Wednesday, January 29, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Playing with Punjab’s archival records
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Patiala, January 28
In its bid to recreate the grandeur of the princely raj of yore, the Patiala Development Authority (PDA) is playing with the archival records of erstwhile Patiala, Nabha, Faridkot, Malerkotla, Jind, Kapurthala, Nalagarh and Kalsia states. Yes, it is shifing Punjab’s treasured trove to two different places to host a 15-day exhibition under the aegis of the National Gallery of Modern Art.

The PDA has shifted part of the archival records of the seven princely states , housed for the past 50 years in Rajindra Kothi at the Baradari Gardens, to two separate places in the city. The precious archival records have been shifted to the State Languages Department and Punjabi University without any cataloguing. Moreover this step has been taken as a temporary measure with plans to build a new building for the records in Punjabi University.

Punjab State Archives, Patiala, has been the biggest repository of archival material in North India. It contains valuable records pertaining to princely states, residency records and Khalsa Durbar records, besides printed accounts of some of the important British officials in Punjab.

For the past 50 years, the records were ably preserved and catalogued. Punjab owes a heavy debt of gratitude for the initiative taken by the doyen of Punjab history, Dr Ganda Singh, who was invited by Maharaja Yadavindra Singh, the Rajparmukh of PEPSU, to take over as Director of the Archives at Patiala. He was succeeded by an equally dedicated and competent scholar, Mr V.S. Suri, as Director. Their dedication built up the Archives at Patiala. He was succeeded by an equally dedicated and competent scholar, Mr V.S. Suri, as Direcor. Their dedication built up the Archives step by step. The Punjab State Archives is a tribute to the vision of Maharaja Yadavindra Singh and the founder-Director, Dr Ganda Singh. This repository of the records is indispensable for the writing of the history of Punjab.

Work on shifting the archival records started about a fortnight ago. The records kept in the front rooms were dumped by using a tractor-trailer in the State Languages Department. Archives Department personnel are now installing the records on the racks in a hall of the Languages Department and feel even the shifted records may not be accommodated in the racks. The library of the State Archives consisting of around 35,000 rare books was shifted to the Reference Library of Punjabi University a few days ago.

The PDA has ensured the vacation of the front portion of Rajindra Kothi, including its library housed in the main hall, but is still saddled with the responsibility of shifting 75 per cent to 80 per cent of the records for which no place has been earmarked. The staff of the Archives Department will now have to sit at three different places, besides maintaining part of the Archive records which is kept in the Quila Mubarak complex.

The decision to shift the archival records was taken in December following a proposal by the Punjab Urban Planning and Development Authority (PUDA) to develop the building into a heritage hotel along with public participation. PUDA submitted that it would construct a new building for housing the archival records at its own expenditure on the Punjabi University campus.

There is no clarity as to for what purpose the front portion of Rajindra Kothi will be used once the Heritage festival ends. Though PUDA proposes to develop the site as a heritage hotel, there seems to be a few takers for the project at present. The PDA is also divided on whether the building should be used as a heritage hotel or a permanent exhibition site.

In its enthusiasm to give a makeover to the Rajindra Kothi in preparation for the Heritage festival, all restoration norms for heritage buildings are being thrown to the winds. Cement is being used to repair cracks on a building in which lime and mud have been used earlier. Experts said this work was likely to come to a naught in a few months as cement will not be able to bind the surface on which it is being used.

Deputy Commissioner Tejveer Singh, when contacted, said only basic whitewash was being done to make the building presentable for the Heritage festival. He said as far as shifting of the archives from Rajindra Kothi was concerned, the move was likely to help scholars. He said the creation of a new facility in Punjabi University would make the archival record more accessible to researchers.

Meanwhile, historians have condemned the treatment being meted out to the archival records. Dr S K Gupta of Punjabi University said there was no point in shifting any records on a temporary basis — and that too for a 15-day exhibition — unless a new building is provided. He claimed that part of the records had been damaged during the recent shifting and would again suffer damage when it was eventually transferred to Punjabi University once the new building came up. He said there was a move to transfer the rare hand-written manuscripts, including various copies of Granth Sahib, Ain-i-Akbari and other Persian, Urdu and Tibetan manuscripts to Punjabi University as part of the transfer of the library. He said this should not be allowed unless proper space was earmarked for the same.

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