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Saraswathi Mahal Library
(also known as Serfoji Mahal Library),
Tanjore, Tamilnadu, India

Saraswathi Mahal Library (also known as Serfoji Mahal Library),
Tanjore, Tamilnadu, India

The Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library is one of the few medieval Libraries that exist in the world. It is an unbounded repository of culture and inexhaustible treasure-house of knowledge built up by the successive dynasties of Nayaks and Marathas of Thanjavur. It contains very rare and valuable collection of manuscripts on all aspects of art, culture and literature The Encyclopaedia Brittanica in its survey of Libraries of world mention this as "the most remarkable library in India. "

The Library was started as a Royal Palace Library during the Nayak Kingdom over Thanjavar (1535-1673 A. D.) and was developed by the Maratha Kings of Thanjavur (1676Ñ1855 A D.). During the reign of these two dynasties Thanjavar was a centre of art and literature and the kings were the patrons which led to enrich the collection of the library, in various fields.

Maharaja Serfoji II
Among the Maratha Kings, Maharaja Serfoji II (1798Ñ1832 A. D.) was an eminent scholar in many branches of learning. In his infancy he came under the influence of a Danish missionary Father Rev. Schwartz, who was his father's friend and guide Serfoji II had his early education under him. With a great enthusiasm he took special steps for the enrichment of the Library. When pilgrimaged to Benares, he employed many Pandits to collect buy and copy a vast number of works from all the renowned centres of Sanskrit learning in the North and other areas. It is a fitting tribute to the Great Collector Serfoji, that the Library is named after him.


Till the survival of the last Maratha Queen, the Library was a palace property. After the death of the last queen, the Library together with her properties formed the subject of litigation in civil courts The public of Thanjavar began to interest themselves in making this library as a National pride, The Government of Madras in their G. O. Ms. No. 1306 Home (Education) dated 5th October 1918 accordingly took possession of the library under the charitable Endowment Act and have framed a scheme for the management of the Library. A five member committee under the ex-officio Chairmanship of the District Collector was appointed to maintain the Library. The name of the Library was changed from "The Sarasvati Mahal Library" to "The Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library "

In 1983, the Library was declared as an Institution of National Importance. The Government of Tamilnadu ordered to abolish the five member committee of administration and to register this under the Reistered Society Act of 1975. The Society consists of Ex-officio members of both Central and State Governments, nominated scholars, member from the Royal family and Director of the Library. The Director is the Secretary to the Society The Library receives funds from the Government of Tamil nadu for the maintenance of the Library and from Government of India for develo'Jmental activities.

Organisational Structure

This Library is situated in the centre of Nayak palace and it was opend for public in 1918. Various sections were started in 1979 such as Pandits section, Conservation section, Microfilm section, Publication section, Marketing section, Printing section, Binding section and Reference Book section. A small Museum is also there for the visitors.

Pandit's Section

Language Pandits for Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Modi and Sanskrit are working in this section. Their nature of work is cataloguing, editing and maintaining the manuscripts accordingly The Library has the richest collection of manuscripts which reflect the culture of South India. In addition to the Main collections the Library also came in possession of the private libraries of several Pandits and their Patrons who were living in and around Thanjavur or elsewhere. Even now, this library is receiving manuscripts from generous people. It has more than 46,695 manuscripts in the form of palm-leaf and paper.

Collection of Manuscripts

The manuscripts of this library represent:
  • a. The collection of works on art, science and literature of Tamil from time immemorial.

  • b The Collection of works of the Vijayanagara renaissance brought under the Nayak rulers of Thanjavur between 1535 to 1673 A.D

  • c. The collection of works brought by the Maratha rulers of Thanjavur.

  • d The collection of works written by scholars in the country of the Nayak and Maratha Kings of Thanjavur between 1535 to 1855 A D.

