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300 Year-Old Library in India to Undergo Renovations

A 300-year-old library in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India will undergo renovations, Mohammad Akhef reported for The Times of India on Sunday, August 10, 2014. Syed Aejaz Hussein, C.E.O. of the Maharashtra State Board of Wakfs (trustees of Muslim mosques and cemeteries in the State of Maharashtra) announced this decision in the hopes of attracting more tourists to the city’s Panchakki complex.

Baba Shah Musafir, also known as Hazrat Maulana Mohammed Ashoor, who is regarded by Sufi Muslims as the equivalent of a saint, founded the library in the 18th (Christian) Century. He was a native of Bukhara Province (also known as Buxoro Province) in what is now the Republic of Uzbekistan, a sovereign country that was formerly part of the Russian Empire and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

At its height, the library had over 100,000 books thanks to students who spread out across the Muslim world. The collection experienced a considerable decline in the 20th Century.

In 1949, over 80,000 books went to Hyderabad, which was then the capital city of Hyderabad State.[1] At that point, 15,000 books remained.

In 1970, the Wakf Board voted to close the library. The library re-opened in 2008, according to Akhef, but I found another article from 2009 that presented the re-opening as news.

The collection now consists of between 2,500 and 3,000 books, depending on which source one believes. This suggests that several thousand books were either appropriated by other libraries or outright stolen in the past generation. According to Akhef, “the library still has books handwritten in Arabic, Urdu and Persian on Sufism, religion, medicine, law and philosophy.”

The complex of buildings is called the Panchakki (water-mill) in reference to the site’s watermill where in former times grain was ground to make bread for pilgrims. The library is located behind the mosque and near the tomb of its founder.

The collection includes a copy of the Koran handwritten by Abul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Mohammad bin Aurangzeb (lived 1618-1707, reigned 1658-1707), Alamgir (emperor) of the Mughal Empire. One can guess at the value of a copy of the Koran handwritten by Emperor Aurangzeb in a city Aurangzeb renamed after himself while he was a prince and Viceroy of the Deccan.

Akhef described the book as having “a leather cover with gold embossing on both sides. Every full stop in the book is marked with a golden dot.”

He quoted Hussein as saying, “Due to poor maintenance of these rare books and manuscripts, there are fears that we may lose them and so we are renovating a portion of the historic classrooms here and will refurnish them, install air-conditioners and will put the books on shelves, for tourists to sit and take a look.”

The books in the library are among the oldest ones available in the country. These are from Iraq, Iran, Qatar, Afghanistan, Russia and Egypt. The Holy Quran written by Aurangzeb Alamgir attracts the highest number of tourists.

The trustees also plan to place a number of artifacts on display.

Hafeez Abdul Jaleel, a volunteer librarian, told the newspaper, "The library established by the Sufi saint suffered losses during the Nizam's era, which ended in 1949, when over 80,000 books were shifted to the Kitabkhana in Hyderabad. Most of these books were sent abroad. Since there was nobody to take care of over 15,000 books, the Wakf Board in 1970 closed the library, with its condition further deteriorating. Now, we have only over 3,000 books in the library."

Aurangabad draws many tourists because the city has a number of monuments, including Bibi Ka Maqbara, a mausoleum Aurangzeb had built for his first and favorite wife, Dilras Banu (1622-1657). It looks remarkably like the Taj Mahal, which his father, Shah Jahan (1592-1666), built for his mother, Mumtaz Mahal (lived 1593-1631, ruled 1628-1658). The architect, Ata-ullah, was the son of the architect of the Taj Mahal, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.

[1] During the British Raj, Hyderabad was the capital of a princely state. It was ruled by a dynasty of princes called Nizams (Administrators) rather than directly by the British. The rulers of these princely states recognized British monarchs (Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, and George VI) as their suzerain (overlord) as Empress or Emperor of India. In 1947, the British partitioned British India (or the British Empire of India) into two parts along religious lines: the Dominion of India, which was supposed to have a Hindu majority, and the Dominion of Pakistan, which was supposed to have a Muslim majority. Around 1,000,000 people Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs died in Partition-related violence. Lt. Gen Muzaffar-ul Mulk Wal Mumalik Nizam-ul-Mulk, Nizam-ud-Dowla, Nawab Sir Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur of Hyderabad intended for Hyderabad State to remain independent of the Dominion of India, also known as the Union of India, but the Union of India invaded Hyderabad in 1948. He agreed to serve as Prince-Governor until 1956. The Dominion of India became the Republic of India under the new Constitution of 1950. [The Dominion of Pakistan, which became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1956, was in two parts: East Pakistan and West Pakistan. They were separated by hundreds of miles of Indian territory. In 1971, East Pakistan gained independence from West Pakistan as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.] In 1956, the federal states of India were reorganized along linguistic lines. Hyderabad State broke into three smaller states: Maharashtram Karnataja, and Andhra Pradesh. The city of Hyderabad became the capital of Andhra Pradesh. With the legal bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into a smaller state also called Andhra Pradesh and Telangana under the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act (2014), it became the capital of State of Telangana and will remain the capital of the State of Andhra Pradesh for ten years, at which point a city in that state will become its capital.