Thanjavur Saraswati Mahal Library: India’s ‘most remarkable library’ turns 100 years old

Referred to as ‘the most remarkable library in India’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s review of the world’s best libraries, Thanjavur’s iconic Saraswathi Mahal library, which has its origins as the ‘palace’ library catering to Thanjavur’s kings, has now completed a hundred years! Once a cultural hub of intellectual and literary engagement among the royals, the […]

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Once a cultural hub of intellectual and literary engagement among the royals, the completion of hundred years as a public library is all set to be celebrated this month on October 21.

Referred to as ‘the most remarkable library in India’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s review of the world’s best libraries, Thanjavur’s iconic Saraswathi Mahal library, which has its origins as the ‘palace’ library catering to Thanjavur’s kings, has now completed a hundred years! Once a cultural hub of intellectual and literary engagement among the royals, the completion of hundred years as a public library is all set to be celebrated this month on October 21.

In October 1918, the ‘Tanjore Palace Library’ received 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 function as its director and the practice has continued over the years.

With the knowledge of its glorious past, one cannot help but want to know more about how the Maratha rulers who had captured Thanjavur chose to nurture the library that has now reached a hundred years and is home to over a million manuscripts spanning several langues such as Sanskrit, Telegu, Tamil, Marathi and so on.

Who built Saraswati Mahal Library?

Most renowned among the Maratha kings was Serfoji II who had been a highly respected and eminent scholar. In fact, this Maratha King is known to be the founder of the Thanjavur library that has an enviable collection of the Maharaja’s personal collection of books and manuscripts.

For the same reason, more than three thousand Marathi manuscripts dating back from 17th to 18th centuries are available at the Thanjavur library. Most of these are written on fine paper. It is also said that the library has medical records and patient case studies of some of its finest Ayurveda scholars.

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Saraswati Mahal Library No. of Books

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. In addition, there are manuscripts in Persian and Urdu, mostly pertaining to the 19th century.

For travelers and history buffs, your next trip to Thanjavur palace should definitely accommodate a visit to Thanjavur Maharaj Serfoji’s Saraswati Mahal Library. You may feel slightly underwhelmed by the fact that there are no larger-than-life signboards to promote the hundred year old library. However, don’t let it dampen your curiosity or interest to explore the place.

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A glimpse of this treasure house of knowledge that houses texts dating back to the medieval period presents every Indian with an opportunity to explore the literary melting pot that has been nurtured by the dynasties of the Tanjore Nayakkas and the Maratha Kings that came and established their reign thereafter. Simply put, ‘Happy exploring’ is the best way to savour this library!

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