  • e. The collection made by Maharaja Serfoji from all over India and

  • f. The later collections from the families of great scholars.
I. Collection of Sanskrit Manuscripts

More number of the manuscripts in this library is in Sanskrit language i. e. 39,300 manuscripts out of 46,695 belongs to this language. The Sanskrit manuscriptsc ollection of this library has a unique value, in that in preserves the literary works of authors spread over 400 years. The scripts used for Sanskrit are Granthˆ, Devanagari, Nandinagari, Telugu and a few in Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya etc. This collection covers almost all branches of Sanskrit literature.

Dr. A. C. Burnell prepared a Iist for the Sanskrit manuscripts of this library and des cribed this collection thus "It may perhaps be asked of the library is worth the labour spent on it. I can answer unhesitatively that itis. It is now a recognised fact that nearly all Sanskrit works of importance, exist in different recensions The Library is unrivalled in this respect. It contains several good manuscript of all the most important ones known as yet including a few that are new Sanskrit manuscripts have long been very dear and; the cost of making paper transcripts is now very heavy. As far as I can judge it would not be possible to form a collection like that at Tanjore at a less cost than £ 50,000 but many manuscripts are unquestionably unique."

II. Collection of Tamil Manuscripts

There are about 3,518 Tamil manuscripts in this library. ` They are in palm-leaves and belong to the following categories.

  • a. Rare commentaries on Sangam works.
  • b Unpublished portions of classics.
  • c. Saiva, Vaishnava and Jain works.
  • d. Later poetry of all descriptions and
  • e. Medical works of exceptional value.
Some of the rare works belonging to Imperial Chola period are written in manipravala style. The medical manuscripts are very unique and valuable. Many of tbem based on the medical records and processes made in Dhanvantari Mahal and written by famous Tamil scholars like Kottaiyur Sivakolundu Desikar.

III Collection of Telugu Manuscripts

This Library has nearly 802 Telugu rnanuscripts which are mostly in palm-leaf and a few in paper. These are the most valuable collection of manuscripts particularly relating to thc Southern School of Telugu literature. The important Telugu Classics - like Padya Kavyas, Dwipada Kavyas, Prabandas etc., are available in this library.

IV. Collection of Marathi Manuscripts

The Marathi manuscripts of this library consists of thelworks of South Indian Mahar ashtrians numbered about 3075, of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuriŽs and the hierarchy of the saints of Maratha country belonging to the Rnmadasi and Dattatreya mutts. The works written by the great saints who adorned the mutts, the poets during: the reign of Mahrattas had left hundreds of original works and translations. The Marathi manuscripts are mostly in paper and a few in palm-leaf. The paper manuscripts were wr~tten in Telugu script (for Marath; language) These manuscripts deal with the subjects like philosophy, literature, drama music, lexicon, medicine and science.

V. Collection of Modi Documents

Modi is an ancient script used for Marathi language to record the political and administrative documents of the Maratha Kings of Maharashtra as well as Thanjavur They are also called 'Maratha Raj Records' Approximately 850 bundles containing 2,55,UOO Modi documents are available in the Library They are all paper manuscripts written in Marathi language These are transcribed into Nagari script and published with Tamil translation These are the only indigenous source materials for the history of the Marathas of Thanjavur.

VI. Collection of Books

There is a Reference Library comprises of old books and new books The old books were mostly collected by the king Serfoji during his life time which consists of 4,500 books in English French, German, Italy, Greek and Danish languages These books deal with many subjects.

The latter collection consists of more than 42,600 books, which are in Tamil, English, Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu and a few in other Indian and Foreign languages These books are catalogued according to the language and class)fied under various subjects.


The main functions of this library are preservation, cataloguing. publication and service to the scholars.
  • a. Preservation

    In ancient days, copying of the original manuscript was the only method for preserving the scripts and other bristled manuscripts Due to the develop~nent of science and technology, preservation of original in the form of microfilm and microfiche are prevalent. Since 1979, the facility of microfilming the manuscripts has been adopted in the library.
    Apart from this, modern conservation techmques like, fumigation, lamination and de-acid)fication methods are being followed to avoid decay by insects, acidity and other mechanical damages. Citra~lella OiJ is smeared on~the palm-leaves to give flexibility to the leaves and to get rid of the insects An indigenous preservative consisting of the powder mixture of sweet flag, black cumin, cloves, pepper, bark of cinnamon with camphor also used in the manuscript cup-boards.

