In more than a century of its existence, the Nagari Pracharini Sabha (Society for Propagation of Hindi) in Varanasi has served as a major resource for students and scholars from India and across the world. Founded in 1893, the Sabha was equipped with a library in 1897, its most important activity being the search for manuscripts in Hindi and Hindi-related languages. From 1896 onwards, the Sabha began to conduct a systematic search for old Hindi manuscripts. Their findings, contained in voluminous search reports, have provided the basis for the standard editions of major Braj Bhasha (Surdas and others), Avadhi (Tulsidas, Jayasi) and Khari boli poets and writers. Its research journal, the Nagari Pracharini Patrika, published from 1896, appeared for over a century. The dictionary project, the focus of the second decade of the Sabha’s activity, led to the publication of the 11-volume Hindi Shabda Sagar (1929), still a dominant work in Hindi lexicography. The first major history of Hindi literature, Hindi Sahitya ka itihas by Ramchandra Shukla (1929) originated as the preface to this dictionary.
The Sabha building is now disintegrating. The library is in a sad condition, its hall in perpetual semi-darkness, and often completely dark, due to frequent electricity cuts. No generator is available; the staff have to search for books and manuscripts with a torch. There are no photocopying machines, computers or air-conditioning. There were once 50 employees of whom only 19 remain. There has been no pay hike in several years. The publications division is hardly functioning and no new publication has come out in the past five years. The older stock is much depleted.
In 2003-4, the Sabha was awarded Rs 93 lakh to digitise the journals and manuscripts in its possession. A Noida firm was entrusted with the task. Whatever the outcome of this project, no material is available for use. There is also no report of the activities of the Sabha’s branches in Haridwar and Delhi, which occupy valuable real estate.
The Ministry of Human Resources in the central government must intervene and save this national institution from extinction.
Vasudha Dalmia is Professor of Hindi, University of California, Berkeley.