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Glorious past, future obscure

- Treasured collection of books and manuscripts on brink of oblivion

A 140-year-old private library in the state capital, once visited by first President Rajednra Prasad and former deputy chief minister of Bihar Anugrah Narayan Sinha, is gradually fading into oblivion.

The descendants of Krishna Chaitanya Goswami and Govardhan Goswami (two brothers who founded Chaitanya Library in 1870) rue the fact that the facility, which stays open between 10am and 5pm everyday, hardly receives any visitor these days primarily because of lack of awareness among citizens.

“In the 1960s, Chaitanya library had more than 50 regular readers. But over the years, their number reduced. Now it has none. People come occasionally, primarily for research work,” said Gaur Kumar Goswami (81), the present patriarch of the Goswami family, which looks after the library.

“This library is a combined effort of my father, Krishna Chaitanya Goswami, and my uncle, Govardhan Goswami. We are originally from Vrindavan. My father and uncle came here (Patna) via Uttar Pradesh,” added Goswami.

On the library’s birth, Goswami said: “The library was the brainchild of Hindi writer Bharatendu Harishchandra, a close friend of my father. He knew that my father was a voracious reader and had a great collection of books. So he suggested him to turn his collection into a private library.”

Librarian Kishori Raman Goswami, also a member of the family, said the private library boasts of a rare collection. “The library has over 5,000 old books and around 500 manuscripts.”

He added: “We have the Tulsidaskrit Ramayan, which was written more than 500 years ago in the Kaithi script. This is one of the ancient scripts of our country. Copies of Pradeep, a monthly Hindi magazine established right after Independence, are in our library. Around 10 years ago, we found the pages of the magazine becoming brittle and tearing up. However, we took good care of the magazines.”

Goswami said: A member of National Library, Calcutta, had over 40 years ago offered to buy the collection of Pradeep magazine. But my father had turned down the proposal, saying he considered the collection as his baby,” said Goswami.

He added: “We also have a collection of Lakshmi, a monthly Hindi magazine published by the Gaya-based Lakshmi Press, between 1916 and 1919. We have copies of Saraswati, another Hindi magazine. Among the rare manuscripts, we have Malmasa in Vayu Purana, written in Sanskrit in 1819, some related to the Vaishnav religion and some to the ancient Bengal,” Goswami said.

“Five years ago, around 500 books were stolen from the library. We lost many original books, including one Chaitnaya Charitamvrit, which was more than 600 years old. This forced us to decide against adding more books to our collection. We will preserve whatever books we have,” he added.

On the membership rules, the patriarch of the library said: “Those who want to become members need to meet our family. We don’t charge any fee for registration. The entry is also free in the library.”