Culture in a basement

It’s perhaps the most unlikely place to find a research library on Indian culture and traditions.

Written by Alokparna Das | Published: March 4, 2012 3:14 am

Manana Devahuti-Damodar Library in GK-II attracts scholars from far and wide and has no membership fee

It’s perhaps the most unlikely place to find a research library on Indian culture and traditions. Located as it is in the heart of a posh South Delhi neighbourhood and at a walking distance from a bustling shopping complex,the Manana Devahuti-Damodar Library is likely to remain unknown to regular readers but is frequented by scholars from the city and outside.

The huge basement housing the library has light streaming in from its ventilators. Surprisingly,the usual smell of old books is missing,though the library boasts of more than 7,000 old books,a handful of them a century or more old. Neatly stacked shelves,bright lights,comfortable seating arrangements,a smooth wooden floor,replicas of Indian and South Asian art,and a small but friendly staff add to the ambience. The themes range from history,philosophy and religion to literature and the arts. There’s also a collection of ancient coins available for serious students of numismatics. And for all this,there’s no membership fee. It’s not a lending library,but one can spend an entire day here with no one asking questions.

“This was the personal collection of Prof Devahuti and Dr Damodar Singhal,both eminent historians and authors. After their demise,Devahuti’s sister Veena Sachdev put together the Devahuti-Damodar Svaraj Trust in 1990 and this library is a part of it. It started in 1992,” explains Anshu Dogra,executive director and herself a known writer.

The library also has separate enclosures for senior academicians and a small seminar room where they can hold workshops and seminars. “Between October and January every year,after working hours we have classical music and dance baithaks every month,” says Dogra.

Besides,tuitions and film shows are held free of cost for school students from Sangam Vihar. It also organises visits to archaeological sites for government school students. “We have around 15 students,mostly from the IIT,enrolled in our Sanskrit classes,” says Dogra.

From historians Sumit Sarkar and Upinder Singh to classical dancer Kumkum Lal — the list of regular visitors include well-known experts on Indian culture.

The library has,in fact,gone beyond its conventional role by holding workshops,providing services to authors in areas such as transcription,translation,documentation,editing,and publishing.

Its latest project involves documenting — both in print and audio — the Sufi music of Mirs,the balladeers of Pugal area of Rajasthan. This is being done in partnership with the National Culture Fund.

In all this,as Dogra puts it,they have been able to attract a good number of volunteers. “Though funding is a problem,having your own building helps,” she says.

Manana Devahuti-Damodar Library of Indian Civilisation S 527,Greater Kailash II,New Delhi – 110048

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