Can a library or a temple of learning mushrooms out of total chaotic conditions like war, mutiny, political conspiracies and fratricidal feuds? The answer to this tricky question, in all probability, should be an emphatic no. But the truth differs, rather vastly. It says a loud ‘yes’.
In the ancient world, the legendary Alexandria Library of port city Alexandria of Egypt was the only temple of knowledge that thrived out of loot, dacoity and state-sponsored illegal ways of collection of rare manuscripts, papyrus, parchments, stone tablets and leather made books.
In today’s world, there are only two libraries and academic institutions that grew in the midst of total anarchy: one of them is even located in a totally lawless Naxalite zone where the gun totting Maoist rebels rules the roost. Incidentally, this is India’s only library that is guarded by police round the clock.
Both of them are located in Bihar. They are KhudaBaux Oriental Public Library (KBOPL) and Bharatpura Library (BL) of Patna district. They are some of the best known repositories of rare manuscripts, calligraphic creations of the hoary past, palm leaf made books and parchment scrolls. The Bharatpura Library also contains extremely costly ancient coins, paintings, statues and manuscripts that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Incidentally, the KBOPL-BL duo happened to be the world’s best places where one could study and visually notice the growth of book printing stretching back to the days of Emperor Asoka. While KBOPL of Patna grew out of chaos over the decades, the BL continues to remain located in the land of chaos where only the eagles can dare – deep inside a Naxalite dominated pocket of Patna district.
When India Sought INTERPOL’s help to Crack Library Theft Case
According to a spokesman of the KBOPL, this library was visited by revered personalities over the decades, including Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Curzon and C. V. Raman. Similarly, the importance of BL is such that even Indira Gandhi, the ex-premier and GyaniZailSingh, the ex-president had to interfere when only two pages of a rare manuscript were stolen by a thief.
The issue not only rocked the LokSabha and the RajyaSabha but made the Central Government immediately ask the INTERPOL to take up the issue with alerts in all major international airports so that the thief could not smuggle those two pages out of India. In the case if any other library, never such a global alert took place.
The BL was founded by Gopal Narayan Singh whose ancestors are believed to have come to Bihar in the days of the Afghan chief tainSher Shah Suri to offer a “pinddan” (the Hindu ritual of offering food to the dead souls) at Gaya. He never returned to Maharashtra and stayed back in Bihar to become a feudal lord in Bharatpura, 50 km from Patna. A great patron of learning and a lover of history, Gopal constructed the library by spending massive money collected from his zamindari.
The mushrooming of KBOPL took place out of total chaos gripping India, Egypt, Iran and entire Arab Peninsula in 18th century and continuing upto 19th century. Founded by a Muslim lawyer KhudaBaux, the collection of books, manuscripts, coins and other things of massive historical importance for this library was facilitated by their theft in different countries caused by strife, coup d’ etat, civil wars, rebellions and skirmishes among different tribes in the Arabia and the then Islamic world.
Bharatpura Library Witnessed Battle of Plassey and Sepoy Mutiny
That also was the time of troubles in India too following the disintegration of the Mughal Empire after the death of Aurangjeb in 1707, the Battle of Plassey of 1757 followed by the Battle of Buxar of 1762 and frequent wars that Indian kings and zamindars had with the British East India Company. The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 also caused massive chaos in India resulting in the loot of valuables from the royal houses. The Sepoy Mutiny also had helped the BL to acquire rare books and other items of historical value.
Both in India and other Arabian nations the soldiers looted the libraries and other valuables from the royal palaces when they found no other costly items could be grabbed as they were either carried away with the members of royal families in their flights from one place to another or earlier plundered by the armies of victorious parties. A large number of such priceless books, manuscripts, ancient coins, paintings and other things of timeless past came to India as their buyers —the British people—in those days could be found in maximum numbers in India.
What is most interesting about the KBOPL is that a large number of manuscripts in Arabic dating back to 5th century found their ways there helping the researchers immensely to dovetail the phase-wise development of ancient printing technology. Even today, this is the best library to study how the ancient calligraphic-phase of Arabian Peninsula grew over the centuries. The KBOPL is a nearly 114 year old institution that still attracts scholars and researchers from all over the world.
How KhudaBaux Entered into Historical the Legacy of India?
KhudaBaux, a rich lawyer of Patna, was a great lover of ancient Persian and Arabic books as well as historical materials of all sorts. Initially, he started collecting them main as hobby, but soon got addicted to them to ultimately start his own private library by investing massive quantum of money generated from his legal practice. During his lifetime, a thing stranger than fiction happened: a thief who had stolen a book from KBOPL went outside India, but it again returned to KhudaBaux’s hand— yes, he purchased his own proud possession once again.
The rivalry KhudaBaux had with the Nabob of Rampur also helped the KBOPL to grow strongly. Rampur’s Nabobs had sided with the British during the Sepoy Mutiny—hence, much disliked by KhudaBaux. The Nabob had announced that anybody giving him an ancient manuscript or very old book would be paid the princely fortune of “One Silver Sicca” (Rupee). Besides, he also appointed MuhammedMaqi, an expert on examining the age and value of ancient books and manuscripts, was also appointed by the Nabob for his personal library.
To outwit the Nabob of Rampur, rich KhudaBaux not only snatched Maqi from him by employing him in the KBOPL but also started paying him a fabulous monthly salary of Rs. 50, but made a counter announcement that anybody giving him an ancient manuscript or book would be paid “Sicca One, plus his journey expenses to and from Patna”. The offer was too lucrative: soon his personal library started getting the invaluable manuscripts in Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit and other languages from different parts of India and South West Asia or Middle East.
The Daring Tale of Bharatpura Library
The story of BL too is equally interesting: this is India’s library which is located in a totally Naxalite-infested place in Patna district where the gun-totting ultra-Leftists run their parallel government. This one of the reasons why this library also has the distinction of being this country’s only temple of learning that is kept closely guarded by the police of Bihar Government round the clock so that it does not get raided by the Naxalites or thieves try to steal its books.
Giving details of now the BL came into being, its spokesman told this correspondent that in 1912 by Gopal Narayan Singh founded this unique library. It now possess over 5826 very rare manuscripts in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Urdu and in other languages.
Besides being a repository of rare numismatics, the BL also possess 200 priceless paintings of the Mughal era and 146 ancient statues. Earlier, a thief posing as a researcher had stolen just a few pages of “Sikandarnama” from this library that prompted the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to immediately approach the Interpol to catch the man carrying it.
The thief, selling a single page of Sikandarnama at Rs. 70,000 to an antique dealer, ultimately was caught and sent to jail. The thief had stayed in the BL with his “researcher” identity for months together to cut the pages out of that Persian book.
The KBOPL-BL duo came at a time when the rulers in Varanasi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Lucknow, Bikaner, Dumraon, Rampur and other places in India were constructing their own libraries both as a matter of social prestige and for personal reading centre. They spent massive quantum of money on those libraries.
Alexandria Library Reopens after 1400 Years
Incidentally, they also remind us of the Great Alexandria Library that collected 500,000 Papyrus scrolls, parchments and other manuscripts over the centuries through loot and heist.
According to The Egypt News, the managers of the Alexandria Library were allowed by the Pharao or rulers of Egypt to make armed raids on any ship passing through that famous port-city. The keepers of the library would send armed sepoys to loot any papyrus scroll or books carried by the ships. Nearly 1400 years ago, this library was destroyed by the invaders. This library has just reopened—this is the world’s only library that was re-launched after an expiry of 1400 years.
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