Benjamin Siegel (Boston University)

Shree Natnagar Shodh Samsthan / Raghubir Library and Research Institute

The octagonal powder blue building comprising the core of the Raghubir Library and Research Institute, known locally as the Shree Natnagar Shodh Samsthan, rises unexpectedly on a quiet street in the Indian town of Sitamau, Madhya Pradesh. Located inside the erstwhile palace of the state’s Rathore Maharaja, the library houses a sprawling and lovingly-maintained collection of documents and published materials in Persian, Hindi, Marathi, and English. It represents one of the richest troves of source materials for historians of the politics and economic life of Central India.

The Raghubir Library owes its existence to the eponymous Raghubir Sinh, scion of Sitamau’s royal family. In 1934, Raghubir persuaded Sir Jadunath Sarkar, the most famous historian of his age, to supervise his graduate work at Agra University on the history of the Malwa region’s short and tumultous eighteenth century. Published as Malwa In Transition, Or, A Century Of Anarchy (1937), Sinh’s work was a landmark in the study of Central India’s past. It drew readily upon Persian, Marathi, Hindi, and English subjects, as well as the historiography of early modern India more broadly. Sinh’s work presaged a lifetime of learned scholarship, interrupted only by an eight-year stint in the Rajya Sabha. The Library, his enduring legacy, continues to draw scholars from across India and the world for its unique collection of manuscripts.

At its core, the Raghubir Library’s collection is a treasure trove of manuscripts in Persian, Hindi, Rajasthani, and Marathi focused on the political economy of Malwa region in the latter half of the seventeenth and the entirety of the eighteenth century. The repository is extensive, but several individual collections bear mentioning here. The Jaipur records of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century documents comprise many thousands of Akhbarat records, or daily transactions of the Mughal court, offering rare insight into the social and economic life of the empire in a century of waning power. Historians of the Maratha Confederacy will find much in the Athale Daftar and the Gulgule Daftar, two major Marathi-language collections covering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, sorted and meticulously transcribed from Modi script into Devanagari, and covering the political and military careers of the Scindias, Holkars, and others. The Peshwa Daftar collection duplicates material available in the Pune Archives in Maharashtra, but is readily accessible here and offers rich insight into not only the Maratha chieftains, but the doings of their Rajput neighbors, Raja Ranjit Singh, the Nawabs of Bhopal and Oudh, and the Nizam of Hyderabad. A collection of Persian records and sanads, or treaties, are housed at the Raghubir Library, with a particularly strong collection pertaining to Aurangzeb’s rule.

Historians of the global opium trade will find in the Raghubir Library a wide range of material related to the industry at its nineteenth-century apex, though will require appropriate linguistic competency to make productive use. A large collection of traders’ bahis, or ledgers, helps to paint a portrait of the trade and the massive volume of opium handled by the Malwa sahukars [creditors / moneylenders]. A similar collection of Rajasthani Arhasattas, cadastral and balance records, offer quantitative and qualitative descriptions of cultivation across the wider region.

The collection is richest, unsurprisingly, in its coverage of the records of Sitamau State: its holdings date from early Persian-language treaties and span the whole of the nineteenth century; the English-language records of the twentieth century offer a unique perspective on a small but important princely state and its wider regional contexts. In addition to these records, and those of Sitamau vakils, or agents, in the wider region, the Library holds an extensive body of administrative records from neighboring Indore (Holkar) and Gwalior states. The Shodh Samsthan’s records grow thinner in the twentieth century. But in addition to the aforementioned records, it is worth mentioning a very large and seemingly uncatalogued selection of Hindi and English books, pamphlets, and other ephemera in the library annex which abuts the Maharajkumar’s desk. These including a great many texts on the economics and politics of the Central Provinces and neighboring regions in the 1950s and 1960s. The reading room staff, many of whom are historians in their own right, are obliging and eager to help identify useful resources. As most research staff are most comfortable in Hindi, a working command of the language is advisable.

Journeying to the Raghubir Library requires some advance planning. The nearest airports are in Indore and Udaipur, each a four to five hour drive away. Alternately, there are nearby railway stations at Mandsaur, Suwasara, and Shamgarh. A guest house for visiting researchers can be made available upon advance notice, through there are other options available in Mandsaur district such as the Hotel City Crown. As with most all Indian archives, readers should come prepared with appropriate documentation from their home institution and a letter of introduction. The collections are very well-organized, but it might be useful to consult a relatively recent and published catalog of Persian holdings by Manhar Sinh Ranawat, Sitamau Mein Sanghrit Malva Itihas ke Farsi Kagaz-Patron Ka Vivrantmak Such-Patr (Sitamau: Shree Natnagar Shodh Samsthan, 2000). The book is available in a number of Western research libraries.

April 2019