Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

National Reading Day: From Sarasvathi Mahal Library to the National Library of India, some of the oldest bibliothecas of India

June 19 marks the death anniversary of PN Panicker, also distinguished as The Father of the Library Movement in India. The day is also celebrated as National Reading Day. To honour PN Panicker, let's look at some of the oldest libraries in India

Published: Jun 19, 2024 04:00:35 PM IST
Updated: Jun 19, 2024 04:01:00 PM IST

India commemorates the death anniversary of PN Panicker for his contribution to the library movement and spreading literacy in Kerala. During India's independence struggle, he inspired other freedom fighters to read and educate people. After the government acquired his libraries, he established the Kerala Association for Non-Formal Education and Development (KANFED) in Kerala, which played a significant role in bringing Kerala's literacy rate to the highest in the country. To celebrate his love of reading and his vision of literacy, we present some of the oldest libraries in India, according to the book publishing platform Notion Press.

Connemara Public Library, Chennai


Connemara library, Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFPConnemara library, Photo by ARUN SANKAR / AFP

The Connemara Public Library is located in the heart of Chennai, at Egmore. Due to its long history, the library holds a special place in the hearts of many Chennai residents. It is one of the four national depository libraries and serves as a depository library for the UN as well. The library houses a collection of approximately 770,000 volumes of books, 3,500 periodicals, and 160 newspapers.

Sarasvathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur


Saraswathi mahal library. Photo by: M Amirtham / Dinodia PhotoSaraswathi mahal library. Photo by: M Amirtham / Dinodia Photo

Sarasvathi Library is located in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. The Sarasvathi Mahal Library houses rare manuscripts written on palm leaves in various languages and a collection of parchment papers written in Indian languages such as Tamil, Marathi, Telugu, and more. The library also has 60,000 volumes listed as online holdings, and it is one of the oldest libraries in Asia.

Seshadri Iyer Memorial Library, Bangalore


Seshadri iyer memorial hall. Photo by: Shivji Joshi/Dinodia PhotoSeshadri iyer memorial hall. Photo by: Shivji Joshi/Dinodia Photo

The Seshadri Memorial Library houses over 300,000 books and features an exclusive Braille section. In 1999-2000, it was honoured with the Raja Ram Mohan Roy Library Foundation Award for being the best central library in India. The Seshadri Library's architecture bears a striking resemblance to that of the Connemara Library.

State Central Library, Thiruvananthapuram


Trivandrum Public Library. Image: ShutterstockTrivandrum Public Library. Image: Shutterstock

Also known as Trivandrum Public Library, it was established in 1829 and houses a variety of literature, particularly in the Malayalam language. It was built during the reign of Travancore's King Swathi Thirunal and boasts heritage-oriented architecture. Additionally, a New Heritage Model building for the Children's Library was constructed on campus.

David Sassoon Library, Mumbai


David Sassoon Library. Image: ShutterstockDavid Sassoon Library. Image: Shutterstock

It is one of the 145 monuments protected by the Indian Government. This library is among the ancient libraries of Mumbai. It is located in the South Bombay region. In addition to the structure, it features a well-maintained green garden in the backyard, providing a peaceful escape from the busy city life. The library showcases unique English architecture and is a renowned literary and heritage site.

Asiatic Society of Mumbai Library, Mumbai


Asiatic Society of Mumbai. Image: Shutterstock
Asiatic Society of Mumbai. Image: Shutterstock

The Asiatic Society is an example of fantastic architecture. It houses a collection of over 200,000 books, including 20,000 rare books in various languages. In addition to books, it also holds periodicals, manuscripts, coins, and more, and it houses Sopara Relics, making it a treasure for all literature and history enthusiasts.

National Library of India, Kolkata


National Library of India, Kolkata GettyImages. Images: Uniquely India/Getty Images
National Library of India, Kolkata GettyImages. Images: Uniquely India/Getty Images

The National Library of India is iconic and one of the oldest in the country. It is well-regarded for its maintenance, architecture, cleanliness, and historical significance. Established in 1836, it houses the most extensive collection of book volumes in India, with more than 2.2 million books. Additionally, it features nearly 86,000 maps, making it a noteworthy destination for travellers.

Nehru Memorial Museum and Library


Nehru Memorial Museum Library GettyImages. Image: Photo by Jyoti Kapoor/The India Today Group via Getty ImagesNehru Memorial Museum Library GettyImages. Image: Photo by Jyoti Kapoor/The India Today Group via Getty Images

Located in New Delhi, the Teen Murti Bhavan was the first residence of India's prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. It now serves as a museum and library with one of India's best collections of books and resources. The building, which houses the library, was constructed in the 1930s. The library is home to the Mahatma Gandhi archives and the private papers of prominent figures such as C Rajagopalachari, Jayaprakash Narayan, BC Roy, Charan Singh, and more. It's renowned for collecting social sciences-related books and periodicals, particularly those related to labour studies.

Raza Library


Raza Library AFP. Image: Photo by AFPRaza Library AFP. Image: Photo by AFP

Also known as Rampur Raza Library, it is another government-protected monument. Raza Library was initially built as part of a palace in Rampur before turning into a library. It has a rich, opulent look and a collection of 17,000 rare manuscripts, 5000 miniature paintings, 205 hand-written palm-leaf manuscripts, and approximately 30,000 books in various languages like Tamil, Turkish, Urdu, and more.