When Parchments Speak


The treasures of the Khuda Bakhsh library in Patna

Imtiaz Ahmad, director of the nondescript Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, in the heart of Patna, is busy showing rare manuscripts to a group of students from Hyderabad who are making a documentary on the library.

"We are making a documentary on the uniqueness of the library and how its collection is being preserved. The availability of rare books, particularly manuscripts, has attracted us and we wish to show this to students of Andhra Pradesh," says Mohammed Rafiq, a student of Maulana Azad National Urdu University (Hyderabad).

The Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library is a treasure trove of rare books and ancient manuscripts. Ahmad proudly tells us that the Tarikh-e-Khandan-e-Timuriyah has been included in Unesco's Memory of the World register (2011). The richly illustrated manuscript recounts the history of Timur and his successors in Iran and India. It was created during the reign of Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar in 1577-78. It is the only library in the world to possess a copy, which has been authenticated by a note personally written by Shah Jahan.

The director, who has taken up the digitisation of rare manuscripts to save the originals, mentions three other rare books Kitab al-Tasrif (an 11th century text in Arabic on surgery and surgical instruments), Diwan-e-Hafiz (Persian poet Hafiz's book, which includes notes in Mughal emperors Humayun and Jehangir's handwriting) and Kitab-al Hashaish (an 11th century text in Arabic on medicinal plants and herbs with coloured sketches).

The library was established by Maulvi Khuda Baksh Khan in 1891 and it acquired the status of an "Institution of National Importance" in 1969 through an Act of Parliament. Situated on the banks of the Ganga near Patna Medical College and Hospital, the library has 21,125 manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, English, Sanskrit, Turkish, Hindi and Pashto. It has another 2.75 lakh books in other languages. Now, over 2,000 manuscripts can be researched online. It has over 500 regular members and gets 170-odd readers daily.

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