The archive visited only by Moths and VIPs

The archives have illustrated and written manuscripts, including copies of Ain-i-Akbari, Zaffarnama of Guru Gobind Singh, an illustrated book of the Shahnama of Firdausi, Adi Granth of 1666, an illustrated book on Laila Majnu, rare Tibetan palm-leaf manuscripts and even a copy of the letter issued by Guru Gobind Singh to the Khalsa Sangat in 1764, asking it to arm itself for the coming conflict. Besides manuscripts, there are a number of paintings of the British era, including those of the battle of Ferozeshah Kotla, miniatures and even conferment of titles of kingship on two Maharajas’ of Patiala by Mughal emperors.{pagebreak}

The modern era has not been missed either. There is a letter which was written by Jawaharlal Nehru from the Nabha jail. It says: "I do not wish to defend myself in this proceeding as it is not our practice to produce any witness or offer any defence in proceedings taken against us by the British government. The gentleman who initiated the proceedings against us thus becomes our judge`85." Letters of Kitchlew and other nationalists also form part of the collection.

The Archives Department has seen many downs since it first came into being following the merger of Pepsu states. The archives were first housed in the Motibagh Palace complex, then they were shifted to Qila Mubarak and finally to Rajindra Kothi in the Baradari Gardens in Patiala in 1969. Besides a few private collections which have been gifted to it, the archives currently holds the records of the princely states of Patiala, Nabha, Jind, Kapurthala, Faridkot, Nalagarh, Kalsi and Malerkotla.

The last six months have seen the archival records being parcelled out to two different places other than the Rajindra Kothi. A part of the texts have been shifted to the State Language Department in Patiala, while rare books which were in the library of the department have been shifted to Punjabi University. Though the Punjab Government wants to shift the archives to a new site, the immediate provocation for shifting some of the records to two different sites in February was to create space for holding an exhibition on modern art in the main hall of the archives building.{pagebreak}

The remaining manuscripts, paintings and other rare records that are still housed in the archives have become a cause of concern for scholars as well as art connoisseurs. The chemicals used in manufacturing paper make the paper brittle after some time. The dingy conditions have not helped in preservation either, as a large number of records have been damaged by termites. The department has been short of funds for the past 10 years. The annual budget of the department has gone down to Rs 50,000 from Rs 1 lakh. Due to poor funds, the department is not even using phenyl to ward off silverfish from attacking the paper. Though the department has a book binding and restoration section, its functioning is also erratic for want of funds.

There has hardly been any attempt to restore or keep rare manuscripts in an environment, which would ensure they did not decay further. The list of manuscripts kept in the department has the word "moth eaten" describing the present state of t of the texts. A similar fate has befallen one of the "conferment of loyalty" notes awarded to Maharaja Karam Singh. The paper has been badly damaged and seems beyond redemption.
All, however, is not lost. Another conferment giving the title of "Rajeshwar Maharaj – adhiraj, Raja of Rajas" on Maharaja Sahib Singh by Mughal Emperor Mohammad Akbar Shah in 1806 A.D. is still in fine shape. To preserve it in its present condition, it has been framed. t of the manuscripts have illustrations done in both Mughal and Pahari styles of painting. The paintings tly depict the British era.

The issue of opening up and displaying the state treasures has been raised by a number of art connoisseurs. "If the rare illustrated manuscripts are displayed they will automatically be preserved," art connoisseur Manmeet Singh says, adding that getting the manuscripts ready for display itself would entail some kind of restoration. At present, the rare manuscripts and paintings are out of bounds for everyone and are shown only to VIPs or the Cultural Affairs Minister on his customary visit to Patiala.{pagebreak}

The government is now proposing to shift the Archives Department to the present administrative complex in which the offices of the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and Session Judge are housed. Though the move has been welcomed by art lovers, the shifting of the records to the new complex without an overhaul of the entire building could again prove damaging for them. The state government will have to modernise its vintage building as well as create additional facilities if it wants its rare records to be safeguarded for future generations.

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