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Rampur’s iconic Raza Library turns 250, and the town just cannot keep quiet | India News – Times of India

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It’s not often one gets to witness a library turning 250 years old. Rampur, normally a quiet town on the fringes of UP, some 200km from Delhi, seems to have understood the significance of the milestone notched up by the globally acclaimed Raza Library.
Rampur has burst in celebration, buzzing with activities. It’s walls are adorned with handcrafted sketches, illustrating the life in bygone eras. There are mushairas to go to, dastangoi sessions to attend, light and sound shows to marvel at.
At the centre of all this is the Hamid Manzil, a EuropeanMughal architectural marvel and the former administrative seat of the princely state of Rampur.
Hamid Manzil — named after Hamid Ali Khan, the ninth Nawab of Rampur who erected this imposing structure — shelters the library that cradles 17,000 rare manuscripts in Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Pashto, among many others, along with 83,000 books, 5,000 miniature paintings of Iranian, Mongolian, Mughal, Deccan origins and 3,000 specimens of Islamic calligraphy.
Moradabad DC Aunjaneya Kumar revealed a year-long celebration plan extending to October 2024. The festivities include lectures, seminars, scholars’ meetings, congregations, book festivals and one-year courses on manuscriptology, calligraphy, and languages.

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For Sanam Ali Khan, an art conservator at the library and the great-granddaughter of Hamid, it is an unforgettable moment. “I believe I am the chosen one to continue the work of my forefathers. Joining the library felt like a calling,” she said The library’s inception in 1774 aligned with the establishment of Rampur state (see box). In the chaotic period through the 18th and 19th centuries, it was conceptualised and established by Faizullah Khan, the first nawab of Rampur. Khan set up a toshakhana — a safehouse for precious belongings — where he accumulated rare manuscripts, paintings, books, and more. Successive nawabs continued to enrich the collection over the years.
Dr Abusad Islahi, library information officer, said, “Those hundred years from the mid-18th century were tumultuous. The Mughal empire and the state of Awadh were on decline. There were wars and power struggles within the subcontinent. By the end of the 1857 revolt, the libraries of the Mughals and nawabs were routinely ransacked.”
He said, “Rampur, with its allegiance to the British, was the safest option for salvaging the crumbling legacy of the Mughal empire. The nawabs — known as great patrons of music, literature, food, and art — welcomed poets, scholars, and writers to Rampur, ensuring the toshakhana continued to grow.”
Things, however, needed time to settle down. In fact, it took a couple of centuries. The fifth nawab, Muhammad Saeed Khan, created a separate department for the library during his reign from 1840 to 1855. The golden era for this repository arrived with the seventh nawab, Kalbe Ali Khan (1856-1887), who undertook the task of recovering literary treasures after the First War of Independence (or what the British called the Sepoy Mutiny) in 1857.
But despite its importance, the library struggles with problems. The biggest challenge is the shortage of staff, with at least 10 vacant positions, including that of director not been filled since 2020.
An official at the library said, “Art conservation is a focused task. But when we have to multitask and take up the work of research and gallery assistants or clerks, it only slows things down. Some of the meagre staff working here, despite being qualified and being here for more than two decades, are still on contract, despite the fact that they are central government employees.”
In addition, the crucial task of digitising the manuscripts is only half done, and there is a need for large scanners and other equipment, besides more manpower.
But the library’s 250th anniversary has brought hope. It has received a grant of Rs 7.2 crore. Islahi said, “It will be used for the building’s renovation, setting up a cafeteria, souvenir shop, large scanners for digitisation of the manuscripts, computers, furniture, equipment.”

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Rare Gems
➤ 7th-century Quran, a parchment scribed by 4th Caliph Hazrat Ali, penned in Arabic using old Kufic script
➤ 14th-century Jamiut-Tawarikh, an early illustrated Persian work chronicling history of Mongol tribes, authored by Rashiddudin Fazlullah. Reproduced copy was gifted by PM Modi to president of Mongolia in 2015
➤ Diwan-e-Hafiz, collection of poems from 16th century, provides only known painting capturing emperor Akbar’s Mongolian features
➤ Valmiki Ramayana, uniquely illustrated and translated into Persian in 1715, with 258 miniature paintings
➤ Diwan-e-Babar, Farsi manuscript written by Babar, presents his poetic side and his handwriting

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Diwan-e-Babar, a Farsi manuscript by Babar (Photo: Munish Kumar)

Education amidst anarchy
1774 | Raza Library established, coinciding with inception of Rampur state
18th-19th century | Faizullah Khan, 1st nawab of Rampur, initiates library; as India experiences turbulence with decline of Mughal empire and Awadh, Rampur is safe haven due to allegiance to British.
Libraries across India, including those of Mughal emperors and nawabs, ransacked after revolt against colonial rule
Early 20th C | Hamid Manzil erected by 9th nawab, Hamid Ali Khan, at library’s current location
1951 | After Independence, Library comes under trust
1975 | Govt of India takes over library under Rampur Raza Library Act No. 22, declaring it institution of national importance
2023 | Library receives grant of Rs 7.2 crore

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Diwan-e-Hafiz, a pictorial collection of poems from the 16th century.

In stellar company
These libraries, each with its unique focus and specialisations, contribute significantly to preservation and dissemination of knowledge in India
1 Delhi Book Library (Delhi) | Holds a vast collection of 1.5 million books. Known for extensive inventory
2 Connemara Public Library (Chennai) | 7,70,000 books and 3,000-plus periodicals. Known for diverse range
3 Saraswati Mahal Library (Thanjavur) | Predates Rampur Raza Library by over a century. Known for preserving palm leaf manuscripts in Sanskrit and South Indian languages
4 Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Institute of Indology (Ahmedabad) | Specializes in preserving ancient Pali and Sanskrit manuscripts
5 Khuda Baksh Library (Patna) | Holds around 21,000 oriental manuscripts. Known for collection of oriental manuscripts

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Jami-ut-Tawarikh, an illustrated history of Mongol tribes (Photo: Munish Kumar)



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