Located on the busy Ashok Rajpath in Patna, the 109- year– old Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library (KBOPL) is a treasure house of ancient manuscripts and paintings of the Islamic world.
In fact, copies of the best gems of Islamic literature can be found in this building. As soon as one enters the premises of the KBOPL total calm and tranquility engulfs one. Strangely enough, it is located on one of the busiest thoroughfare of the State Capital, the Ashok Rajpath. The KBOPL attracts scholars from all parts of the world.
The richness of this library can be fathomed from the fact that it contains 16,000 manuscripts and 90,000 rare books. It contains ancient books scripted in hand. It also possesses 3,000 ancient paintings of Mughal, Rajput, Iranian and Turkish Schools.
Khuda Bakhsh Khan who was a well –known lawyer set up the KBOPL in 1891. He was born in Chapra on August 2, 1842. His father Mohammad Bakhsh was a man of letters and a passionate lover of books, and it was under his able guidance and supervision that Khuda Bakhsh Khan was brought up. He started his career as a peshkar and then went on to become the Chief Justice of the Nizam’s High Court for a three – year term from 1895 to 1898. He died on August 3, 1908 and was buried in the premises of the library.
“Khuda Bakhsh’s passion for books was indeed intense”, wrote British write Vincent Clarence Scott O’ Conner in 1920. Mr. Clarence said that the British Museum had made a magnificent offer for his collection, but he declined it saying that he was a poor man and so he did not want to part with something his father and he had dedicated their lives. He further said that the collection was for Patna.
There are many stories connected with the growth and history of the library. The most precious manuscripts in India were undoubtedly those of the Mughal library in Delhi. All rare and fine specimens of calligraphy and illumination belonging to the 16th and 17th centuries were also brought there.
Some were purchased others created by artists retained in the imperial services. Some were secured through conquest and many by confiscation of the goods of great nobles on their death. Thus, was formed the largest library in the east in that period. And while central Asia, Persia and Arabia were torn by incessant wars, India enjoyed peace under the Mughals. In the 18th century, many of these found their way to the library of the Nawab of Oudh. But the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 brought about the fall of Delhi and Lucknow.
The Imperial and Nawabi treasures were dispersed. The Nawab of Rampur, who had joined the English, got the best of the loot as he had proclaimed among the victorious sepoys that he would pay one rupee for every manuscript brought to him.
Khuda Bakhsh started his collection much later, but there was this rivalry between him and the Nawab. At last Khuda Bakhsh won over one of Nawab’s men Md Maqi, an Arab, and paid him Rs. 50 per month, besides a commission for 18 years, and employed for searching rare manuscripts in Syria, Arabia, Egypt and Persia. Khuda Bakhsh always paid double fare to every manuscript seller who visited Bankipore. Thus his fame spread throughout India and he was given first choice in any part of the country.
Once the library was broken open by a former bookbinder and some of the best manuscripts stolen. He sent them for sale to a merchant at Lahore and strangely enough, the latter, unaware of the fact, sent them back to Khuda Bakhsh whom he considered to be the most suitable person for transaction. Thus, the sincerity and true loves for books of Khuda Bakhsh brought them back to him once more. Mohammad Maqi enriched the library with rare manuscripts. Besides manuscripts poured in from all parts of the country and Khuda Bakhsh paid fancy prices for them.
As years passed by, the number of manuscripts went on increasing. He felt the necessity of a building for his library. In 1888, the building was completed and the books were transported to it. It is this building that is now known as the Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library.
There are several rare manuscripts in the library. Among them there is few deserving special mention. There is one rare piece of the Holy Quran written in Naksh in A. H. 668-A.D. 1269 by Yugt-at-Musta’Sami. a calligrapher of the highest repute, attached to the court of the last Abbaside Caliph, Al Mustasim Billah. His writing was rare and precious as a gem during his own time. The Quran is richly illuminated with borders of floral design.
Diwan Hafiz of Khawaja Shamsuddin Mohammad Hafiz–al–ishirazi, written in Nastaliq in the 9th century A.H. is a unique copy of the Diwan. It bears marginal notes in the handwriting of Emperor Humayun and Jehangir who made the notes after omens, which explain the particular reasons for consulting the odes and the results that followed after consultation. It also contains the notes of Sultan Hasan Bayaqra.
Tarikh-i–Khandan-i-Timuriyaha unique copy preserved in the Khuda Bakhsh Library, Patna, is remarkable for the splendor of its illuminations in highly delicate and finished style that was practiced by the master – artists under the patronage of the great Mughal Akbar. This excellent and profusely illustrated manuscript deals with the history of Timur and his successors down to Babur, Humayun and Akbar. The fly leaf, at the beginning contains an autobiographical note by Shahjahan wherein he states that the work was written at the instance of “Shah Baba”, as Shahjahan used to call Akbar in the 22nd year of his reign.
Shahnshah Namah of Hussaini composed between A.H 1003–1012 written in Nastaliq on which a number of seals and signatures of some of the distinguished nobles of Timuride Sovereigns of India are found.
The most important among them is the seal of Jahanara Begum, the daughter of Shahjahan, which is very rare and not found in any other manuscript of the library. It is special account of Sultan Mohammad III of Turkey, written for him in Constantinople, and preserved in the Royal Library. This unique work was somehow or other, brought to India, and preserved in the Royal Library of Shahjahan.
Padshah Nemah of Mohammad Amin Abul Hassan is also a prized possession of the library. It was written in Nastaliq during Shahjahan’s period. This is a complete history of Shahjahan’s life from birth to his death. All the illustrated pages are decorated on the margins with beautiful floral designs. The manuscripts were seen by their Majesties George V and Queen Mary, in Delhi, 1911. Their signatures appear on the manuscript.
As far as the love story–based books are concerned, Khamasi-i-Nizami happens to be the most important. Authored by the famous scholar of the 12th century, Nizami Masnavi’s Khamas-i-Nizami comprises such world famous love stories like Laila Majnu, Shirin Farhad and others. It contains poems and beautiful painting also.
Another gem in this library is the Shahnamah of Firdausi. He struggled for 35 years to create 60,000 couplets of Shahnamah that also recounts the history of Iran. The Governor of Kabul and Kashmir, Ali Mardan gave this copy of Shahnamah as a gift to Shahjahan. On seeing the Shahnamah in 1925,Mahatma Gandhi exclaimed. “This is an experience that would never pass away and one would remember it forever’.
If the Patnaites are proud of the library, they have bonafide reasons for it. ‘Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte’ in Lord Byron’s original handwritten lines is lying here. This anthology of poems was published in 1814. Another book bearing the signature and seal of Napoleon is also present here.It was published in 1836.
Having seen the rare collection of the Library, one would have exclaimed, “Camerado, this is no book, who touches this, touches a man” (Walt Whitman), truly you feel the physical presence of the authors of those ancient books.
Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore was right when he observed after visiting the library, “When I go from here let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.”
To visit this library cum museum prior permission from the director of the KBOPL is essential. There is no entry fee.