Library to offer rare books online

Library to offer rare books online

Bhadariya is a non-descript desert village with population of about 15,000. The village boasts of one of the oldest libraries in India. The 4,000-seat library has over nine lakh books and the written word would be digitised soon.

Situated in Sankra tehsil of Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan, the library was built by Saint Harvansh Singh Nirmal, reverentially called  Bhadariya Maharaj or Nirmal Maharaj.  In the library, which is at the basement of a temple complex some 16 feet below the ground level, the books are neatly arranged in 562 glass shelves. Above the library is the temple complex of Devi Bhadariya Mata.

Every year, thousands of tourists – mostly scholars and researchers--visit the library from across the world. Jagadamba Seva Committee, the trust that manages the library, spends annually Rs 6 to Rs 7 lakh on its maintenance.

The books have been added over 50 years after Nirmal Maharaj arrived at Bhadariya village in 1959 from Punjab. By February 15, 2010 when he passed away at the age of 80, he had left a rich heritage and a huge collection of books. With its unique architecture, the library is divided into five parts-- two 356-foot-long galleries and two 220-foot-long galleries and 18 rooms.

The collection of books in many languages includes science, astrology, astronomy, epics and history. The majority of collection is in Hindi, English and Sanskrit. The library also has collection on Constitutions of various countries, books on law, atlases and multitude of dictionaries in several languages. Besides books, the library also has a rich collection of manuscripts, old books in Persian, Sanskrit and many old languages of the world.

Hailing from Punjab, Bhadariya Maharaj, a very pious man true to his name “Nirmal,” collected these books from various corners of the world and many were gifts. Donations to the library were spent on new books.   The library is now maintained by devotees living there. A visitor can find books systematically categorised and lined up in shelves with glass doors. Many would hesitate to feel them, fearing that they might dirty them. The visitors are not allowed to borrow books for now. But it soon intends to lend certain books.

The architecture and construction help in maintaining the temperature during harsh summers and winters. Mercury levels hover around 48 degree Celsius in summer and in winter it touches zero on many occasions. Mool Singh, who works at the library, says: “Bhadariya started the library in 1983 with an aim to open a research university. He kept on collecting all sorts of books on diverse subjects and religions. Books in almost every language can be spotted here. Books, even on ayurveda and allopathy can be found. He was a believer of all religions and had love for all languages and that is reflected in his collection.”  The library has more tourists compared to regular readers every day due to its proximity to Jaisalmer.

The caretakers have fond memories of library’s most cherished visitor and former president the late APJ Abdul Kalam. Jugal Kishore Ashera, head at the library, recalled how Kalam used to sit for hours in the library. The former president has mentioned about the library in his last book.  “Scientists and Air Force personnel are regular visitors to the library. Kalam saheb used to sit in the company of books and would spend hours chatting with Nirmal Maharaj. They would discuss how to make the library more interesting."

Most visitors to the library have a word of praise for it. “On my first visit to this library in 1998, I was lucky to meet Bhadariya Maharaj who was in his 70s. When I walked in the corridors of that seemingly unending library, the experience was like walking in a book treasure. Bhadariya Maharaj mentioned that he wanted books from each discipline and every language of the world here,” said M C R Vyas, retired Medical Council of India inspector and an artist. Now, the management is focusing on digitisation and proper indexing of books. “Soon we will be able to make our collection online for easier reach to people,” Ashera said. Historians and librarians are worried about misuse of documents after digitisation.

“This library is the result of passion of a saint but because of its back of beyond location and little publicity most of the researchers are deprived of vast information. Traditional libraries have become obsolete nowadays and people prefer digital libraries. Readers want to access books sitting at their homes. This library has most of the out-of-print collections. This is one of the big oriental libraries in Asia. There is a need to popularise the library,” said P K Gupta, former director, Central library, Rajasthan University.

“The mode of communication has changed and hence preferences also have changed. But the importance of the library has not reduced. Archiving of old manuscripts is crucial,” Gupta said . Books need to be digitised as paper turns brittle over the years, said Dinesh Ojha, a retired librarian in Jodhpur.

“The books have been arranged properly in the library but management should quickly try to make it completely digital so that its real purpose is served,” he added.

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