Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal is located in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. It is one of the oldest libraries in Asia. The Saraswati Library is situated within the campus of the Thanjavur Palace. Visitors can have a glimpse of preserved books and can sit and read in the library premises. The library is open to the public.
The Glorious Past:
The Saraswathi Mahal library started as a Royal Library for the Nayak Kings of Thanjavur who ruled 1535 - 1675 AD. The Maratha rulers who captured Thanjavur in 1675 patronised local culture and developed the Royal Palace Library until 1855. Most notable among the Maratha Kings was Serfoji II (1798–1832), who was an eminent scholar in many branches of learning and the arts. In his early age Serfoji studied under the influence of German Reverent Schwartz, and learned many languages including English, French, Italian and Latin. He enthusiastically took special interest in the enrichment of the Library, employing many Pandits to collect, buy and copy a vast number of works from all renowned Centres of Sanskrit learning in Northern India and other far-flung areas. Since 1918 the Saraswathi Mahal Library has been a possession of the state of Tamil Nadu. The official name of the Library is in honour of the great royal Maratha patron.
The Library has on display a rare collection of Palm leaf manuscripts and paper written in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Marathi English and a few other languages indigenous to India. The collection comprises well over 60,000 volumes. The library supports efforts to publish rare manuscripts from the collection, as well as ensuring all volumes are preserved on microfilm. The Library has computerized the Library activities.
The bulk of the manuscripts (39,300) are in Sanskrit, written in scripts such as Grantha, Devanagari, Nandinagari, Telugu and Tamil comprising titles in literature, music and medicine. The Library has a collection of 3076 Marathi manuscripts from the South Indian Maharastrain of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The Marathi manuscripts are mostly on paper but a few were written in Telugu script on palm-leaf. There are 846 Telugu manuscripts in the holdings, mostly on palm leaf, 22 Persian and Urdu manuscripts mostly of 19th century in the collection. The library also holds medical records of Ayurveda scholars, including patient case studies and interviews in the manuscripts classified under the Dhanvantari section. Apart from these manuscripts there are 1342 bundles of Maratha Raj records available at the Library. The Raj records were written in the Modi script (fast script for Devanagari) of the Marathi language.
A museum is located in the Library building to reveal the importance of the Library to the Public. This Museum is small but organised into sections highlighting ancient Manuscripts, Illustrated Manuscripts, Printed copies of the Original Drawings, Atlases, Thanjavur- style Paper Paintings, Canvass Paintings, Wooden Paintings, Glass paintings, Portraits of the Thanjavur Maratha kings, and the Physiognomy charts of Charles Le-Brun.