Preserving Gujarati Literary Legacy: Himabhai Institute Library in Ahmedabad
Ravi Panchal

Preserving Gujarati Literary Legacy: Himabhai Institute Library in Ahmedabad

The historic Himabhai Institute Library in Ahmedabad endeavours to preserve and protect Gujarat's vast, abundant literary legacy

Amidst the Bhadra plaza, the Himabhai Institute Library in Ahmedabad stands as a testament to the rich literary heritage of Gujarat. With its origins dating back to 1857, this esteemed institution pays homage to the renowned poet Kavi Dalpatram, and holds a significant place in the hearts of Gujarati literature enthusiasts.

The Genesis

Alexander Kinloch Forbes, a British administrator of the East India Company, possessed a deep appreciation for the folk literature, art, and architecture of Gujarat. Recognizing a lack of historic documentation and in an effort to uplift the region's languages, Forbes established the Gujarati Vernacular Society on December 26, 1857. The society also aimed at social reforms, eventually transforming into the Gujarat Vidhya Sabha in 1946.

The society established a Kitaab Khana, within the Bhadra Fort premises. This entire collection of 3,185 books and 175 members was later relocated opposite the fort. Today, this distinguished library thrives as the Himabhai Institute, staying true to its historical roots.

The great poet Dalpatram, a close friend of Forbes, played a vital role in the establishment of this cherished library. As Forbes immersed himself in learning Gujarati language, Dalpatram, being his teacher and confidant, greatly influenced the initiative. As a testament to his teachings, a statue of the renowned poet adorns the library's entrance.

Preserving a Heritage Site

As one of Gujarat's oldest libraries, Himabhai Institute has been designated as a heritage site. Within its walls, precious manuscripts authored by notable figures are meticulously preserved in locked, see-thru closets. However, the condition of these literary treasures is a cause for concern, as time has taken its toll, leaving the scripts fragile and susceptible to tear at the slightest touch.

The library boasts a spacious rear area which remains largely unused, brimming with potential for creative and productive activities. Additionally, a generously-sized hall on the first floor, available for recitals and conferences at reasonable rates, sadly goes underutilized, with sporadic use occurring only a few times a month.

Dalpatram's legacy

Sadly, in the face of the internet's rise and the convenience of online information, the era of physical libraries is gradually fading. Arvind R Desai, the secretary of the Himabhai Institute Library, laments this trend, expressing his personal connection to books and the unique sensory experience they offer. He believes that today's youth are forsaking books in favor of embracing the digital world.

However, the challenges faced by the Himabhai Institute Library cannot overshadow its historical significance and the allure of Dalpatram's legacy. It continues to inspire those who cherish the tangible and profound experience of reading a book. The library serves as a timeless reminder of the unique charm and enduring importance of preserving literary treasures for generations to come.

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