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Tags : Forts & Palaces

Timings : 10:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Lunch break: 1:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Closed on Wednesday and National Holidays

Time Required : Less than 1 hour

Entry Fee : No entry fee

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Saraswathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur Overview

The Britannica Encyclopaedia enlists the Serfoji Sarasvati Mahal Library as 'the most remarkable library of India'. In an era when physical libraries are becoming obsolete, and people are moving to the digital books more and more, this establishment has held its own among the few. And the fact that it has its origin dating back to the 16th-17th century further adds to the significance of the library. Established by the Nayak rulers of Thanjavur, it was later nurtured by the Maratha king Serfoji II, who was also one of the most prominent rulers of the land. Thanks to him, the library is not only one of the few ancient ones that are still there in the world, but also a well-stocked one. Not just books, the library boasts a large collection of art, paintings, maps, and manuscripts as well.

The library section is restricted to scholars only, but the digitized catalogs have been made available online for anyone academically or professionally interested in looking up. With prior permission, they can access the vast collection of knowledge the library possesses. For the public, the library museum is quite a treat. Though not as big as the actual library, it has enough to mesmerize the visitors with its historic charm.

As you step in the well-maintained and organized museum, you will be transported back to the era of Nayaks and Marathas. Stories of gods and goddesses, birds and animals, saints and sages, wars and weapons - everything is depicted in the collections of the museum. There is an audio-visual show as well, which narrates the history of Thanjavur and all its rulers in chronological order, giving a clear idea to the visitors about the background and context of the library and its origin. 

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Collections at Saraswathi Mahal Library

The vintage collection of the Serfoji Sarasvati Mahal Library mostly consists of ancient Sanskrit, Maratha, Tamil and Telegu manuscripts. There are nearly 40,000 manuscripts in Sanskrit, written in different scripts like Devanagari, Grantha and Nandinagari. The Tamil and Telegu scripts include both literature and Ayurvedic medicinal research. The oldest of these lots are written on palm-leaves, and they have been preserved on microfilm. However, they are also being digitised for ease of access and retrieval.

Other than that, there are rare books in English, French and German as well as a few books on musical notations - all from the personal collections of King Serfoji II. These books can be considered the influence of his guardian father, Saint Schwartz, for whom he even built a church in Thanjavur. There are also around 1,342 bundles of records, written in Modi script on paper, on the Maratha rule and administration and their day-to-day financial, political, cultural and social activities.

Saraswathi Mahal Library Museum

The museum of the library is an accurate reflection of what importance the library holds. Visitors can get a clear idea from of what the colossal racks and storerooms of the original library held back in the day, and preserves till date. There are illustrated books and manuscripts of immense importance, original paintings of Thanjavur style on wood, glass, paper, wall and canvas, portraits of ylers of Thanjavore and many more copies of great books and paintings which were either collected by the kings or gifted to them by some other royalty or dignitary.

Among the number of rare items displayed in the museum, some are - Dr Samuel Johnson's dictionary (1784), the first pictorial bible printed in Amsterdam (1791), ancient maps and atlas of the word, the theory of evolution diagram and explanation by Charles Le Brun, letters of William Torin of London, a buyer and patron of the library during King Serfoji's time, Lavoisier's Elements of Chemistry, and a couple of earliest town planning documents of Thanjavur.

Tips For Visiting Saraswathi Mahal Library

The library premise is open only for research purposes. Scholars have to get permission and produce necessary documents to access the books and manuscripts of the library. The timings are the same.

How To Reach Saraswathi Mahal Library

The library and the museum are all located within the campus of the Thanjavur Palace. It is situated only 10 minutes away from the Old bus stand of Thanjavur, and very near to the famous Brihadeeshwarar temple. Any city bus of that route will drop you off at the location. It is a very popular place, so you can also trust cabs and local car rentals to be your conveyance for the day.

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