The Adyar Library - Where history lives on

I was a bit disappointed when I first saw the Adyar library and Research centre . The building looked nothing like what I had imagined it to be, which was an old colonial style building, French windows and all. The present building, constructed and opened in 1968 is not half as old as the Madras literary society building or the Connemara public library, but the 2,00,000 lakh books and the 20,000 meticulously conserved palm leaf manuscripts speaks of the sheer wealth this library possesses.

The library was founded by the Colonel Olcott in 1886 as his own private book collection with just 200 books he collected during his many travels. It was first, situated in the headquarters building of the theosophical society. To suit growing needs it was shifted to a larger, more spacious building. The books here include rare indological publications among works on different religions, philosophies and cultures in several languages.

The Adyar Library and Research Centre (A.D.R.C) is a closed library where the members need to choose the book they desire to borrow form a cataloug and then a library assistant would bring the book from the three storey air conditioned storage rooms. “This practice is done to conserve and maintain these rare books which may get infected leading to degeneration due to excessive contact” said C.A.Shinde, the librarian here, who has been working here for the society for 6 years.

Research scholars from all over the world come to this library to gain access to some of the works in this library. The priceless possessions of the library include Chinese Triptakas, Tibetan Tanjur and Kanjur and various other journals form all over the world. The library also has a separate display room to showcase some of the rare books in its possession which is open to visitors. Books given to Annie Besant by H.G wells and letters written by Rabindranath Tagore too have been displayed here.

Dr. K.Kunjunni Raja , the senior Sanskrit scholar and author of The Indian theories of meaning , was closely associated with the A.D.R.C. He was an honorary director of the library of the library from 1980 after he retired from the Sanskrit department of the Madras University.

“Photocopies and micro copies of the rare books and also of the palm leaf manuscripts are allowed with prior permission and a nominal charge. Some of these books here, especially the Indian publications are one of a kind, this is done so that these publications can be recreated for other works”, Jayashree, a library employee said. “The manuscripts and other books of great value and rarity may be consulted only in the presence of one of the library assistants” she added.

The library is open only to registered users and a member must first become a reader member for a year and only then can he or she be allowed to borrow. The reader member can access the reading rooms which also contains subscriptions over 100 magazines. It is open on all days except Mondays from 9 a.m to 4 p.m.

- Vishal Menon

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