Drive 182 kms from Delhi, towards the hills and you will reach Rampur. Now more in news because of the pitched political battles between its star politicians, who often court controversy, Rampur hides many a secret for the history lover.
Rampur is part of the old Rohilkhand area of Western Uttar Pradesh. Once a mass of uninhabited forests and grasslands, a large number of Rohilla Pathans from Afghanistan, settled here in the 16th century CE. Rohilla refers to people of Roh mountains in Afghanistan. Over time the fiercely independent Afghan tribesmen carved out this land, dividing it among different warlords, who were fierce mercenaries. Once a force to reckon with, it took the combined armies of the East India Company and Awadh to invade Rohilkhand and annex the territories in 1773-1774 CE.
The only warlord to survive this rout was Faizullah Khan, who was given a small tract of land, Rampur, under the protection of the British. He went on to become the first Nawab of Rampur in 1774 CE. The same year, Faizullah Khan began a collection of rare books, which grew into what is today- one of the finest libraries, in the country!
It is hard to imagine the fierce and war loving Rohillas enjoying literary pursuits, but thanks to the long years of peace and prosperity the Nawabs of Rampur became great patrons of art and culture. Different Nawabs invited various calligraphers, illustrators and binders from different parts of India to extend and improve the library collection and soon the Rampur library became famous across the Islamic world.
Named after the last Nawab of Rampur, Sir Raza Ali Khan, the Rampur Raza Library has the finest collection of Islamic books. It has nearly 17,000 manuscripts, 60,000 printed books and 5,000 miniature paintings. It also houses 3000 rare specimens of Islamic calligraphy as well as valuable palm leaf manuscripts in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.
Some of the books from the Indo-Islamic world are not only rare, they are also the only windows we have to contemporary life in medieval India.
Take for example the Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi written by Ziauddin Barani, a noted scholar at the Tughlaq court around 1300 CE . This work gives us a comprehensive account of the history of Delhi Sultanate from the Slave dynasty to the Tughlaqs. Not only does this manuscript give us political history but also a glimpse into the day-to-day life in the Delhi Sultanate. We know so much about Sheikh Nizamuddin and Sufi saints of Delhi,thanks to this historical work. There are only three copies of this rare manuscript in the world, the other two being in Germany and England. Another manuscript, also by Barani is the Sahifa-i-Naat-i-Muhammadi , which describes the court of Sultan Iltutmish of Delhi. It is the only copy of it's kind in the world.
Another manuscript of great importance is the Kalila-wa-Dimna by Abul Ma 'li Nasrullah, which is the Persian translation of Panchatantra, and was one of the most popular books in the medieval islamic world. It narrates the popular Indian fables, with beautiful paintings depicting the stories. It has been selected as one of the World Heritage Manuscripts by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
Equally interesting, is a very strange manuscript called Tilism, a unique album of 157 paintings prepared during the reign of Emperor Akbar.This manuscript talks about people from different classes of society from farmers, to traders and musicians and different magical, hypnotic and supernatural practices of different communities. It throws light of the beliefs and practices of the people in 16th century CE. There is no end to rare books in this library. Books with autographs of Babur and Akbar, Persian translations of Ramayans and so on. No wonder the library has been declared as an institution of national importance!
The library was originally housed in one of the buildings in Rampur Fort. In the year 1957, the last Nawab of Rampur, Sir Raza Ali Khan decided to create a public trust. He donated a magnificent palace called Hamid Manzil and the library was shifted here. Today, the Rampur Raza Library attracts scholars from around the world and has been declared as an institution of national importance by the Government of India.
Did You Know
For a small sliver of a kingdom, Rampur packed in quite a punch. Created as a buffer state between Maratha controlled Delhi and Awadh and supported by the British, Rampur didn't have an army, or wealth or even clout. But the Nawabs of Rampur did have ingenuity. From the Rampur gharana of music to Rampur chaku or knife, popularized in Hindi movies and even the Rampur hound - India’s most famous indigenous dog breed, the Nawabs of Rampur have lent their names to many of their pet passions.