33 years after Operation Bluestar: Sikh reference library at Golden Temple thriving, and how | punjab | Hindustan Times
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33 years after Operation Bluestar: Sikh reference library at Golden Temple thriving, and how

Before the army action in 1984 nearly destroyed it, the library had 12,613 books, including manuscripts; the number now stands at 24,540

punjab Updated: Sep 25, 2017 15:59 IST
Surjit Singh
An employee cleaning a rare book for preservation at Sikh Reference Library in the Golden Temple complex on Sunday, September 24.
An employee cleaning a rare book for preservation at Sikh Reference Library in the Golden Temple complex on Sunday, September 24. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

Nearly destructed during Operation Bluestar in the Golden Temple complex in 1984, the Sikh Reference Library has since not only been revived, but it now has double the number of books, including rare manuscripts, than it did before the army action to flush out militants.

It was established by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) in 1946, and in 1984 it was alleged that the army took all the items except some newspapers from the library. The SGPC has since moved the Union government several times to seek recovery of the items, including handwritten manuscripts of Guru Granth Sahib and hukamnamas (edicts) with signatures of the Sikh Gurus.

An employee cleaning a rare book for preservation at Sikh Reference Library in the Golden Temple complex on Sunday, September 24. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

However, since the library hit headlines for the arson it faced in the operation, people started donating more documents and books, reveals data assessed by HT. Before 1984, it had 12,613 books, with 10% of those being manuscripts on general issues. Plus, it had 512 manuscripts of Guru Granth Sahib’s birs (copies). The total stood at 13,125. 

In the 33 years, 540 manuscripts of Guru Granth Sahib have been collected, besides 24,000 other books and documents, including 1,200 general manuscripts. Thus, the total number has risen to 24,540 as of September this year. The books are not only related to Sikh religion but Indian culture at large too. 

A researcher finding a piece of writing in a Hindustan Times edition from 1965. Besides other newspapers’, editions of Hindustan Times have been preserved at the Sikh Reference Library since 1955. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

While the SGPC collected some books on its own, individuals too donated, prominent being Prof Surjit Singh, Prof Parkash Singh, and historian Sangat Singh, who donated 3,000, 450 and 750 books, respectively, said Bagicha Singh, the librarian. 

Around 5,000 books were shifted from Guru Ram Das Library, also run by the SGPC near the Golden Temple, to this library. Many rare manuscripts were provided by Narinder Singh who collects such birs. This library is only meant for the research scholars, hence the material is not allowed to be carried outside, says its website.

Digital leap: 15% work done

More than 15% of the collections have been digitised since 2008. The SGPC had first assigned the project to a private agency, which did not work properly, and later restarted it on its own in 2013. Besides appointing technical experts, it set up a studio in the library that has two cameras, a scanner, four lights, and other equipment. The process is on for six days a week, 10am to 5pm, and turns six books into PDF format every day.

Technical staff scanning books for digitisation at the Sikh Reference Library in Amritsar on Sunday, September 24. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

Of the 4,000-odd documents that have been digitised, 700 are general manuscripts and 290 are birs of Guru Granth Sahib. 

Also, as the paper of manuscripts in particular is affected by micro-insects and moisture, the library has a treatment plant equipped with a fumigation chamber to preserve these. Guru Nanak Dev University too has installed such as chamber on its lines. 

An SGPC employee keeping rare manuscripts and old books in a fumigation chamber at the Sikh Reference Library. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

Plan for new building 

Until 1984, the library was a small, two-storey building. With the stock having increased, the SGPC later expanded it to include a a sizeable adjoining portion. But now the need for more space is being felt, and the gurdwara body has recently resolved to build a new building at Bhai Gurdas Hall closer to the Golden Temple.

Outside the Sikh Reference Library situated near the Golden Temple’s entry gates. This building also houses the Sikh History Research Board. (Sameer Sehgal/HT)

However, no progress has been made on the ground. “As the resolution in this regard has been passed, the project will be executed soon,” said SGPC chief Kirpal Singh Badungar. 

In addition, a building for a Guru Granth Sahib Bhawan has already been proposed on the shrine premises for manuscripts of Guru Granth Sahib to be put up for public display too.