Preserving Manuscript Collections of Garhwal

This writer’s first two postings during his nearly four decade old civil service career (1971-2010) first in Uttarkashi and then in Pauri Garhwal triggered his interest in the administrative history of both Garhwals, the so-called British Garhwal as Pauri Garhwal was officially known, as well as Tehri Garhwal, the Tehri Garhwal State of pre-merger days. The official records related to Pauri Garhwal, as well as Chamoli and parts of Dehradun, are better preserved primarily thanks to the systematic office-keeping systems developed in all Anglophile colonies. The Pre-Gadar Records, as catalogued by Douglas Dewar, bear testimony to the care bestowed on this part of our cultural development, as even a brief visit to the various State Archives, Revenue Record Rooms and English Record Rooms in any district Collectorate would reveal. The flexible record retrieval system as practiced in our Revenue administrative architecture is an example to be followed by any other system, known to modern administration. The abiding faith which Langad Deen has in Shukla’s classic novel set in one of the Avadh districts, Raag Darbari, is nothing but a lefthanded compliment to this time-tested system.

Tehri Garhwal State Records & Manuscripts

What about the state of records, official or otherwise, in the Tehri Garhwal State, or for that matter in the regimes that were supplanted by the Gorkhali Empire (1791-1815), the Panwars in Tehri and Chands in Kumaon? For a reconstruction of an objective administrative history of the pre-1815 period’s availability of these records, in the previous two regimes, is a sine quo non, whether these belonged to the official system or available with the public at large. As we know, of the two ancient kingdoms, the Chand dynasty of Kumaon and the Panwars of Tehri Garhwal, the latter alone were re-instated by the East India Company with truncated territory and a changed capital at Tehri, in place of ancient Srinagar, in 1815. Kumaon  remained under Gorkha rule for 25 long years, whereas Tehri Raj first became a tribute paying vassal since 1803 and two years later was taken over by the westward marching Gorkhali Empire. The direct Gorkhali rule over Garhwal was to end twelve years later in 1815, only. All that needs to be mentioned here about the nature and impact of this Gorkha rule is that, both, Kumaon and Garhwal populations  nderwent a period in their respective histories which cannot be described as an example of good-governance. However, this assessment of the Gorkha rule in these parts calls for some hard examination, both, based on perusal of documentary evidence and an objective analysis of the constraints involved in sustaining the only mountain empire in history, stretched over a length of some 800 kms across the Himalaya, two centuries ago. The only limiting factor here seems a severe paucity of documents that are inaccessible to an average research scholar. A threat of these constraints becoming more compounded looms large as no efforts whatsoever are in place either for bringing them into public  domain or even preserving those which are unlikely to be available as they are scattered and generally part of individual collections. It is a challenge that has to be addressed sooner than later in this new state which is already overburdened with several other seemingly insuperable administrative hurdles.

Manuscript and record collections of Tehri Garhwal obviously deserve a higher priority and this essay  is an appeal for their in situ preservation, official custody and provision for their easy access by serious researchers. In the present context, apparently, it is a very low priority yet deserving of attention of those who care for such long term cultural initiatives.

Few Ardent Researchers

This writer’s recent interactions with some serious researchers have brought into focus some interventions which deserve to be mounted immediately. In particular, this writer is deeply indebted to Sandeep Badoni who has not

only looked at the problems involved in great detail, but who has also offered his voluntary support for any such cause. Much of the insight into existing manuscripts and records are based on Sandeep’s inputs. Garhwal Kingdom was established around 1500 AD and it has an unbroken tradition of more than 2000 years of thought and action. Most of the manuscripts of Garhwal are mainly on the subjects of astrology, tantra, Ayurveda and devotion. The patronage of Panwar dynasty to local knowledge centres of Srinagar and Devprayag, with ancient depositories at Joshimath, Pandukeshwar and Ukhimath are a big source of our current understanding of ancient Garhwali traditions. There are

two major collections of manuscripts in Garhwal to which immediate attention needs to be paid.

Arguably, the single largest collection of unique manuscripts in Garhwal belongs to the Purana Durbar Collection of Antiquities. Presently, this collection is in the custody of a young and fully conscious scion of the Garhwal  royal family, Thakur Bhawani Pratap Singh Panwar. In its present form, credit for its preservation should really go to Kunwar Vichitra Shah, greatgrandfather of Kunwar Bhawani, in the 1890s. As he was head of Tehri’s Legislature

and a Magistrate with diverse interests covering Ayurveda, Tantra and Jyotish, he salvaged books and commenced a

tradition of study and collection of diverse texts. His son, Captain Shur Beer Singh Panwar, well known to many amongst the present day historians, was himself a historian and as an administrator of long experience he attracted many towards historical writings. Barrister Mukandi Lal, Professors Ajai Singh Rawat, Dr Shiv Prasad Dabral ’Charan’, Prof Atul Saklani, Dr Karl Khandalwala, Dr Ram Kumar Verma and Dr Yashwant Singh Katoch, easily

the most celebrated amongst present day historians could be counted as some who benefitted from his support and

munificence. The untimely demise of Captain Saheb and  his son Kunwar Samar Beer Singh, IPS, in 1990 in quick

succession, and shifting of their residence from Tehri has taken a serious toll on the physical condition of this precious

collection. Besides the manuscripts and books under discussion, this collection also consists of wooden artefacts,

swords, paintings, photographs. The last opportunity this writer had of having a look at this collection resulted  in retrieval, cleaning and multiplication of a hand-drawn map of ancient city of Almora, drawn during the early decades of the Company rule by a local cartographer.