  • b. Cataloguing

    The earliest catalogue available in this 1ibrary was prepared in 1801 A D by Sadasiva Bhatta alias Gangadhara Bhatta by the order of the King Serfoji which was only for palm-leaf manuscripts. There is a separate catalogue for paper manuscripts of this library prepared in the year 1807 AD Later in 1840 and 1857, catalogues were prepared by the orders of Shivaji II and the then District Collector Forbbes, accordingly. In 1857, by the order of the British Govt, Dr. A. C. Burnell prepared a catalogue fo~ Sanskrit manuscripts which was published in 1880 in two volumes. In 1920, the preparation of Delcriptive Cacalogues for al1 the manuscripts was started and the work is still going on. So far 23 volumes of catalogues for Sanskrit manuscripts, 10 volumes for Tamil, 5 volumes for Marathi and 2 volumes for Telugu have been published. Apart from these a catalogue for Rajah's collection of English books is also published and all these catalogues are available for sale.

  • c. Publication

    This library is publishing rare and unpublished manuscripts to spread the knowledge contained in the manuscripts to the public with the grant-in-aid from the Government of India. 354 books are published so far in which 114 are in Sanskrit, 175 in Tamil, 40 in Marathi, 19 in Telugu and 6 in English. A quarterly journal is also released by the Library since 1939.Minor works and Research articles based on the Library manuscripts are published in it.
Service to the Scholars

This Library renders the following services to the Research Scholars. Transcribing service, Translation service, ReE,rography service and Consulting service.

A few decades back, this library was merely an institution for preserving the manuscripts and books but now it has become an active centre for research in various disciplines. So scholars from a'!l over the world are utilising this library for their research.


A small museum is situated in the library to expose the importance of the library by displaying various rare artifacts available here. Rare manuscripts, books, beautifully decorated Thanjavur style of paintings in paper, wood, glass and canvass, illustrated manuscripts like Gaja Sastra, Asva Sastra, Mythological paintings, Botonical specimen paintings, Military costumes, Ramˆyana in miniature paintings, Rare maps, sketches and prints are displayed in this museum for the visitors.

An AppeaI

The Director and staff the Library request the people to donate kind heartedly rare and valuable manuscripts, books, paintings and artifacts to the Library which were not properly maiintained in the villages, temples or in the mutts to preserve the cultural heritage of this Country, for the future generation for study and research.

The manuscripts presented to the Library will be accepted and acknowledged with pleasure and gratitude by the authorities of the Library preserved with meticulous care and made available to successive generations of readers and scholars.

