In today’s time it is a rarity to come across even a small library; in such times to hear that a library in South India completed 100 years and is still running strong is such a heartwarming story.
Thanjavur’s iconic Saraswathi Mahal library has this year, on 21st Oct, finished a hundred years. The Encylopedia Britannica has reviewed this as one of the world’s best libraries. As per Thanjavur’s tourism portal, the Saraswati Mahal library has more than 39,000 manuscripts in Sanskrit, Telugu and over 3500000 Tamil manuscripts spanning titles in medicine, literature and music, besides over 3000 Marathi manuscripts. Works on Maharasthra’s saints belonging to the Dattatreya and Sri Ramadasi mutts are also present plus manuscripts in Persian and Urdu, mostly written in the 19th century.
Earlier, it was a part of the Thanjavur King’s palace, a place where intellectual and literary debates and events happened among the royals. It was way back in 1918 that it got the legal status of becoming a public library that would be known as ‘Tanjore Maharaja Serfoji Saraswati Mahal’ library. Since then, the District Collector has been functioning as its director and the practice has continued over the years.
Maratha King, Serfoji II is said to be founder of this library and till date holds some of his personal collection of books and manuscripts. What is extremely fascinating is that it houses over three thousand Marathi manuscripts dating back from 17th to 18th centuries, with most written on fine paper. The library is also said to house medical records and patient case studies of some of its finest Ayurveda scholars.
So next time, you visit Thanjavur, do make it a point to spend time in this treasure trove, where time seems to have captured and encapsulated in books.