Growth and Development of Oriental Libraries in India

By Gul, Sumeer; Khan, Samina | Library Philosophy and Practice, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Growth and Development of Oriental Libraries in India


Gul, Sumeer, Khan, Samina, Library Philosophy and Practice


Introduction

Libraries have always had a pivotal role in the storage, processing, and dissemination of information. Some may serve general needs, but special libraries serve the needs of a particular community of users. Among special libraries, Oriental libraries hold an important place because they preserve the cultural heritage of a nation or a civilization.

Oriental Libraries

"Oriental Libraries" are those libraries that have literature pertaining to Oriental studies and languages. "Oriental" in this context refers to the ancient Near East, including India, Persia (Iran), and ancient Arabia, among other places, and the languages and literatures of those places and peoples.

Growth and Development of Oriental Libraries in India

India is a vast repository of different cultures, both because it was invaded by a number of foreign countries and peoples, and because of its contacts with people from the East. The languages from those Eastern countries are part of Indian literature. The literature in those Eastern languages created India 's Oriental libraries. Their history can be traced back to the Vedic period, when the written literature was kept in Ashrams or Gurukuls. Gurukuls were mostly located peaceful forest environments. With the passage of time, Gurukuls were also established in cities.

Jain and Buddhist Era

Taxila was one of the famous educational centres where students came from different parts of the country. Varanasi also distinguished itself by having a large number of Gurukulas. During this period, the literature was preserved in the Sutra style of composition. Buddhist and Jain Monastries acted as repositories of knowledge, for religious literature as well as other types. Monastic Oriental Libraries were also called Viharas. Over time, these Viharas developed into institutions of higher learning. A federation of Viharas constituted a Mahavihara, which was a larger educational institutional institution. Nalanda Mahavihara is the best example. Fa-Hien, a Chinese traveler, also found a number of monastaries in India. Kanyakubja, Sravasti, Kusunagara, Vaisali, and Patliputra were centres of Oriental literature according to Fa-Hien. Hiuen-Tsang, another Chinese traveler, visited India during 629-645 A.D. He left a detailed account of his visit, which gives us significant information about Buddhist educational institutions possessing a rich variety of Eastern literature.

Taxila was a center of learning in Ancient India and a large number of people from all over the world and the subcontinent itself visited this place to gain knowledge. Literature related to medicine and archery enriched the library at Taxila. According to Rahula Sankrityayana, Angiris set up a seminary with a Granthakuti (Library) attached to it at Taxila, which later flourished in to an academy or university. Nalanda University is the best known of ancient India 's universities. It has been called the treasure house of information by European archeologists. The information there helped locate Buddhist shrines in India. It is believed that King Kumara Gupta (AC 415-455) built the first monastery at Nalanda to train Buddhist monks. Nalanda University was an expansion of this seminary. King Buddha Gupta (AC455-467), Jagatha Gupta (AC 467-500), Baladitya (500-525), and Vijra (525) made additions and expansions to the building. There were three large libraries with vast amount of literature in Oriental languages on subjects such as science, medicine, astrology, fine arts, literature (Weeraratne, n.d). The University of Valabhi was built by the Maitraka Kings during the years 475-775 A.D. Its library had a variety of Eastern literature. This great university and its library lasted until the 12th century, when they were completely destroyed by Arab invaders. Odantapuri University was founded by King Gopala (660-705) and was a well-known center of learning. It had a library that was rich in Brahmanical and Buddhist works.

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