Published in Chandigarh Tribune, 16 November 2017
100 years of Rai Bahadur Lal Chand Research Library
The Lal Chand Research Library, housed in DAV College, Chandigarh, is a treasure-trove of rare manuscripts rescued from Lahore during Partition
In the wake of partition, not just human lives were lost, but invaluable cultural wealth was also lost in the form of valuable books, manuscripts, paintings and artifacts.
However, there were some very dedicated and fearless individuals who somehow managed to rescue some of this priceless wealth.
Among such great individuals was Lala Mehar Chand Agarwal, of DAV College, Lahore. While others were running for their lives, he risked his life in order to smuggle out, at least some rare manuscripts and books by managing to hide them under food stock in Army trucks. Unfortunately, most of the rare manuscripts and books could not be brought to India. The ones that were saved are now archived in DAV College, Chandigarh's Lal Chand Research Library, which was established in 1917 in Lahore.
The library boasts of 8,360 rare manuscripts, and more than 10,000 ancient books. Out of the manuscripts, 6,450 are paper manuscripts with illustrations, others are of palm leaves and birch bark. The manuscripts are in the Devanagari, Sharada, Grantha, Gurmukhi, Utkal, Banga, Nandi, Nagari, Kannada, Malyalam, Tamil, and Vartula scripts. Many of the manuscripts are inscribed on Tarpatras (palm leaves) with the oldest dating back to the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, a number of Bhojpatras (birch bark) were damaged after partition.
Dr BC Josan, Principal, DAV College, Chandigarh says, "What we have here is invaluable. In monetary terms, its worth runs into millions and millions. It is a vast reservoir of wisdom of life in a capsule form, and we would like to share it with others as much as we can. I looked at some of the books on architecture and was amazed. I believe, all the knowledge in this little brain that weighs 300 grams, is right. And it is in the same measure in all human beings. All we need to do is to learn how to tap it, like these ancient seers did."
After the horrors of partition settled a little, these manuscripts were first kept in Vishveshvaranand Vishwa Bandhu Institute of Sanskrit and Indological Studies, Hoshiarpur, under not-so-ideal conditions. Fearing that they might deteriorate because of the extreme weather and lack of funds to preserve them, Dr Krishan Singh Arya, who was principal in the 1980s, brought most of them to DAVC, Chandigarh. However, because of his extremely busy administrative and academic activities, he could not devote much time towards their upkeep. It thus was left to Dr RC Jeewan, principal from 1997 to 2001, to establish a modern archiving research centre.
"We managed to get a grant from the Ministry of Human Resources in1999 to preserve these manuscripts,” says Dr RC Jeewan. "The economic assistance was not much but it was still good enough to get us going. Dr Krishan K Dhavan, the then lecturer of Sanskrit at our college, was a great Sanskrit scholar. I reappointed him after his retirement from Hisar, at a nominal honorarium to help us with the cataloguing of the manuscripts. He did a great job of identifying the manuscripts and guiding us regarding their worth."
After the yeoman work done by Dr RC Jeewan and Dr Krishan Dhavan, the library really took off, and slowly began to attract renowned scholars from all over the world such as Dr Ernst Prets of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Asian Studies, Strohgasse (Austria); Jeevan Deol of St. John’s College, Cambridge; Dr Heidrun Bruckner, Eberhad-Karls-Universitat, Tubingen, Germany; and Dr Prabhakar Shastri from Rajasthan University.
Recently, the library got a boost, says Deepti Madaan, librarian, "Our vice-president, SP Lohia has given us financial assistance to not only preserve the manuscripts but also to digitise them. It is because of his generosity that we have managed to buy latest equipment such as a scanner worth Rs 22 lakh. We are now scanning the manuscripts and linking them with Lohia’s website (http://splrarebooks.com/) for the benefit of researchers."
Talking about the kind of manuscripts, Deepti Madaan says, "We have the Ashvalayan Shraut Sutra and Karika Ratnam, dating back to the 15th century. Ashvalayan Shrauta Sutra is perhaps the first Shraut Sutra of the Rig Veda. We also have Valmiki Ramayana, Mahabharata, Brahmasutra with Shankar Bhashyam, Shri Guru Granth Sahib and a lot more. We have some very rare ones on Ayurveda. However, in many manuscripts that we have, the year of composition is not mentioned. Most writers did not even give their names to the scriptures they wrote. We also have a rare book on medicinal plants by Major BD Basu that was published by Panini Office, Allahabad in 1918.”
It is one thing to have manuscripts and quite another to preserve them. Rajni Jindal, assistant librarian, says, "When we received the manuscripts, most of them had pages that were stuck to each other. It was with great difficulty that we got them separated using water. To preserve them, we use coal dust, lemon grass oil, neem leaves and naphthalene balls. We also have a fumigation chamber where we use thymol crystal to drive insects and worms out of the manuscripts."
With undying zeal and love for the preservation of cultural heritage of the archivists, and with the aid of latest technology, it is heartening to know that this treasure will not only be preserved, but also easily shared with researchers all over the world.