Treasure in ruins

The National Library at Kolkata houses over 24, 00,000 books with more than 6,00,000 in Indian languages alone, apart from divisions in the foreign languages category.

The National Library situated at the Belvedere estate near Alipore Zoo in Kolkata is the largest library in India. It stands proudly under the surveillance of Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism And Culture, Government of India. The national library is a storehouse of Indian culture, knowledge and heritage. It was the residence of the former Lieutenant Governor of Bengal. The presence of over 24, 00,000 books (in almost all the Indian languages, including some foreign languages as well), and manuscripts numbering over 3000, bear testimony to the above statement. The library houses more than 6,00,000 books in Indian languages alone.

The rich heritage of India is incomplete without Sanskrit. The library possesses a separate division for the collection and preservation of this ancient dialect. More that 20,000 Sanskrit books in Devnagari script enrich the shelves of the library. The collection is so rich and varied that research in Sanskrit is almost impossible without paying a visit to this treasure house. Apart from Sanskrit, there are about 500 books in Pali and almost quite the same number of books in Prakrit.

The National Library contains many rare manuscripts of ancient literature like the Bengali translation of the ‘Ramayana’ and the ‘Mahabharata’ by Krittibash and Kashee Ram Dass, dated 1805 and 1802 respectively. Other notable rarities include original manuscripts of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and all the works of Rabindra Nath Tagore. A separate division for the Hindi language was established in the year 1960. Today, it houses more than 80,000 Hindi literary works.

Other language works enriching the library are the works in Tamil, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Kashmiri, Oriya, Punjabi, Telugu and Urdu. The library not only has Indian divisions as far as languages are concerned, it also has divisions in the foreign languages category. They are the East Asian Language, Germanic language division, Romance languages division, Slavonic Language division, West Asian and African language Division.

A distinct division of the library houses the rare books. Books published prior to 1860 are stacked separately to take special care of these books. At present, the division has about 4700 monographs, 3000 manuscripts and 1500 microfilms. The xylographs presented by the Dalai Lama are also preserved in this collection.

One of the basic functions of the National Library is that of conservation and preservation of the printed heritage for the future. All the books damaged by human error or by natural decay due to time are bound in the special division called the Bounding Division. An advanced system of chemical treatment is adopted to preserve and restore the damaged and brittle books. A new fumigation chamber has been indigenously developed to destroy termites and insects. Encapsulation is another method of preservation adopted.

The Reprography division has already produced the ancient newspapers, journals, Arabian, Persian and Sanskrit into more than 5000 microfilms to preserve the rich heritage. The scanning and archiving of rare and brittle books on compact discs have been undertaken. So far 6600 selected books have been reproduced in more than 540 CDs. The historians get the richest collection of newspapers and periodicals. It also contains the original letters and notes of famous personalities like Pandit Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and others.

Although different divisions look after the welfare of the numerous storehouses of knowledge, there are many problems creeping round the corner. The library receives numerous books and periodicals in almost every Indian language under the Delivery of Books & Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act of 1954.

Well, many of the inhabitants of Kolkata do not even know what or where is the National Library. It has turned from a strategic place of knowledge to an old architecture gathering dust. In the past, book used to be damaged by readers but nowadays they are being destroyed by termites, eaten by rust and ruined in the hands of time. Emergence of the Internet and such other faster means of communication have left the library neglected. The habit of reading has almost disappeared in the current generation. We are so driven by shallow fantasies that we have forgotten a national treasure.

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