Patna: INTACH, or the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, has appealed to Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to spare the demolition of the front portion of the 130-year-old Khuda Bakhsh Library, saying razing of any part of the celebrated institution will be a “monumental loss of heritage” for not just Patna, but the entire world.
In a letter to the chief minister on Saturday, the Patna Chapter of the Delhi-based NGO, has also fervently appealed to not demolish fully or partially any other heritage buildings that may fall on the route of a proposed elevated corridor on the historic Ashok Rajpath, from Kargil Chowk to NIT More.
“The razing of any portion of Khuda Baksh Library will be a monumental loss of heritage for not just Patna, but the entire world, and it will eclipse the glory of this institution forever,” reads the letter.
According to the proposed elevated flyover project spanning a little over 2 km, to be built from Kargil Chowk to NIT More, a large number of heritage buildings and their front yards are set to face the axe, including the iconic Curzon Reading Room of the Khuda Bakhsh Library and its front garden, said J.K. Lall, convener of INTACH Patna Chapter.
“In our letter, we have requested the chief minister to reconsider the decision, as it is the iconic legacy of Patna and rest of the country. It is an institution of national importance, a bibliographic delight and an architectural jewel of our city. We have also proposed alternative to the government to divert the traffic,” he said.
The library, started in 1891 by eminent personality Khuda Bakhsh Khan, a bibliophile from Bihar who had painstakingly built the collection, is a jewel of art, culture and academia.
The historic library was built and dedicated to the city by its founder as a “gift to Patna”. Thousands of rare books and priceless bejewelled manuscripts, including Tarikh-e-Khandan-e-Timuriyah, Shahnama and Baburnama, are housed in this veritable treasure trove which attracts scholars and admirers alike from around the world.
Tarikh-e-Khandan-e-Timuriyah is a rare manuscript and bears the handwriting of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, which was also sent for inclusion in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Diwan-e-Hafiz had handwriting of Mughal rulers Jahangir and Humayun, according to Shayesta Bedar, the current director of the library.
“Khuda Bakhsh Library is a national heritage, it is our priceless legacy. Besides, the entire facade will be disturbed and defaced. Development is important, but not at the cost of our heritage. We hope the government will listen to our appeal and of general people too, who are asking to not cause any harm to the heritage,” she said.
“The historic Curzon Reading Room and the whole front garden of the library are to be dismantled according to the plan of the corridor. We cannot allow this,” she said.
The 116-year-old reading room built in 1905 is a celebrated icon of the library and has served the people of Patna and rest of Bihar for over a century. Its facade also bears the name of the library – Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library 1891 – telling the story of the creation of this iconic institution.
“And, Curzon Reading Room is a pride possession of the library too. It was built in memory of the visit of Viceroy Lord Curzon in 1903. Demolishing it will practically mean erasing a legacy,” Bedar said.
Ever since the matter has surfaced, the proposal has faced widespread protests from various quarters, including many scholars, historians, retired professors and bureaucrats. Bihar Legislative Assembly Library Committee chairman and MLA Sudama Prasad visited the library on Saturday, Bedar said.
“An NOC (no objection certificate) was sought from us for the elevated corridor construction. We wrote back to the Patna DM early this month, appealing to spare the heritage and suggested alternative routes,” she said.
Located in the heart of the Ashok Rajpath, the library is situated in old Bankipore area of Patna and has many famed visitors in its history of 130 years.
Eminent personalities from Mahatma Gandhi to Jawaharlal Nehru, presidents and prime ministers and other heads of state of many countries, viceroys and governors, have visited this illustrious institution over the years.
Ashok Rajpath is studded with celebrated educational institutions, from Patna College (1863) to Patna Science College (1927), Patna University (1917) and its iconic Wheeler Senate House (1926), Bihar Urdu Academy, Patna Medical College and Hospital (1925), Bihar Young Men’s Institute (1911), BN College (1889), St Joseph’s Convent (1853) and its old chapel and graveyard, all on the northern side facing the historic road, named after the great King Ashoka, Lall said.
“Demolishing Khuda Baksh Library even partially, will be a grave mistake, and the heritage front of other iconic buildings, and hence of this historic face of Patna, would also be sullied forever, if this project is allowed to go through,” the INTACH said.
“As a solution, we humbly suggest that since the Ganga Drive is already under construction, and links roads are proposed at various intervals, and as reported, at a site neighbouring AN Sinha Institute campus and Krishna Ghat, so traffic can be diverted trough these link ways,” the letter reads.
The Indian National Trust for Art and Culture (INTACH) had earlier opposed the demolition of the Dutch-era Patna Collectorate, which the Bihar government had proposed to demolish in 2016. The Supreme Court had given a stay on its razing last September after the NGO went to the court.
All old heritage buildings of the PMCH, including those facing Ashok Rajpath, have already been proposed to be demolished for a new modern hospital complex, triggering protest from many quarters.