Saraswathi Mahal Library or Tanjore Maharaja Serfoji's Saraswathi Mahal Library is located in Thanjavur (Tanjore), Tamil Nadu, India. It is one of the oldest libraries in Asia, and has on display a rare collection of Palm leaf manuscripts and paper written in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Marathi, English and a few other languages indigenous to India. The collection comprises well over 60,000 volumes, though only a tiny fraction of these are on display. The library has a complete catalogue of holdings, which is being made available online. Some rare holdings can be viewed on site by prior arrangement.
It is located outside the palace; it is one of the very few medieval Manuscript libraries in the world. It is considered as one of the oldest and the best historical libraries in India. There is a museum inside Saraswathi Mahal which displays only selected books. The library houses more than a million manuscripts in various languages like Tamil, Sanskrit, Marathi, Telugu and Manipravalam. A survey conducted by Encyclopedia Britannica shows that Saraswathi Mahal was voted as "the most remarkable library of India".
If you are a tourist visiting the Thanjavur palace, try to hire a guide who can show you around. There are no signboards about the various structures and it can get confusing while navigating around the place. This is a fun place to visit if you are a history or an architecture buff. It is definitely one of the top 10 things to do in Thanjavur.
Apart from the library section, Saraswathi Mahal has a big hall, which acts as the museum. The statue of the Goddess Saraswathi, big Tanjore painting of Rama Pattabhishekam, few more beautiful Tanjore paintings of the other deities such as Ganesha and Lakshmi, miniature paintings of various Tanjore Maratha Kings, two big portrait paintings of Sarfoji II are all found in the hall.
There is a section in the museum, which has a lot of old and rare collections that include the ancient books on medicine, ancient Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Sanskrit texts, manuscripts, palm leaf scripts, very small sized palm leaf scripts, scroll scripts, the paintings of Indian cities by a Dutch traveler done in 1795 CE, the book published in 1804 CE explaining various kinds of punishments given by the Chinese governments in those days, old paintings, 18th century Tanjore paintings, set of paintings depicting the resemblance between humans and various animals and birds, etc.
Originally called the Saraswathi Bhandar, the Raja Serfoji Saraswathi Mahal Library is one of the greatest libraries in India. The Saraswathi Mahal library started as a Royal Library for the private pleasure of the Nayak Kings of Thanjavur who ruled 1535 - 1675 AD. The Maratha rulers who captured Thanjavur in 1675 patronized local culture and further developed the Royal Palace Library until 1855. Most notable among the Maratha Kings was Serfoji II (1798–1832), who was an eminent scholar in many branches of learning and the arts.
In his early age Serfoji studied under the influence of the German Reverent Schwartz, and learned many languages including English, French, Italian and Latin. He enthusiastically took special interest in the enrichment of the Library, employing many Pandits to collect, buy and copy a vast number of works from all renowned Centres of Sanskrit learning in Northern India and other far-flung areas.
Since 1918 the Saraswathi Mahal Library has been a possession of the state of Tamil Nadu. Its official name of the Library was changed to "The Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library" in honour of the great royal Marathan patron.
The library is open to the public; it also supports efforts to publish rare manuscripts from the collection, as well as ensuring all volumes are preserved on microfilm. The Library has installed computers in 1998 for the Computerization of Library activities. As a first phase, the Library catalogues are being stored in the Computer for easy information retrieval. It is also proposed to digitize the manuscripts of this Library shortly.
The Collection :
The bulk of the manuscripts (39,300) are in Sanskrit, written in scripts such as Grantha, Devanagiri, Nandinagari, Telugu. Tamil manuscripts number over 3500000, comprising titles in literature, music and medicine. The Library has a collection of 3076 Marathi manuscripts from the South Indian Maharastrian of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries; this includes the hierarchy of the Saints of Maharashtra belonging to Sri Ramadasi and Dattatreya Mutts. The Marathi manuscripts are mostly on paper but a few were written in Telugu script on palm-leaf.
There are 846 Telugu manuscripts in the holdings, mostly on palm leaf. There are 22 Persian and Urdu manuscripts mostly of 19th century also within the collection. The library also holds medical records of Ayurveda scholars, including patient case studies and interviews in the manuscripts classified under the Dhanvanthari section.
Apart from these manuscripts there are 1342 bundles of Maratha Raj records available at the Library. The Raj records were written in the Modi script (fast script for Devanagiri) of the Marathi language. These records encompass the information of the political, cultural and social administration of the Maratha kings of Thanjavur.
Library Museum :
A museum is located in the Library building to reveal the importance of the Library to the Public. This Museum is small but organized into sections highlighting ancient Manuscripts, Illustrated Manuscripts, Printed copies of the Original Drawings, Atlases, Thanjavur- style Paper Paintings, Canvass Paintings, Wooden Paintings, Glass paintings, Portraits of the Thanjavur Maratha kings, and the Physiognomy charts of Charles Le-Brun. These materials give an idea of the total variety in the vast collection within the Library.
The Saraswati Library is situated within the campus of the Thanjavur Palace. Visitors can have a glimpse of preserved books and can sit and read in the library premises. Better preservation of books and facilities like air-conditioning with dehumidifiers, redesigning of space for comfortable reading, online catalogue facility, should have been taken up to preserve this internationally renowned treasure trove of books and palm-leaf manuscripts.
Efforts were made to microfilm and catalogue the contents way back in 1965 when Indira Gandhi was Information & Broadcasting Minister, Government of India who sanctioned the fund for the library's development. Since then no efforts were made to scan the documents and computerize the same using present day technology. It is also a designated 'Manuscript Conservation Centre' (MCC) under the National Mission for Manuscripts established in 2003.
Library Timings :
10.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. & 1.30 pm. to 5.30 p.m
It is located at the heart of the City and located very near to the world famous Brihadeeswarar Temple. Autos and Buses are available to reach this place from Bus Stands & Railway Stations.
The nearest airport is Tiruchirappalli airport.
Nearest Railway Station is located at Thanjavur.
Maratha Palace is 950 Meters (11 Minutes) from Thanjavur old bus stand, 6.9 Kms (17 Minutes) from Thanjavur New bus stand, 58 Kms from Trichy.