|Established by the erstwhile ruler of Rampur, Nawab Fiazullah Khan in 1774, the Raza Library has preserved some rare collections like the seventh century AD Quran written on parchment in early Kufic script attributed to Hazrat Ali.
If you ever visit Uttar Pradesh, do not miss to visit the historical Rampur Raza Library, a treasure- house of a large collection of manuscripts, printed books and miniature paintings. The institution is particularly known for its treasure of Indo-Islamic studies and arts.
In 1975, the Government of India declared the library as an institution of national importance by an act of parliament. Presently, the Raza Library is an autonomous organisation, financed by the Ministry of culture, Government of India.
Housed in two magnificent buildings in the fort of Rampur, the library has a remarkable collection of 15,000 manuscripts, including 150 illustrated ones with 4,413 graphics in them. Besides, there are 205 manuscripts on palm leaves, 1,000 miniature paintings and 1,000 specimens of Islamic calligraphy. The library has more than 50,000 volumes of printed books. It also possesses vast collection of art objects and ancient astronomical instruments. Another feature of the library collection is manuscripts belonging to the libraries of Halb, Makkah, Madinah, Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan and royal libraries of emperors and noblemen.
According to Jagmohan, the Union minister for tourism and culture, more than 1,534 scholars from India and abroad visited the library and over 6,048 books and 474 manuscripts were read by them during the year 2000-2001. The library provided 6,866 photographs and 51,211 photocopies of the material to its readers. Besides this, 27,192 visitors came to the library to view and appreciate its collections.
The conservation laboratory has been equipped with modern equipment. The library fumigated 2,624 old printed books, 54 rare Mughal miniature paintings, 525 old manuscripts, 14 old historical documents, 5 big size paintings, 106 old printed books and 26 specimens of calligraphy were conserved and restored.
Collection of Arabic
The collection of Arabic manuscripts here is considered as the oldest with rare specimens of Islamic calligraphy and book binding. Among them is the seventh century AD Quran written on parchment in early Kufic script attributed to Hazrat Ali. Another specimen of the holy Quran written in the eighth century AD is attributed to Imam Jafar Sadiq. Another copy of ninth century Quran written on parchment is attributed to Imam Abul Hasan Musa. The celebrated scholar and calligrapher Ibn Muqla, who served three caliphs of Baghdad as prime minister and died on July 20, 941 AD, copied the Quran in the early Naskh style. That masterpiece has found an important place in the collection. The noted calligrapher has reshaped the Arabic letters into Naskh, which is still in vogue in one or the other form. It is a unique specimen of Ibn Muqla’s calligraphy.
The library has a copy of the Quran penned by the master calligrapher of the 13th century AD of Baghdad, Yaqut-al Musta' Simi. It has ornamentation in gold. Another masterpiece of Arabic manuscript by the same calligrapher is Diwan- al- Hadira dated 1221 AD. It was once the part of the royal library of Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur. An interesting work in Arabic of pseudepigraphy and wonderful creations profusely illustrated with strange figures of human beings, animals and birds entitled Ajaibul Makhluqat, was written by Zakaria bin Mahmood al Qazvini (1283 AD) and scripted in elegant Naskh by Ibn Kamaluddin Husain in 1571 AD.
Collection of Persian
Zakhirai Khawarizm Shahi is one of the earliest treatises on medicine among the Persian manuscripts of the library. It was scripted by Zainuddin Ibrahim Gurgani (d. 531 AH). Another one is Tafsir-e-Tabri translated from Arabic by Abdul Baqi and scripted by Mirza Muhammad bin Mujtahid in the 12th century AD. It bears the autographs of Shah Abbas of Iran and Qasim Beg Khan in 1621-22 AD. The earliest illustrated Persian work on history of Mongol tribes entitled Jamiul-Tawarikh by Rashidud-Din Fazlullah, includes rare miniatures depicting various aspects of political, social, and religious life of the Mongols. The paintings indicate inspiration of the Chinese and Central Asian early paintings which had influenced the Herat school of painting.
The library has the Khamsa of Nizami Ganjavi (1203 AD) illustrated in 1542-43 AD. It represents the Iranian style and is beautifully painted against a floral background. The manuscript of the Diwan-i-Jami bears a beautiful seal of Hamida Bano Begum, daughter of Ali Akbar, mother of emperor Akbar and that of Nazar Ara, daughter of Shah Jahan, on the colophon. It is interesting to note that Nazar Ara Begum, whose seal appears on the colophon, does not appear to be mentioned in the contemporary Persian literature. Diwan-i-Hafiz, a rare illustrated manuscript, is among the collections of the library. It was written in Akbar's eventful reign around 1570-80 AD, and was illustrated by celebrated court painters.
Among the other rare Persian manuscripts of the library there is a copy of Risalah Khawaja Abdullah Ansari and Sad Pand-i-Luqman bound together and scribed in elegant Nastaliq by the master calligrapher Mir Ali of Herat, who died in 1544 AD. It bears signatures and seals of several kings and scholars and was graded as being of first category by emperor Shah Jahan and was purchased by him for Rs 1,000. He presented another copy of the same Risalah to Jahan Ara Begum who lavishly praised its importance in her own handwriting in 1588 AD and bears the seals of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb.
A unique illustrated Ramayan of Valmiki translated into Persian by Sumer Chand and illustrated during the reign of Farrukh Siyar in 1715-16 AD bears 258 miniatures throwing light on the art, architecture, costumes and ornaments of the period, besides highlighting the composite culture of India in the late medieval period.
Collection of Palm Leaves
The collection of palm leaf manuscripts is among the valuable assets of Raza Library. Most of them are in Telugu, Sanskrit, Kannada, Sinhala or Tamil. They are generally religious in character. A Tamil script mentions the rules of preparing images and icons and the mode of worship; another leaf manuscript tells the medicinal properties of herbs. One such manuscript in Sanskrit written in Grantha script; is of the Ramayan. It eulogises the Ramayan as Brhahmavachakam. A Kannada manuscript is a treatise on music and yet another manuscript is Periyatine Vaimoli, the sacred hymn of the Vaishnavas. Besides manuscripts and books, the library is also a treasure-trove of antique art objects and rare astronomical instruments. The oldest instrument of the collection is an astrolabe made by Siraj Damashqi in 1218 AD. The instrument was used for measuring the latitude of the sun and stars for navigational purposes and astronomy. Two other astrolabes by the same instrument maker are dated back to 1225 AD and 1230 AD and are found in the collections of Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, and National Museum, New Delhi. Apart from these, the Raza library has a vast collection of books in Sanskirt, Turkish, Pushto, Hindi, Urdu and other languages.
¯ Andalib Akhtar