Tamil Publications of the Saraswathi Mahal Library:
  • atirupavati kalyanam, V. Venugopalan (editor)
  • arunaachalesar meedu vannamumn dadu varushattu karippukkummiyam, N. Srinivasan (editor)
  • arichndran ammanai, Y. Manikandan (editor)
  • athicudi puranam, V. Chockalingam (editor), in press
  • athiriyar ammanai, B. Sam Daniel (editor)
  • aravan kalappali natakam, G. Sethuraman (editor), in press
  • asiriya nikandu, V. Chockalingam (editor), in press
  • civaka cinthamani- ammanai, V. Chockalingam (editor)
  • chittaputhra ammanai, K. Kothandaramn (editor)
  • dasabhodam, part I & II,S. Ganapathi Rao (editor)
  • dharmaneri neetigal, V. Chockalingam (editor)
  • daheesi puranam, V. Chockalingam (editor)
  • illakanavilakkam-porul agathinai iyal, ParI, II, T.V. Gopala Iyer (editor)
  • illakanavilakkam-porul seiyuliyal, T.V. Gopala Iyer (editor)
  • illakanavilakkam-porul aniyiyal, T.V. Gopala Iyer (editor)
  • illakanavilakkam-porul pattiyal, T.V. Gopala Iyer (editor)
  • illakkana kothu, T.V. Gopala Iyer (editor)
  • harichandra natakam, S. Thilagam (editor)
  • kumbakona puranam, M. Satagopa Ramanujam (editor)
  • kurma puranam, Part I ⅈ Rama Govindasamy Pillai (editor)
  • kusa lava kathai, S. Thilagam (editor)
  • kanjanammanai, K. Kothandapani (editor)
  • kulothungan pillaiththamizh, T.S. Gangadharan (editor)
  • kudanthai anthathi, Ramalingam Pillai (editor)
  • kamatchi thavasu, S. Thilagam (editor)
  • markandeyan ammanai, B. Srinivasan (editor)
  • narayana satakam, R. Kothandapani (editor)
  • neetinool, K. Kothandapani (editor)
  • nallur puranam, C. Balasundaram (editor)
  • nasiketu puranam, M. Seeralan (editor)
  • tamilaga kovil kalai marabu, M. Balasubramanian (editor)
  • palajatikam- vikatam, C.G. Deivanayagam (editor)
  • parasamayakolariyar Pillaithamizh, V. Chockalingam (editor)
  • parswanathar ammanai, V. Chockalingam (editor)
  • pullai anthathi, K. Kothandapani (editor)
  • prayoga vivekam, T.V. Gopala Iyer (editor)
  • prabhota chandrodayam, V. Venugopalan (editor)
  • ramar ammanai, A.M. Parimanam (editor)
  • ramaiyyan ammanai, C.M. Ramachandra Chettiar (editor)
  • samadhilinga pratishtai vilakkam, V. Chockalingam (editor)
  • sankarpa nirakaranam, R.Govindaswami Pillai (editor)
  • sivayoganayaki pillaithamizh, Muthuratha Mudaliar(editor)
  • sivaprakasa vikasam, Adikalasiriyar (editor)
  • sivakama sundari parinaya natakam, S. Sita (editor)
  • somayaga perunkavyam, V. Chockalingam (editor)
  • saraswathi mahal vazhikatti, A. Panchanathan (editor)
  • thiruperunthurai puranam, C. Balasundaram, editor
  • thamizhisai padalkalum natya padangalum, N.Srinivasan, editor
  • draupathi ammanai, V. Chockalingam, editor
  • viralividu thoothu, V. Chockalingam, editor
  • vannaththirattu, T.V. Gopala Iyer, editor
  • veeragama, C.G. Deivanayagam, editor
  • neethi thirattu, C. Balasundaram, editor
  • vadivel sathakam, V.Chockalingam, editor
  • siva pooja paddathi, Swarna Kaliswaran, editor
  • gnana saram, Rama Govindaswamy, editor
  • thiruvaiyaru puranam,C. Govindarasanar, editor
  • narkaviraya nambi agapporul vilakkam, C. Govindarasanar, editor
  • marudur anthathi, C. Govidarasanar,editor
  • periapuranam vasana kavyam,C. Elangovan, editor
  • bharatha ammanai, A.M. Parimanam, editor
  • mannanar Serfoji aaivukkovai, M. sadasivam, editor
  • alam nabi kadaippathu, Nazeer Ali, editor
  • rayar appachi kadaigal, Y. Manikandam, editor
  • padartha sarama, S. Rajalakshmi, editor
  • raja gopala malai, Y. Manikandam, editor
  • thirvettainallur iyanar pallu, P.v. Nagarajan, editor
  • sivagnanadeepam, Adigalasiriyar, editor
  • sivabharatha charittiram
  • siddantha nichayam
  • tatva vilakkam
  • vaidyanathasami thiruvilayaidal

    Tamil Descriptive Catalogue
  • volume 1, Literature and philosophy
  • volume II,Literature and Philosophy
  • volume III, Medical works
  • volume Iv, Medical works
  • volume V, medical works
  • volume VI, Literature
  • volume VII, Literature
  • volume VIII, Medical works
  • volume IX, medical works
  • volume X, Literature
  • volume XI, Medical works
  • volume XII, Medical works
  • volume XIII, Medical works
  • volume XIV, Medical works

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