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South Asian Collection


Pustakapj (Book of Worship)

(Book of Worship).
Maharashtra, nineteenth or
early twentieth century.
South Asia Team

In 1938, the Library inaugurated the Indic Project, the predecessor of the present South Asia Team, to manage and service the collections it had previously acquired, and to make massive additional acquisitions by a trip to South Asia undertaken just before the United States entered the Second World War.

Through various post World War II acquisition projects, particularly after the establishment of the field offices in New Delhi and Karachi in the 1960's, the collection at the beginning of 2007 grown to include more than 233,000 volumes in the all the written languages (over one hundred) of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The collection now provides broad research coverage in most fields and disciplines, with particular strengths in the areas of vernacular languages and literatures, modern history and politics, vernacular newspapers and periodicals, and government publications.

The South Asian collection also contains a large and ever-expanding collection of serials, monographs and pamphlets in microform. There are over 1800 microfiched collections of pamphlets and other ephemera, dealing with virtually all subjects. The collection of South Asian languages serials comprises, as of the beginning of 2007, over 1600 periodicals and more than 10,000 bound volumes, and for things published after 1962 may be the largest in the world. There are over 14,000 rolls of microfilm and 300,000 microfiche sheets. Its collections of rare materials include what may be the oldest intact book from South Asia in existence, a birch bark scroll in Gandhari, a language used in what is now northern Pakistan, listing the names of the successive Buddhas. This could be as old at 200 B.C. From the period of the British Raj it has a collection of about 60,000 legal and commercial documents from various princely states. It has the only known complete run of the first periodical in a South Asian language, Palavita ñānapotakam-Tamil magazine (Madras, 1831-1840). This was published by the American Mission Press, of whose publications from other parts of South Asia the Asian Division has a large collection, including Bibles, textbooks on secular subjects, and a large number of tracts on religion and social reform.

There are about 1000 manuscripts in various languages. The largest number are in Sanskrit, followed in number by those in Urdu and then by numerous other languages. Among them are two long scrolls of the life of Krishna in minuscule script, and another on the same theme with numerous illustrations incised by a stylus on palm leaves. There is a scroll from Nepal illustrating the iconography of numerous goddesses. There are paper manuscript leaves from before 1100 A.D. in Buddhist Sanskrit from Khotan, an abandoned oasis in western China. There is an unpublished manuscript Dictionary of India (really an encyclopedia rather than a dictionary), written by an unknown British author around 1800. Finally, the Asian Division also has the manuscripts of the books of the great German Sanskrit scholar, Albrecht Weber, which were included in his collections when the Library of Congress purchased them in 1904-05.

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  October 18, 2013
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