Early libraries in subcontinent

By Professor Dr. Saadat Saeed Urdu Department

Ankara university Turkey


Like many other nations there was no custom of writing among Hindus in the early ages. Syed Abu Zafar writes in his research article entitled Libraries: "The tradition of writing ventured forth in India after the invention of Boj Patar and import of silk cloth. In beginning religious books such as Vedas, Maha Bharat and Gita were written. Brahmans who were considered to be among the elite sector used to spend most of their time in worship, sacrifice and education. These all works used to take place in temples or buildings attached to them. So the books written by the Brahmans were also kept in these buildings. After the decline of Brahmans, Buddhists in their period besides temples built some solitary monasteries for education purposes. Students and teachers used to live in them. A portion in each of these buildings was allotted for libraries. These libraries were called Pustak Bhindars.

Nadvi further states, "When the famous Chinese traveller Having Chiang came to India he saw a library in every monastery. He copied many books kept in an educational monastery near Raj Garh and took them with him to China. This library existed for a long time. Due to the foolishness of Brahmans after the victory of Muhammad Bakhtiar Khilji the library was destroyed. Besides this library there were many other libraries in Patli Putar (Patna), Ujin ( Malwah), Behroch (Gujrat), Mithra and Banaras. In the period of Feroze Shah Tughlaq, Muslims monopolised a few of the libraries built in various monasteries. It is said that there were more than a thousand books kept in temple of Jawala Mukhi. A few of them were translated by the orders of Feroze Shah Tughlaq. Tughlaq gathered in his court many scholars, poets, intellectuals and writers such as Saad Mantaqi, Ubaid, Badr Chachi, Zia Barni, Maulana Uzdud Din, Maulana Nasir-ud-Din, Malik Ghazi Faqhih, Maulana Rukn-e-Aalam and Maulana Naseer Ud Din Chiragh Delhvi. Qalqushandi says that in Tughlaq's period there were a thousand schools in Delhi only. Contemporary historians in their writings on Muhammad Tughlaq say:

"His speeches were communicative and conversations were charming. He used to write letters in Arabic and Persian spontaneously. His handwriting was wonderful. He was creative and intelligent. He could assess before hand people's conscience on the initial stages of their conversation. His memory was so strong that he could not forget throughout his life whatsoever he listened to once. He was an expert in the art of history. Nadvi writes with reference to Farishta that he showed keen interest in philosophy. He also was a wizard in medicine, astrology, mathematics and logic. It goes without saying that the king who was so fairly equipped with knowledge and fond of wisdom could necessarily have a library. But look at the carelessness of historians that although they had sketched every common incident of his period but they failed to mention anything about his library. The reason was obvious that in that period libraries were attached with mosques and monasteries.

Between the period of Alla-ud-Din Khilji to Sultan Muhammad Tughlaq a big library was situated at the living place of Nizam-ud-Din Aulia (RA) (death 735 Hijri) at Mohallah Ghias Pura Delhi (presently Basti Nizam-ud- Din). The library at his residential place was open for public use. Writing about the life of Sheikh Siraj-ud-Din Usman in his book Akhbar -al-Akhyar Sheikh Abdul Haq Muhadith Delhvi says "After seeking knowledge for about three years from Sheikh Nizam-ud-Din (RA) besides the clothes and permission of Khilafat given by Sheikh he took with him few books from the Sheikh's library which was open for everyone.

Like Sultan Muhammad Sultan Feroze Shah Tughlaq was also a scholar and writer. He wrote Fatuhate Ferozi a famous book and according to Nadvi he was great admirer of knowledge and intellect. Intellectuals, scholars and poets used to remain present in his court. He gathered in his court great historians, writers, and poets like Zia Burni, Afif Siraj, Matahir Hindi and Tatar Khan. Under his official vigilance several big mosques and schools were constructed. Big grants were fixed for their expenditure. Though historians are silent about his royal library, but it could be guessed that there would be at least one library in his palace. Abu Zafar rightly points out how the castle of a man who himself was a writer and great admirer of knowledge could lack a royal library. It can be guessed that the one thousand and three hundreds books in the form of manuscripts from the temple of Jawala Mukhi which he took in his custody would had been kept in his royal library. He constituted a regular department for translation. According to Farishta "the king called for the scholars of that group (translators) and ordered them to translate a few of those books (from Jawala Mukhi's Temple). From among all of them Aiz-ud-Din Khalid Khani, a great poet of that age wrote a book containing objective knowledge, comparisons and omens translated into verse under the title of Dalail-e-Feroze Shah. In reality this book includes diverse sort of theoretical and practical wisdom.

During this period knowledge became commonly popular. One of his rich courtiers was an elevated scholar. He was a brilliant expert of Quranic knowledge. According to Afif Siraj "Cerebral and religious scholars used to remain present in Tatar Khan’s company” He was the writer of the famous  Tafseer Tatar Khani (exegesis of the Holy Quran). People say when he made up his mind to write this exegesis he collected all available exegeses and discussed with religious scholars all the differences among writers of Quranic exegeses and wrote his exegesis with great devotion. He referred at places various other exegeses. Khan-e-Azam Tatar Khan also compiled a book of Fatawa (book containing legal opinions). He collected all the legal opinions given in Delhi up-till his period and wrote diversely treated problems in his voluminous book Fatawae Tatar Khani no doubt with the names of the judges having different opinions.

We can claim without any hesitation that Tatar Khan could not do this work without a proper library. It is not possible to write such a great book without the help of a multifarious library. Nadvi says, after the death of Tughlaq, India felled prey to strong political disorder. Every provincial governor became an independent ruler. Delhi in that period was the political centre of courageous personalities. It was dominated successively by Mughal( Taimur), Sadaat and Ludhis But they could not get along with the stream peacefully. They were passing their lives under the continuous danger of various claimants to power. In spite of all the upheavals faced by the people in power, the rich courtiers could not overlook their literary taste. They were fully aware of the significance of knowledge; so establishing libraries at their residences was essential for them. Ghazi Khan who was an admirable courtier of Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi had a special library inside the King's castle. When in the sixteenth century Babar, the mughal, captured this castle he took this library in his custody.

Babar writes in his Tuzk." On Sunday roaming about in the castle I reached Ghazi Khan's library, took many books from it and gave few of them to Hamayun and a few others were sent to Kamran Mirza to Kabul. This library contains diverse religious books. To me in it good books were little in quantity. Nadvi says "We can guess from this statement that other courtiers used to have many libraries about which our historians are silent.