Resurrecting history

A treasure trove of Arabic and Persian literature

From Akbarnama to Shahnama, from Aurangzeb’s hand written holy Quran to biographical notices of 74 kings of Iran and even Persian translation of Ramcharit Manas, you will find here a diverse collection of rare Arabic and Persian manuscripts. Ever since its inception in 1978, the Arabic and Persian Research Institute (APRI) in Tonk has not only preserved the rich legacy of the erstwhile Nawabs of Tonk, but has also carved out a niche for itself as one of country’s premier institutes devoted to oriental learning.

Barely 100 kilometers from the state capital, this institute has earned international repute due to its rare collection. A virtual abode of knowledge, the institute has a rich collection of over 8,000 priceless manuscripts, over 28,000 books, 674 Faramin, 12, 957 old magazines and nearly 65,000 judgement files of the Shariat records of the erstwhile Tonk state. The beautiful exhibits of decorative calligraphic art is of course, an added attraction.

Situated in a beautiful building, the APRI has manuscripts like Aghraz us Siyasah, which is not available anywhere else. Similarly, it can also boast of having a rare piece of Sawati-ul-Ilham,a commentary on the holy Quran, written in letters having no diacritical marks. Persian translations of Mahabharat or Shrimadbhagwat Gita or rare and unpublished works like Khulasat-up-Tawarikh, the institute has many ancient precious pearls of wisdom in its store.

Most of the invaluable literary collection at APRI is the personal collection of Nawwab Muhammad Ali Khan, the third ruler of Tonk.  He had to pay a heavy price for his contempt for the British rule as he was kept under house arrest for nearly 28 years in Benares. While his minor son Ibrahim Ali Khan succeeded him on the throne of Tonk, Mohammad Ali Khan made best use of his days in exile from 1867-1885 by creating and collecting this treasure.

The present director of APRI, Sahibzada Abdul Moid Khan, interestingly, is the great grand son of Ibrahim Ali Khan, the longest serving Nawwab of Tonk. The state government could not find a better person than him to run the institute who is not only a  reputed scholar in his own right but also enjoys a nostalgic association with the treasure.

Speaking to Deccan Herald, he added Moid Khan said the first attempt at preserving this rich heritage was made by late Nawwab Saadat Ali Khan who transferred his ancestor’s treasure to the newly established district library known as Saeediyah Library. The manuscripts of the district library were later transferred to Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute, Jodhpur in 1961 by opening its branch at Tonk.  
In 1973, however, the state govt. decided to have all the Arabic and Persian collections from different libraries in one institute.

The APRI was then established during the then chief minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s term in 1978 and Arabic and Persian collections preserved in Alwar, Bharatpur, Jaipur and Jhalawar libraries were shifted at APRI.

Soon some rare individual collections also became part of the rich treasure at APRI and were duly acknowledged in the name of their donors such as Maulana Shaghil Collection, Pandit Ram Niwas Nadeem Collection, Chand Behari Lal Saba collection etc,  according to Moid Khan.  An independent directorate was set-up appointing Sahibzadah Shaukat ali Khan as its first director. During Maulana Azad Centenary celebrations in 1989, it was named Maulana Abul Kalam Azad APRI.

Publications and Translations

The APRI has not only preserved rare Arabic and Persian manuscripts for posterity but has also completely catalogued and translated these into Urdu and other languages. Some notable Persian manuscripts translated into Hindi or Urdu are Tarikh-i-Qila-i-Ranthambhore, Risalah Itriyat, an Urdu rendition of a rare Persian work describing methods of preparing different perfumes, Kitabush-Shatranj, an Urdu translation of a manuscript on the chess game with diagrams and Aina-i-Ayyam, a versified rendering of Rubaiyat-i-Umar Khayyam.

In addition, APRI is serving as a useful research centre for research scholars working on their doctoral thesis in Arabic and Persian literature. Many research scholars from Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Maharashtra, UP, Bihar and Rajasthan have availed of the source material available at the institute.
The institute has also attracted many research scholars from US, UK, Japan, Germany, Egypt, Israel, Australia, Iran and Afghanistan. The APRI has a scholars’ guest house and  interested students can also avail of Nawwab Mohammad Ali Khan and Nawwab Amir-ud-Daulah fellowships meant for promotion of Arabic and Persian languages.  To promote Arabic, Persian and Urdu languages, APRI runs a diploma course in manuscripts.

Graphic Design Training

Sponsored by National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, 25 students are also given one year training course in Urdu Calligraphy and grapic designing course at APRI.

In addition, 60 students are given admission to learn computer applications and mulitilingual DTP in Urdu.
 An art gallery is an added attraction at APRI where mementos belonging to the erstwhile princely state of Tonk, such as calligraphic pieces, art designed on namda (carpet), old stamps of India and many foreign countries, calligraphic art designed on  human hair, lentil bean, sesame, rice, collection of old coins are on display.

Those who come to APRI cannot go without paying a tribute to all the Nawwabs of Tonk in general and to Nawwab Muhammad Ali Khan, in particular, whose invaluable collection of rare manuscripts has made Tonk known at international level. A perfect reminder of what famous Urdu poet Zauk said, “Rahta Kalam se nam, kayamat talak hai Zauk, aulad se to bas yehi, do pusht char pusht.” (Your name survives till eternity through your writings. The off-springs can keep you living only for a few generation.)

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