When Jadunath Sarkar’s Personal Library Became the Single Source for Studying the Medieval History of India

When Jadunath Sarkar’s Personal Library Became the Single Source for Studying the Medieval History of India

Jadunath Sarkar spent a fortune from his pocket for building a vast and invaluable personal library, which became the single-most hub for studying the medieval history of India.

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When Jadunath Sarkar’s Personal Library Became the Single Source for Studying the Medieval History of India

MY FIRST “BAPTISM OF INK” in the field of Indian history was a study of the Fall of Tipu Sultan which I printed in my College Magazine just after graduation (1891). It was based entirely on English books and despatches, all available in print. But after 1897 when I set myself to making truly original researches in Indo-Muslim history, I devoted my resources mainly to acquiring Persian, Marathi and French manuscripts and printed volumes of State- papers (despatches).

The result is that today my collection of Persian manuscripts and Marathi printed sources is indispensable to the students of our mediaeval history, as it has brought together in one place the necessary works which are scattered in many towns of India and the famous public libraries of Europe —  India Office, British Museum, the Bodleian, the Bibliotheque Nationale of Paris, and the then Royal Library of Berlin, besides Kazvini’s metrical history of Nadir Shah of which there is only one manuscript in the world, in Leningrad. Of these last I have secured photographs.

In India, the Rampur (Rohilkhand), Hyderabad and Khuda Bakhsh (Patna) Libraries have been thoroughly ransacked by me after repeated visits. From the first I equipped myself with the very necessary Survey of India maps regardless of cost — the old India Atlas sheets on a scale of four miles to the inch, and in the case of certain battlefields and cities on a still more detailed scale, one mile to the inch or even three inches,—such as Lalsot, Talikota, Delhi, etc. This old series has now been discarded by the Survey Department and replaced by the Degree Sheéts (or still more recent international scale), but the oldest scientifically drawn map of British India is of priceless worth to me, as it gives the result of the survey before the Sepoy Mutiny and the Railways changed the face of India; the historic but now discarded routes and village names are to be found here only.

At first I approached military history as a lover of romance. I then belonged to the “drum and trumpet school” of history. My favourite collections in the earlier years related to the Sikh, Nepal, Anglo-Maratha and Burmese wars. Soon after, I took to the Sepoy Mutiny with such zeal that I ended by collecting over 150 volumes on this branch — or 200 if we include the memoirs of every British officer who took the least part in even one of its campaigns. Naturally, post-Mutiny British-Indian history is poorly represented here, except for the Afghan wars.

In European history, my love of the picturesque drove me to the French Revolution and Napoleonic periods. I bought every book on the Peninsular War and Waterloo that came within my reach, and the memoirs of the statesmen and warriors of that period (available in English translations), including even the gossip of Napoleon’s valet (in three volumes!). They read like romances of absorbing interest.

It was only late in my literary career that I turned from the romance of war to its technical or educative side. I set myself to exploring the old strategy and tactics of battles fought in India, so long as there was an Indian State to oppose the foreigners. This limited my range to Alexander as the upper time-limit and Wellington as the lower, 323 B.C. — 1803 A.D. Because of these wars only we possess accurate descriptions. 

But if I am to correctly assess the tactics and strategy of the mediaeval Indian wars, and deduce the lessons that they can teach to a modern soldier, I must first equip myself with a knowledge of the evolution of the art of war in Europe, its modern technicalities and practical illustrations (on which subjects the books relating exclusively to Indian history are silent). Those who attempt to study the Indian wars of historic times without such a background of European military history, will only plough the sand, they cannot reach the base- rock of reality. A comic example has been supplied by a Bengali graduate whose doctorate thesis has come under my eyes, and who proves that there was a Red Cross in ancient India, because the Hindu kings went to battle followed by cooks, physicians and coolies who used to take care of their wounded!

I digested Oman’s History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, Denison’s History of Cavalry, Lloyd’s History of Infantry, Cole and Priestly’s Outlines of British Military History, and the works of Liddell Hart and Cyril Falls, General Fuller and Evelyn Wood.

MY LAST WORK, the Military History of India, began publication serially, but fitfully in the Hindusthan Standard newspaper, Sunday issues, in 1952. Several of the battles had been written earlier for my other works, such as Aurangzib (5 Vols.), Shivaji and The Fall of the Mughal Empire (4 Vols.), but they were now collected together in one place and edited for integration in this new body. Ten chapters more will bring this book to its end (1803).

There is no end to this quest, this search for buried truth, which we call research. Even now fresh reflections and newly-discovered materials have forced on me a revision of my earlier descriptions and opinions. One example is the Battle of Assaye, where my first account (printed in my Fall, Vol. IV in 1950) and based on Wellington’s despatches, has been entirely recast and made credible, by an intensive study (and reading between the lines) of the Regi- mental records of the 78th Highlanders who bore the brunt of that battle, (quoted in Mac-veigh’s Historical Records of the 78th Highlanders). Truly has the ancient Sanskrit poet said: “Time has no end and the world is vast.”

Series concluded

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