Deccan College Library: A Legacy of Love

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It’s not hard to see why the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute is among the country’s most reputed post-graduate centres of learning. With a Department of Archaeology and Linguistics that have been at the forefront of research in the field, the college also boasts one of the country’s finest libraries. Apart from containing rare books, periodicals and journals, the library also houses the personal collections of some of its illustrious alumni and faculty – Lokmanya Tilak, Dr H D Sankalia and Dr Irawati Karve.

Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute

First, let’s take a look at the storied history of the institute, which goes back to the early 19th century. The institute started as a Sanskrit Paathshala known as Hindoo College in 1821, at the Peshwas’ residence at Vishrambaug Wada in Pune. The college continued to grow and, in 1858, it was rechristened Poona College. To keep up with the growing number of students, a new college building was constructed on the outskirts of the city, at Yerawada. It was inaugurated in October 1868 and renamed Deccan College.

The college continued to flourish and boasted illustrious alumni including Lokmanya Tilak, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, V K Rajwade and Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis, among others.

Lokmanya Tilak | Wikimedia Commons

However, in 1934, the college shut for want of funds. Help came from several alumni as well as citizens and the college reopened as the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute in 1939.

The Deccan College Library

While the present library of the institute was established in 1939, its history goes back to the Gymkhana Library of the old Deccan College and its enviable collection. But, when the college shut in 1934, most of its collection was given away to other government colleges.

Thankfully, all was not lost. The old library had printed a detailed catalogue of its collection of about 12,000 books. It was the starting point of a treasure hunt that began in 1939, to track down and retrieve the books in its collection.

Most of the books and periodicals were tracedand acquired by the new library. Over time, this collection expanded greatly and included books, encyclopaedias, atlases, gazetteers, archaeological reports and memoirs and annuals, covering a broad variety of subjects.

Apart from books, the library also houses a fantastic collection of around 11,000 manuscripts, which are mostly in Sanskrit and Marathi.

But there’s an interesting story about a priceless collection – of around 20,000 manuscripts – that the college ‘almost had’.

In 1866, the Government of Bombay realised that to seriously understand the history and culture of India and its people, it would need authentic sources. And what better source than manuscripts? Since the documents sought were scattered across the country in places like temples, maths and in the homes of people, the Government of Bombay launched an ambitious project known as the Indian Manuscript Collection Project, to acquire and preserve these manuscripts.

Sir Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar | Wikimedia Commons

The task was assigned to German scholars Georg Buhler and Franz Kielhorn, who were then professors at Elphinstone College in Bombay and Deccan College in Pune. From 1868 to 1880, Buhler and Kielhorn wandered the length and breadth of the country and assembled 11,000 manuscripts.

After they retired, the project was taken forward by renowned Orientalist Sir R G Bhandarkar, who taught at Deccan College. He added 2,500 manuscripts to the project.

As a result of the scholars’ herculean efforts, the Government acquired a whopping 17,000 manuscripts by the early 20th century, which covered a wide variety of subjects such as medicine, religion, philosophy, literature and drama, among others. These manuscripts were written in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Persian and other languages.

The manuscripts were initially housed at Elphinstone College in Mumbai but the humid Mumbai climate posed challenges to their preservation and the collection was shifted to Deccan College in Pune.

However, the ever-expanding collection of manuscripts and their preservation became a concern for the college and the collection was transferred to the then newly established Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in the city.

Gazetteers in the library | © Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune

Today, the Deccan College library has 1,13,834 books, 11,140 manuscripts, 34,868 bound volumes of periodicals and many other kinds of documents.

But what makes this collection even more special is that it has the personal collections of many eminent alumni and faculty in fields like archaeology, anthropology and linguistics.

Here are some of the library’s most valuable collections:

Bhagavad Gita: This is a thumb-sized Bhagavad Gita known as Angushtamatra Gita owing to its size. It is one of the tiniest Bhagavad Gita prints ever made, comprising 392 pages and written in Devanagari script. A small magnifying glass is attached to the case, to assist in reading the text!

Angushtamatra Gita | © Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune

Lokmanya Tilak Collection: The 197 books in this collection were used by Lokmanya Tilak to study Vedic literature. In 1923, this personal collection of Tilak was donated to the library by some of the college’s alumni and Tilak’s admirers.

H D Sankalia Collection: It was renowned archaeologist Dr H D Sankalia who started the Department of Archaeology in 1939, the pride of Deccan College. Dr Sankalia made significant discoveries in the field of prehistory and carried out landmark excavations at sites at Langhanj, Nashik, Inamgaon, Nevasa and Kolhapur. Dr Sankalia was the Director of the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute from 1956-1959 and 1970-1973.​

After his retirement, he donated his personal collection to the library. It includes 1,020 books on archaeology and related subjects, along with some periodicals and journals.

H D Sankalia Collection | © Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune

Irawati Karve Collection: India’s pioneering woman anthropologist and sociologist, and an award-winning writer, Irawati Karve was the founder of the Anthropology Department at the Poona (Pune) University.

In 1970-1971, a collection of around 400 books belonging to Karve was donated to the Deccan College library. It includes books from the fields of anthropology and sociology. It includes books written by Karve herself, such as Kinship Organization in India and the first edition of the famous Marathi work Yuganta, among others, as well as books from her personal collection.

Irawati Karve Collection | © Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune

S M Katre Collection: This collection was donated to the library in 1973-1974 by the then Director of the institute, Dr S M Katre. The collection contains 1,080 valuable books in the field of Linguistics. Interestingly, it was Dr Katre who initiated the enormous Sanskrit Dictionary Project at the institute. It aimed at creating an encyclopaedic dictionary of Sanskrit based on the model of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Riyasatkar Collection: Historian G S Sardesai, popularly known as ‘Riyasatkar Sardesai’ was an eminent scholar of Maratha history. He wrote 8 volumes of Marathi Riyasat, along with several other works on history. In 1958, Sardesai donated his personal collection of 2,960 books on Maratha history to the library.

Manuscript on the Saubhagya Kavach | © Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune

Saubhagya Kavach (1023 CE): This is the oldest manuscript in the library. Written in Sanskrit, it is dated to 1023 CE. It is a manuscript on the Saubhagya Kavach Shloka of Goddess Lalita Tripura Sundari, which is said to bestow prosperity, luck and auspiciousness on devotees.

Manuscript on Ramayana: This manuscript is written in Shaka 1742 Devanagari and has an illustrated cover page. It is a manuscript on the Balakanda, the first of the seven kandas of the Ramayana.

Manuscript on the Ramayana | © Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune

A 16th century edition of The Citie of God: This is the oldest book in the library’s collection dated to 1523 CE. Written in Latin by St Augustine in the 5th century CE, The Citie of God is considered one of his most famous works.

Apart from books and manuscripts, the library also houses several archaeological reports, memoirs, atlases and maps, and also a small collection of coins.

Today, the library is a centre of research, which caters to post-graduate students, faculty and research scholars.

Cover Image: Dheepika Karunakar via Wikimedia Commons


This article is part of a five-part series on some of the great libraries of India and the incredible collections they hold. The series has been commissioned in memory of Dr G R Dalvi and Mrs Ratan G Dalvi, by their son Nitin Dalvi.