A review of the Ganj Bakhsh Library, Iran-Pakistan Institute of Persian Studies, Islamabad, Pakistan.
The Ganj Bakhsh Library at the Iran-Pakistan Institute of Persian Studies (IPIPS) is without doubt one of South Asia’s hidden treasure troves. Located in an innocuous building in a residential area adjacent to Islamabad’s F-8 sector market, the Ganj Bakhsh library is said to house the largest collection of Persian manuscripts in South Asia and the second largest collection of manuscripts in any language in Pakistan.
The library’s umbrella organization, IPIPS, was founded in 1969 with the aim of reviving Pakistan’s heritage of Persian language, literature, and art. The Ganj Bakhsh library is the result of a 30-year project of documenting and preserving Persian manuscripts throughout the country. It was spearheaded by Dr. Mohammad Hossein Tasbihi, who, in the 1970s, travelled the length and breadth of Pakistan to record manuscript collections at universities, shrines, religious schools, and private collections. The Institute and its library were originally housed in Rawalpindi and shifted to Islamabad in 1982.
The library contains almost 27,000 manuscripts, of which 65% are in Persian; 25% are in Arabic, and 10% are in Urdu, Panjabi, Sindhi, Pashtu, Turkish, and other languages. In addition, there are 15,000 lithographs and several thousand printed books in Persian. The manuscripts and lithographs are kept in temperature controlled rooms.
The library features an extensive collection of poetry, works on the rational sciences (philosophy, logic, etc.) and the revealed sciences (Quranic commentaries, jurisprudence, etc.). Students focusing on the history of science from medicine and mathematics to astrology, alchemy, and music will find this collection particularly rich. The collections relating to Sufism – including biographies, didactic texts, and poetry compendia – is impressive, and includes numerous rare classical texts from Central Asia. In addition, the library prides itself on its collection of illuminated and illustrated manuscripts, which includes illustrated copies of classics such as the Shahnameh and Divan-e Hafez. The library also includes several valuable works of history and geography, but researchers should not expect to find unpublished local or civic histories. The library also does not contain administrative documents such as charitable endowment records.
The ease of access and ordering system is as impressive as the breadth of the collection. The library is one of the most researcher-friendly and professional library environments I have come across in the region – no obsequiousness, extensive displays of patience, or back-channel contacts required. Those concerned with security should note that the library is located in a very safe part of town. The chawkidar is amiable, and all visitors are required to sign in.
I spent have spent two summers at the library in search of sources on the early modern political history of the Persianate world and Sufi networks. I initially arrived without any prior notice, carrying with me only a simple letter of introduction from my academic department. I was introduced to the directors, who provided me with a comfortable workplace and a stack of catalogues, which I pored over for several weeks. The workspace is air-conditioned, and there are several tables and booths where you can spread out your work. There are also several computers at the Institute with internet capability which researchers can use. Although my first visit was a walk-in, I would recommend contacting the Institute by email or phone prior to visiting.
The entire collection has been well catalogued in various stages. A digital and on-line catalogue of manuscripts and lithographs is in progress, unfortunately hampered by frequent power outages. There is also a card catalog available on-site.
Before visiting Ganj Bakhsh, I would recommend accessing the principal catalogues which are available in libraries throughout the US. You may need to look at multiple catalogues to cross reference. Start with Muhammad Husayn Tasbihi’s Alphabetical Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Ganj Bakhsh Library (Islamabad: IPIPS, 2005), which contains 26,610 entries, or the earlier subject-wise catalogue of eight volumes prepared by Tasbihi, Ahmad Munzavi, and ‘Aref Noshahi, which covers 14,000 manuscripts. For lithographs, refer to the two-volume A Bibliography of Litho-Print and Rare Persian Books in Ganj Bakhsh Library at Islamabad (Islamabad: IPIPS, 1986-89). For Urdu and Punjabi manuscripts at the library, refer to ‘Aref Noshahi’s Kutab khana Ganj Bakhsh mein Urdu makhtoota (Islamabad: Markaz-e Tahqiqat Farsi-yi Iran-o Pakistan, 1988) and Kutab khana Ganj Bakhsh wich Punjabi makhtootay (Islamabad: Markaz-e Tahqiqat Farsi-yi Iran-o Pakistan, 1986).
Accessing and Ordering
Although researchers are generally not allowed to work directly with manuscripts and lithographs except with special permission, the catalogue is sufficiently detailed to understand the content of items, and digital copies are extremely affordable. Individual sections of majmu‘as or compilations are listed and described separately in the catalog. I ordered over 1,000 pages from the library, which arrived in Connecticut by mail one and a half months after placing the order. Ordering can also be done remotely. If you have acquired a catalogue, I would recommend emailing or calling IPIPS from abroad and determining the best method of payment.
For published books, the librarians will help you with making photocopies, or guide you to the local F-8 sector market where several photocopy and binding centers are located.
IPIPS also has a publishing house that produces very affordable and high quality print books. I returned home with several dozen pounds of printed works and catalogues. Publications also include the quarterly journal Danesh in Persian. The Institute also occasionally hosts manuscript exhibitions and lectures.
It is also worth visiting IPIPS to tap into its network of scholars and Persian instructors in the region, who can help you access private libraries throughout the country. Through Ganj Bakhsh, I was introduced to scholars such as ‘Aref Noshahi, who has compiled several bibliographies of Persian manuscripts, lithographs, and printed books in South Asia, and Sayyed Da’ud Agha, an Afghan intellectual with whom I would meet daily at the Institute to read classical texts.
The library is a good place to begin manuscript research in Pakistan, particularly as Islamabad is located only hours away from Lahore and Peshawar. IPIPS has also published a Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in Pakistan in fourteen volumes which is worth referencing for further work in the country.
Regular hours: 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Ramzan hours: 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
IPIPS is currently directed by Agha Qahraman Suleimani. I would recommend introducing your work and interests to the librarian, Mehdi Agha, who will direct you in your research (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Digital copies of manuscripts are available at 20 Rs./page, or 5,000 Rs. for 500 pages, not including shipping costs. Photocopies of printed works can be made at 1-2 Rs. a page.
Address: House No. 4, St. No. 47, F-8/1, Islamabad.
Tel: 0092-51- 2263191-2
Department of History
Image: Bostan lithograph from the early 20th century (Homee, Sorab, and Co.).