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Adyar Library and Research Center

The Adyar Library was founded on December 28, 1886 by Henry Steel OLCOTT, the Founder President of the Theosophical Society (TS), as an integral and basic part of the Theosophical Society. The main aims of the library as laid down by Olcott were: 

(1) to establish a nucleus for the comparative study of Eastern and Western philosophies and religions.

(2) to revive Oriental Literature.

(3) to rehabilitate the true Pandit in public esteem.

(4) to promote a higher moral sense and spiritual aspiration among Asiatic youth and

(5) to inculcate mutual regard between the learned of the East and the West.

This aim of the founder, to make a judicious combination of excellence in Eastern traditional scholarship and the best traits of modern research methodology and textual criticism, still remains valid.

The Adyar Library was originally located in the Headquarters building of the Theosophical Society, on the banks of the Adyar river. There were two rooms to the east of the Great Hall for books and manuscripts and a long room on the river front was used as a Reading room.

Adyar Main Headquarters Building
Adyar Main Headquarters Building

As early as 1888 Friedrich Max Muller, German-British Orientalist and Philologist (1823-1900), wrote to Olcott suggesting that the Theosophical Society should specialize in the Upanishadic literature (see UPANISHADS). In the early years an edition of Minor Upanishads and a descriptive catalogue of the Upanishadic literature were published. Later authentic texts of all the 108 Upanishads with the ADVAITIC commentary of Upanishad Brahmayogin were published and English translations on the basis of the commentary have also been issued for most of them.

A research journal called Adyar Library Bulletin — Brahma-Vidya, was started in 1937 and 56 volumes have been published. One Hundred and forty volumes of books including descriptive catalogues of the library manuscripts, critical editions and translations of important texts in philosophy, literature and music in Sanskrit and Prakrit and Tamil have been published.

The Library moved into its new building in February 1967. The plinth area of the ground floor is 980 sq. meters and of the second floor is 385 sq. meters. The building is provided with spacious and airy work rooms and with separate stacks for the oriental and western sectors, the manuscripts and periodicals. Two rooms for the manuscripts have been air-conditioned.

In recent years the library has been thoroughly modernized, improving its various services and preservation methods: air-conditioning, reprographic facilities, microfilming, microfiche reading, fumigation, lamination, binding and mechanical cleaning. A special system of classification based on the decimal system is being used and a comprehensive alphabetical card index system has been evolved to help scholars.

A major part of the library’s research collections of rare and important manuscripts covering different areas of knowledge and learning remain still unexplored or not fully utilized and awaits competent and devoted scholars as well as further financial resources to fulfil its role in indological research.

At its inception the library had books in 24 languages with many rare manuscripts acquired by Olcott and others. By 1937 the stock had grown in the Eastern Section to 7,000 oriental manuscripts and 14,000 printed books, while the Western Section had grown to 39,000 books. At present the library has a collection of more than 2,000,000 printed books and 18,700 manuscripts.

Publications of the Adyar Library up to 1994 include: 32 Vidyas; 108 Upanishads with Commentary; Vedanta Paribhasa with English translation; Jivanmuktiviveka with English translation; Laghu yogavasita in English translation; Philosophy of Visishtadvaita; Hathayoga Pradipika; Stotra; Vishnusahasranama and Bhasya of Samkara with English translation; Lalitasahasranama and commentary with English translation.

Literature: Naisadhananda of Ksemisvara (A Drama); Udayaraghava Mahakavya (ed.); Sriharicaritamahakavya (ed.)

Poetry: Alankarasangraha (ed); The Numbers of Rasas; The Science of Criticism in India.

Logic: Manikana (ed.) with translation; Gamgesa’s Philosophy of God; Caturdasalaksani (ed.); Rasarnavasudhakara (ed.); Rasakalika Text and translation.

Agamas: Ahirbudhñya Samhita; Lakshmitantra; Descriptive Catalogues of Manuscripts. 10 volumes.

Dharmasastra: Vishnu Smriti with commentary.

Lexicography: Amarakosa with South Indian commentaries.

Philosophy: Indian Theories of Meaning; Manameyodaya with translation.

Parvati Gopalaratnam


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