With great pleasure I wish to share with the readers of Bihar and around the world, a brief history of the Khuda Baksh Oriental Public library and its founder, as recorded by my eminent historian father, Syed Ahsan Shere.

Upon his return to India in 1934, after studying at the school of Oriental Studies, University of London, my father served as the Curator of Patna Museum and later on became the Secretary Of Khuda Baksh Oriental public library.

Even though I am a student of science, I had a keen interest in history. I had the distinct opportunity and privilege in going through my father's memoirs, and in doing so, I got a glimpse of this unique and a remarkable world-renowned Khuda Baksh Oriental public library and its founder.

Khuda Baksh was born on 2nd August 1842. He was brought up under the guidance of his father who dedicated his life for the betterment of humanity. When his father was on his death-bed in 1876, he entrusted his son to open a public library. Khuda Bakhsh, thus, inherited from his father love for books and dedication to public service. He made it a mission of life to establish a public library so as to fulfill his father's dream and desire. He made every effort to acquire rare books and manuscripts. The Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library was established in 1891.

A leaf from a rare copy of Holy Quran dated 1269 AD., transcribed by the celebrated calligraphist, Yaqut Al-Musta'simi' of Baghdad. Photo courtesy Khuda Baksh Library

The library is famous for its rare Arabic and Persian manuscripts, rich paintings and numerous volumes of rare books. Jehangir-Nama, Shah-Nama, Al-Quran, Tarikh-i-Khandan-i-Timuriya, Kitab-al-Hashaish and Al-Lumafi al-Tasawwuf are among the rare manuscripts in this collection. The manuscript of Diwan-i-Hafiz from the personal collection of Mughal emperors Humayun and Jehangir is also in the Khuda Baksh library. Kitab-Al-Hashaish is a revised Arabic version by Hunayn bin Ishaq of the Greek original dictionary of medicine listing the properties of medicinal plants. The manuscript of Kitab-Al-Tasrif describes in detail many methods and instruments of surgery with exquisite illustrations and is written in Arabic language with Mahgribi characters.

Also some of the rare collections are the oddities such as an inch-wide holy Quran. The Library also has a huge collection of more than 18,000 Arabic and Persian manuscripts and over 2000 rare paintings belonging to the Mughal and Rajput era. The Library is known for its extraordinary collection of more than 21,000 manuscripts, some of them extremely rare and richly illustrated, in Arabic, Pali, Pashtu, Persian, Sanskrit, Turkish and Urdu languages and also for its Mughal, Iranian, Central Asian and Rajput paintings. It has become a centre of research for the scholars of Islamic Studies, Medieval Indian History, West, South and Central Asian Studies, Mughal Architecture, Islamic Sciences and Mughal, Iranian, Central Asian and Rajput paintings. The Library also specializes in Islamic Studies, Tibb (Unani Medicine), Tazkira (Biography), Tasawwuf (Islamic Mysticism), Comparative religions, Medieval History, South East Asian History, West Asian History, Central Asian History, Medieval Science, Literature on Freedom Movement and National Integration as also Urdu, Persian and Arabic Literatures. Undoubtedly Khuda Baksh Oriental library is one of its kind in the world. "The Patna Oriental Public Library is one of the finest collections on Moslem literature in the World," remarked V.C. Scott O'Connor, an Orientalist of Edinburgh, England.

A leaf from a rare copy of the Holy Quran written in thick Kufi. Not dated; apparently 9th century AD. Photo courtesy Khuda Baksh LibrarykufiKhuda Baksh had struggled hard for years and paid fancy prices for rare manuscripts and books to build his precious collection. The British Museum once made him a magnificent offer for his collection but he declined. He told to O'Connor ... "I am a poor man and the sum they offered me was a princely fortune, but could I ever part for money with that to which my father and I have dedicated our lives...?" And as he said, his clear-cut features betrayed a single emotion; his large luminous eyes welled up with tears. "No" he said: "the collection is for Patna and the gift shall be laid at the feet of the Patna public".

Indeed we are fortunate to have this world renowned library with its unique collections located in Patna.


About the Writer:

Waris Shere is a former resident of Patna. He is the author of eight books including "THE STRUGGLE FOR PEACE". Professor Shere is a freelance journalist and was nominated for the "ORDER OF CANADA".