandigarh.
It was established in 1917 A.D. in Lahore (present day in Pakistan) by the DAV College Management Trust & Society after the name of Rai Bahadur Lal Chand, then president of the trust with the soul aim of imparting the wisdom of ancient India especially the Vedas, Puranas, Science, etc. It was re-housed at DAV College Chandigarh in October 1996. The unfortunate incident of India- Pakistan partition forced people to leave their home and hearth. Books, manuscripts and other such treasures were the last thing in the minds of people who fled to save their lives. During that time the situation was grim and saving documents that recorded history were ignored. But it was due to the efforts of a few valiant workers who consistently stayed there and protected the library and its precious documents from getting ruined that we have the custody of these gems. Pakistan authorities did not allow to carry a single page from the library to Indian side. But it was only due to the will and determination of Acharya Vishvabandu, the then director of the Research Department of DAV College, Lahore and the great Lala Mehar Chand Agarwal of DAV College, Lahore who had put their lives at risk to sneak out some precious books and rare manuscripts which were sealed in gunny bags and stacked in army trucks carrying refugees to India. These books were transported from Lahore to Amritsar and then from there to Sadhu Ashram, Hoshiarpur. Various manuscripts and books were lost in the process of transportation.
When the situation of partition settled, these manuscripts were first kept in Vishveshvaranand Vishwa Bandhu Institute of Sanskrit and Indological Studies, Hoshiarpur. And then, this rich heritage was brought to DAV College, Chandigarh by Dr. Krishan Singh Arya, then President of the college in 1980’s. And since then, the Lal Chand Research Library has become a magnet for research scholars pouring in from southern states and abroad to study these ancient texts of wisdom.
According to Mrs. Deepti Madan, Head Librarian, ‘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 as it had the required infrastructure and dedicated staff who worked tirelessly under the able guidance of the then Principal Dr. K. S. Arya. With the financial assistance from Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India, and DAV College Managing Committee, New Delhi, the infrastructure for this mission was upgraded from time to time. Above all the active support and encouragement by DAV College managing Committee and revered Principals are ever valuable for accomplishing this mission.’
The manuscripts and books are wealth of ancient practices, customs and theories. Representing different ideas through various languages which is the most important cultural characteristic of the people of India. The manuscripts have very beautiful calligraphy along with bright illustrations which have retained their sheen even after centuries.
At Lal Chand Research Library, there are more than 10,000 ancient books and 8,000 rare manuscripts which are preserved by using different preservation methods. The manuscripts cover wide range of subjects like Vedas, Puranas, Smritis, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Ayurveda, Science, Philosophy, Astronomy and two Indian epics The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. Besides these, there are books in different languages like, English, French, Telugu, Hindi, Sanskrit, German, Devanagari, Kannada, Malayalam, Gurumukhi etc. Some rare gems are also found here like - Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra, Amarkosha of Amar Simha, Prabodha Chandrodaya (allegorical play),Charak Samhita, Leelawati, Shri Guru Granth Sahib and many more.
Ancient maps of India are also present which tells us about the ancient boundaries, demographics, relationship between different countries and effect of social change on the life of people of that time. These maps were made by renowned scholars who came from abroad. In addition the library also house the designs of the monuments and we can find some sculptors of ancient time like dancing girl, beard men etc.
Preservation and Digitization
“A generation which ignores history has no past and no future”, said Robert Heinlein. Preserving books and manuscripts is like saving the past. Who we are, where we came from, how we lived, what we did and how we did it. We should not forget and we should not lose the past.
So, it becomes necessary to preserve this treasure for the coming generations. The library staff has taken several preventive measures like creating an atmosphere free from air-pollution and magnetic field, with no direct sunlight, controlled humidity, proper air-conditioning, regular dusting and many other ways to keep these books and manuscripts safe.
The manuscripts are coated with lemon grass oil and coal dust every two years to keep the engravings visible. Sometimes they use neem leaves and naphthalene balls. Also, they have a fumigation chamber where thymol crystal is used to drive insects and worms out of the manuscripts. Other than these, methods like ‘DE acidification’ of documents, ‘reversible lamination’ and ‘archival binding’ are also used.
With the passage of time there is need to build-up a modern system to store these culturally significant materials for historians and researchers. Digitization of these rare books and manuscripts in the form of scanning and storing of documents has been given importance. Digitized version of these documents are virtually immortal and minimizes the handling of originals. The college has spent lakhs of rupees in order to get the equipments for the digitization process like special type of scanner, laminator, and other important gadgets. These special tools are essential because many of these scripts and books are written on palm leaf (Tarpatras), others on paper and some other on ‘birch bark’, which make them very delicate to handle and also very risky on ordinary equipments.
The library staff has almost converted these rare manuscripts and books into more accessible and retrievable form of PDFs and DVDs. Every leaf of the manuscripts is scanned and transferred onto the computer where it is numbered and then printed or transferred into CDs for reference. Photostat copies of many of these rare manuscripts are also being made available by the library staff. Many scholars from southern part of India and abroad have shown keen interest in these manuscripts and books.
Manuscripts and historical books have the richest collection of written documents, texts and scripts. These scripts and books provide information on the existence of different civilizations and emphasise the importance of their survival.
Therefore, knowing about the past is extremely important for any society and human being. History provides comparative insights into histories of other civilizations. Without history there is no politics. History provides insights into the processes and events of the past and interconnects them. According to many historians, the recovery of India’s past rests not merely on monuments and documents in stone, in the shape of architecture, sculpture and inscriptions, but on the manuscripts also, and that too a much greater extent.
The vast manuscripts wealth of India contains the ‘memory of the world’. India’s manuscripts represent ideas and the most timeless pursuits of capturing ideas through languages. Over thousands of years, manuscripts have been written in vast number of languages and each in itself embodies the history. Many of the manuscripts have been written by eminent personalities of their times, or contain there thoughts.
The material of the manuscripts, the methods and techniques with which the leaf, the bark or the paper was processed and the manner in which the inks were prepared also have a great historical significance as most of these practices have fallen to disuse and the manuscripts are the only unique surviving examples of these practices.
The manuscripts and historical books at Lal Chand Research Library had taken a long as well as difficult path from Lahore to Chandigarh, therefore it becomes our duty to ensure that the manuscripts are passed down to future generations in a good condition because these manuscripts are a vast reservoir of wisdom of life in capsule form. ‘It is a matter of pride and privilege for the DAV College 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 Madan. The management of D.A.V. College have done a glorious work in preservation and maintenance of these valuable manuscripts of Indian heritage.