The South Asian Rare Book Collection in the Asian Division of the Library of Congress contains about 1,700 rare books, manuscripts, and other unique items, all of which are accessible in the Asian Reading Room. Please use Ask a Librarian for additional questions about the collection and the Library's other South Asian materials.
Below are some highlights of the South Asian Rare Book Collection. Links to titles of rare books and manuscripts on this page will retrieve fuller bibliographic information from the Library of Congress Online Catalog.
In 1904, the Library of Congress purchased the personal collection of German Indologist Albrecht Weber (1825-1901), which contained approximately 4,000 books, articles, notes, newspaper clippings, postcards, and other correspondence with philologists and other scholars of his day. Many of the works on Indology in the Weber collection come with his handwritten notes and marginalia. The collection includes several dozen nineteenth-century Sanskrit manuscripts, such as Aitareya Brâhmaṇa, Agniṣṭomaprayoga, and Mâdhava's Kâlaṇirnaya. To learn more about items in the Weber collection, see the following print catalog:
In 2018, the Asian Division acquired a very early translation in Urdu of the classic Arabian Nights (pictured below), which comes in four volumes in two beautifully bound books. This edition was lithographed at Kanpur by the Mustafai Press in 1847. Munshi Abdulkarim’s prose translation became quite popular in British India due to the ease and fluidity of its language. Volume three of the Library’s copy contains lots of marginalia, presumably from its previous owner, with English definitions of unfamiliar Urdu vocabulary encountered in the text.
The South Asian Rare Book Collection has many examples of early nineteenth-century Christian missionary literature printed in British India. This includes a number of works from the Serampore printing press, some of which are among the earliest printed works in various South Asian languages. There are also many smaller booklets featuring Christian parables and moral instruction in English, Hindi, and Marathi from nineteenth-century missionary presses in Allahabad, Bombay, Ludhiana, and Mirzapur. Below is a representative sample of the South Asian Rare Book Collection's early Christian literature in South Asian languages. Links to titles of books will retrieve fuller bibliographic information from the Library of Congress Online Catalog.
The South Asian Rare Book Collection has a number of early editions of Hindu religious texts printed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by such publishers as the Sri Venkateshwar Steam Press in Mumbai and the Lakshmi Venkateshwar Steam Press in Kalyan. Publishers printed many of these works in a landscape-like format to recreate the look and feel of a traditional paper or palm-leaf manuscript. Below is a representative sample of the South Asian Rare Book Collection's early print editions of Sanskrit texts. Links to titles of books will retrieve fuller bibliographic information from the Library of Congress Online Catalog.
During the First World War, the German Foreign Office's Nachrichtenstelle für den Orient, or NfO (Information Center for the Orient), produced a propaganda newspaper called El Dschihad specifically for Muslim prisoners held at Halbmondlager (Halfmoon Camp) in Wünsdorf near Berlin. This pro-German paper was produced in six languages: Arabic, Georgian, Russian, Turko-Tatar, Hindi, and Urdu. Notably, the latter two editions were issued under the title Hindostan because the South Asian prisoners in Halbmondlager included Muslims and non-Muslims. The South Asian Rare Book Collection has nearly complete runs of Hindostan in Hindi and Urdu, (links provided below the image to these titles in the Library of Congress Online Catalog) which are fairly identical in terms of content. However, the Urdu edition contains more propaganda related to pan-Islamist ideology. The Library of Congress also has a number of issues of the Russian edition. Hindostan is discussed in the following blog post:
The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.
The South Asian Rare Book Collection includes holdings of an interesting Urdu women’s magazine, Jauhar-i nisvān̲, or “The Essence of Women.” It includes mostly patterns for embroidery and stitching, as well as some articles on social issues, cooking recipes, and general homemaking. The Library of Congress has issues for several months of 1947 and 1948, and for most of the months from 1949 to 1953. These are the critical years surrounding the 1947 Partition of South Asia, which makes the magazine an important primary source on the lives of South Asian women just before and after the creation of India and Pakistan. This serial is the subject of the following blog post:
For manuscripts in the South Asian Rare Book Collection, please see the research guide, South Asian Manuscripts at the Library of Congress. This guide will be updated periodically with additional information on manuscripts in various languages and sub-collections.