This collection is presently housed in Chandralok Colony of the Dehradun residence of the Panwar family. This  collection has some unique gems that are fast deteriorating due to climatic factors and attack of fungus and  moisture on highly acidic paper. A few texts that deserve mention here are :

  • Vastu Shiromani ( 1620 AD text by royal priest Shankar Guru),
  • Vichitra Natak (1705 Autobiography of Guru Govind Singh),
  • Mantra Mahodadhi (largest and most authoritative text on Tantra by Mahidhar Dangwal),
  • Siddhant Shiromani (an undated Jyotish/Vastu text by Buddhu Sandesh),
  • Sabhasar (a large poetry collection of Maharaja Sudarshan Shah under pen name Surat Kavi),
  • Vaktavya (Biography of Keerti Shah, 1920s), Shalihotrashashtra (a veterinary Manual for horses),
  • Samarsaar (a unique text blending war and jyotish),
  • Ganika Natak by Maula Ram (a rare text of Khariboli poetry, 1800 AD),
  • Jatadhari (Jyotish text of 1670)

and copies of various books of Tulsidas, Keshav, Nand Das and rare manuals and letters providing glimpses into the administration of Garhwal.

As is well known, the original royal library has undergone several divisions owing to constant change of capital and today its collection stands divided in the following locations:

  • Suman Library, Tehri.
  • Library, Pratap College, Tehri and
  • Rajmata College, Tehri.
  • Library and Record Rooms of
  • Collectorate Tehri.
  • Sanskrit College, Tehri.
  • Royal Palace at Pratapnagar andassociated building complex, and
  • Royal Palace at Kirti Nagar.

Other Significant Collection Centres

Devprayag Vedshala is credited with the second best collection of texts. This collection is said to have origins in 1870s with the setting up of the Pathshala by the Bhatt-Joshi family. Their love of scholarly pursuits attracted rare texts and some of the original writings of 1890s, making Devprayag a hub of literary activities. In the 1940s, the Pathshala had association with freedom fighters like Bhagwati Prasad Panthri, Sridev Suman which resulted in its ban by the state administration. Its collection of Sanskrit texts (mainly Jyotish texts) is due to the exemplary diligence of the Bhatt Joshi family, especially Sri Chakradhar Shashtri. Recently, renowned scholar Mohan Lal Babulkar donated a collection of his books to this library, testifying to its high credibility and tradition. What, however, attracts people to this library most is the collection of manuscripts authored by Mukand Ram Badethwal “Daivagya”, one of the most renowned astrologers of the 20th century.


Two other private collections that deserve mention are one belonging to Barrister Mukandi Lal (donated to Garhwal University) and the second to that doyen of Uttarakhand historians, Dr Shiv Prasad Dabral “Charan”. As regard  the last, this writer has already met Governor Dr Aziz Qureshi personally soon after a function that was organized by PAHAR, a cultural association which has long advocated the cultural cause of Uttarakhand. Even though no positive response has been received from the descendants of Dr Dabral, efforts are still on. A small but culturally significant collection is also available with Dr Dwaraka Tomar (descendant of Poet Molaram), at Ganesh Bazaar, Srinagar.  It is said to consist of 40 manuscripts in Urdu, Sanskrit and Hindi. Of these, only 6 have so far been published. This is the second largest poetry collection of Garhwal after Sabhasar. Six books are said to have been lost already. Transcripts of all books by Dr Chatar Singh Rawat for Captain Shur Beer Singh Panwar are also said to be untraceable now. These are serious losses. The collection of books once owned by former Wazir Hari Krishna Raturi has also suffered a imilar fate. Shri Jeewananand Sriyal’s private collection of books at Jakhnyali, Patti Nailchami is also said to be a major collection deserving preservation. While the infrastructural losses that this state has unfortunately suffered during the past two months are repairable and restorable, but the losses that are silently taking place in our cultural heritage are beyond any repair or recall.

A Cultural Roadmap for Conservation of Manuscripts

Sandeep Badoni has offered the following suggestions which deserve serious consideration:

  1. As the number of texts is very large and the number of knowledgeable scholars is rather limited first priority should be scientific preservation and  immediate conversion into e-texts; a call to people should also be made to enlist smaller collections also.  
  2. There should be a Mobile Unit equipped with preservation kit to do in situ preservation and after winning the confidence of the collectors we may make a move for conversion into e-texts.
  3. Based on need and popularity of  texts, funds may be accessed from private and public sources for further research and publication.

In practical terms, the first need of the existing collections is their sorting and cataloguing for which a Committee of Experts with functional knowledge in epigraphy, history, culture, geography and literature is needed. Some funds would obviously be needed and should be allocated to meet the activities of this Committee of Experts, who would need young research scholars to undertake the physical work involved. A State Archives has already been constructed, but in so far as the work related to making this State Archives functional corresponding to the impressive cultural heritage of this state is concerned a huge amount of initiative remains to be taken up. With a state boasting of a high growth rate of higher education, what remains to be seen is whether its physical growth is going to be matched in qualitative terms, which would get measured by the efforts that are made in various spheres of cultural revival and restoration of our precious heritage. Precious manuscripts in private collections waiting to be either stolen or eaten away by the elements of nature are certainly an indicator of this hoped for revival of our rich and ancient cultural heritage.

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Security Code *

  1. We welcome any feedback, questions or comments