Monday, December 5, 2022

Library Of Fort Willam College,New Delhi


 I have great pleasure in placing before the readers this catalogue of 199 manuscripts in Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu and Bengali, which once formed part of a much larger collection with the college of Fort William in Calcutta. In fact, the present volume is complementary to the “Catalogue of books of the Fort William College collection in the National Archives of India Library” which was brought out by this Department in 1984. Like the books mentioned in the earlier catalogue, these old and rare manuscripts dwelling on a variety of subjects have been kept separately (from our Acquired Manuscripts) in view of their distinct character and status. As is well-known, the college of Fort William was founded in 1800 A.D. by Marquess of Wellesley. It was established to educate young civil servants in general education, Indian languages and culture and in the correct principles of religion and government. In course of time, the College turned into an important place of Oriental studies where both the British and Indian scholars worked together on a variety of philological researches to help modernize different Indian languages. Situated in the Writer’s Building in Calcutta, the College of Fort William was residential in character, with a common table for all the students. As envisaged by Marquess of Wellesley, the College had begun with a balanced curriculum of Occidental and Oriental studies. But the European curriculum was shifted to Haileybury in England in 1806, and henceforth establishment in Calcutta continued to impart instruction in oriental studies alone. Since the Court of Directors always regarded this institution as an expensive experiment, it suffered from grave financial strains, especially after Marques of Wellesley had returned home in the early months of 1806. However, inspite of this conflict between the administrative and scholarly interests, the College could manage to continue as an educational institution for about thirty years. And, it functioned as a centre of examinations for the Company’s civil servants for another two decades, until its final closure on 24 January, 1854. The College was closed but in the course of its short span of active existence, it did succeed in giving a new direction to the Civil Service, besides enlarging the scope for interaction between the Eastern and Western cultures. It also acted as a liaison between several institutions such as the Serampore Mission Press, Asiatic Society, Calcutta Madrasa and the School Book Society. Further, it encouraged translation of Classics in Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian into English and Indian languages and compilation of bilingual or multilingual lexicons. Original Asian Classics were as well carefully abridged and even altered so as to make them acceptable to English students. Availability of the press greatly facilitated the publication programme of the College, which in the words of Gilchrist had become ‘an asylum for Oriental literature. The Library of the College of Fort William came up towards the end of 1800 with the help of voluntary contributions and presents from various sources. Rev. David Brown, the Provost of the College, issued a notice on 15 November 1800 A.D. in the “Calcutta Gazette” asking for donation from the public. Similarly, the Governor General in his speech during the Public Disputation in 1806 requested individuals who had in their possession valuable manuscripts to deposit them in the Library in the larger interest. Further, under instructions from Marquess of Wellesley the Library could also acquire a large number of valuable books and rare manuscripts from the huge collection of Tipu Sultan, which was brought to Calcutta in 1799. The Library had two sections: European and Oriental. The small European section which was set up mainly with the help of voluntary contributions from the teachers of the College was further enriched by presents from the Oxford University with variety of books on History, Travels, Jurisprudence, Divinity, Metaphysics, Lexicography, Greek and Latin Classics, etc. Likewise, to begin with the larger Oriental section of the Library was composed of the Stewart Collection, the Francis Buchanan Collection, the Locket Collection, the Brian Hodgson Collection, etc. The Library expanded considerably under William Hunter, Professor of Hindustani and the Librarian of the College. In 1805, he re-organised the Library and introduced the practice of exchanging books with European Universities. The Library was meant exclusively for the use of teachers and students and it was only in 1818 that its holdings were made available to the Public. This rich and unique collection of manuscripts and books began to be dismembered soon after the cessation of the College as an educational institution. Just about that time the Calcutta Public Library was beginning to be established. The Government, therefore, decided to transfer 4,990 titles of European works of the College Library to this new institution. But the major beneficiary was the Asiatic Society of Bengal, which received most of the books and manuscripts belonging to the Oriental Section of the Library. The collection was further dismembered when a good number of books deemed surplus were handed over to some other institutions and even sold off to firms or agencies in the trade. The Library of the College continued as the Library of the Board of Examiners for sometime after the College was closed in 1854. Eventually in the process of dispersal, the remaining books and manuscripts were given away to the Imperial Library (at present National Library, Calcutta) and the Imperial Record Department (now called National Archives of India). This distribution took place sometime during the first quarter of the 20th Century. Though small in size, the collection contains a good number of extremely useful works relating to the Quranic literature and Islamic Law. A few of these are: Jawahir al-Tafsir Li Tohfat al-Amir, a commentary in Persian on the Holy Quran by Husain bin Ali al-Waiz al-Kashifi, Mishkat al-Masabih, a collection of authentic Traditional sayings of Prophet Muhammad by Shaikh Wali al-din Abu Abd Allah Muhammad bin Abd Allah, Khatib Tabrezi and Fatawa-i- Khairiya, a collection of “Decrees” of Maulana Khair al-din in Arabic on different theological issues in accordace with the Hanafite School of Faith by Ibrahim bin Sulayman bin Muhammad bin Abd al-Aziz. The collection also has a very good copy of Dabistan-i- Mazahib in Persian dealing with the religious and philosophical creeds of Asia and a copy of volume I of Razmnama, a Persian translation of the Mahabharata. Further, the collection contains 35 manuscripts on lexicography alone. Of these, some very important lexicons written in Persian in India are: Burhan-i- Qati’, Farhang-i- Jahangiri, Farhang-i- Rashidi, Bahar-i- Ajam, Nawadir al-Alfaz and Siraj al-Lughat. A few of the more important works on other subjects are: Muhy al-din Ibn al-Arabi’s Futuhat-i- Makkiya (four volumes in Arabic), furnishing authentic details about various Schools of Sufism, Daulat Shah Samarqandi’s Tazkirat al-Shuara, a biographical account in Persian of Arabic and Persian Poets, Kulliyat-i- Sadi, Ain-i- Akbari and Akbarnama of Abul Fazl and Tawarikh-i- Kashmir of Narain Kaul Ajiz. Mention may as well be made of an interesting work in Persian, entitled Ilaj-i- Khail dealing with the horses, their habits, diseases and their treatment. The 199 old and rare manuscripts, which form the subject-matter of this catalogue, are held in the National Archives of India as a legacy of the Imperial Record Department. Out of these, 113 are in Persian, 65 in Arabic, 12 partly in Persian and partly in Arabic and the remaining 9 in Indian languages like Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu and Bengali. Two separate Indices have been provided to facilitate retrieval of different manuscripts available in this collection: One covers the Titles and name of manuscripts and the other contains the names of authors, compilers, translators and other important personages. I am thankful to S/Shri K.L. Arora, Deputy Director of Archives, S.M.R. Baqar, Assistant Director of Archives and other members of the staff, who have helped me in compiling this catalogue.

R.K. Perti New Delhi, Director of Archives, 3 April, 1989. Government of India.

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