With a zest to view one of the world’s oldest collections of books and manuscripts, we headed for the Adyar International Theosophical society complex, which is a mini paradise of natural beauty and multi-religion shrines. Leaving behind the commotion of Chennai city, we crossed the river Adyar, to enter the locale of tranquil splendor.
This society was set up by Colonel Olcott and Helena Blavatsky and later tended by Annie Besant in a 24-acre site called Huddleston Bungalow and gardens on the banks of river Adyar, Madras, in 1882—with a one-mile long river frontage and a sea frontage of about one-third of a mile! The River Estuary beyond is a nature enthusiast’s fascination and a sanctuary for unusual species of animals and birds. Near the sea, along the river path, we came upon the Garden of Remembrance—created by mingling the ashes of Dr Besant.
The first stop was the awe-inspiring banyan tree, which is 450 years old. Walking towards the famous library, we passed the International Headquarters, which holds the extensive display of the Society’s Museum and Archives. Ahead lay the Shrines complex.
Next we set out to the beautiful Church of St Michael and All Angels, the Hindu Shrine called Jyotir Alaya (Temple of Light), the Mosque, the Zoroastrian temple holding Assyrian figures and lastly the Sikh shrine.
Passing the 2,000-year-old, five-sculptured Trinitrons, we finally reached the Adyar library and research centre that contains over 2,50,000 printed volumes and nearly 20,000 palm leaf manuscripts from India, Sri Lanka, China, Siam, Persia and other countries.
The first book that caught my attention was the Sphera Mundi, printed in 1490 in Venice, Italy.
Besides the manuscripts of Ramayana and Mahabharat, also on display were the copies of complete set of Sanskrit to Tibetan, Kanjur & Tanjur — the sacred scriptures of Tibetan Buddhists.
The other highlight was the 18th century English to Sanskrit translation of all the 18 chapters of the Bhagwat Gita by the famous orientalist, Sir Charles Wilkins, with an introduction letter from Warren Hastings, dated 3rd December, 1784. Further exhibited was the hand-written letter by Rabindranath Tagore. Our trip was worth the sweat, as in one day, we experienced a brush with history and culture.