Saraswathi Mahal Library

Entrance of the Saraswathi Mahal Library, Tanjore, Tamil Nadu, India.

Saraswathi Mahal Library, also called Thanjavur Maharaja Serfojis Sarawswathi Mahal Library is a library located in Thanjavur (Tanjore), Tamil Nadu, India. It is one of the oldest libraries in Asia[1] established during 16th century by Nayakas of Tanjavur and has on display a rare collection of Palm leaf manuscripts and paper written in Tamil and Sanskrit and a few other languages indigenous to India. The collection comprises well over 49,000 volumes, though only a tiny fraction of these are on display. The library has a complete catalog of holdings, which is being made available online. Some rare holdings can be viewed on site by prior arrangement.[2]


The Saraswathi Mahal library was started by Nayak Kings of Tanjavur as a Royal Library for the private intellectual enrichment of Kings and their family of Thanjavur (see Nayaks of Tanjore) who ruled from 1535 CE till 1676 CE.[3] The Maratha rulers who captured Thanjavur in 1675 promoted 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 Sarfoji 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.

During 1918 the Saraswathi Mahal Library was open to public.[4] The Library is located within the campus of Tanjavur palace.[5]


Painting outside the Sarasvati Mahal Library.

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 Computerisation 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 digitalise the manuscripts of this Library shortly.[6]

The CollectionEdit

The bulk of the manuscripts (39,300) are in Tamil and Sanskrit. Manuscripts number over 4500, comprising titles in literature 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 Dhanvantari 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 Devanagari) of the Marathi language. These records encompass the information of the political, cultural and social administration of the Maratha kings of Thanjavur.[7]

Some of the rare books and manuscriptsEdit

  • Dr. Samuel Johnson's dictionary published in 1784
  • The pictorial Bible printed in Amsterdam in the year 1791
  • The Madras Almanac printed in 1807
  • Lavoisier's Traité Élémentaire de Chimie ("Elements of Chemistry")
  • The notes of Bishop Heber on Raja Serfoji II
  • The correspondence letters of William Torin of London who purchased a lot of books for Raja Serfoji II and the Saraswathi Mahal Library
  • Ancient maps of the world
  • Town planning documents of Thanjavur including the underground drainage system, the fresh water supply ducting system

Library museumEdit

Efforts were made to microfilm and catalogue the contents way back in 1965 when Indira Gandhi was Information and 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 computerise the same using present day technology. It is also a designated 'Manuscript Conservation Centre' (MCC) under the National Mission for Manuscripts established in 2003.[8]


  1. ^ Indian culture. "Thanjavur Mah Serfojis Sarawswathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur". India culture. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  2. ^ See official website of the library, under External links, for details of holdings and access.
  3. ^ Pillai, Subramania S (March 2019). TOURISM IN TAMIL NADU: Growth and Development. MJP Publisher. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  4. ^ Tanjavur District, Govt site. "Tanjuvur District". Govt. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  5. ^ serfojimemorial hall. "Sarasvathi Mahal Library". Serfoji Memorial Hall. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 December 2010. Retrieved 23 January 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 February 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Manuscript Conservation Centres Archived 2012-05-06 at the Wayback Machine National Mission for Manuscripts.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 10°47′29″N 79°8′10″E / 10.79139°N 79.13611°E / 10.79139; 79.13611