AMRITSAR – In its endeavour to spruce up its treasures at the Sikh Reference Library established in 1946, the SGPC is now into making its contents available online. The access to rare manuscripts, documents, articles and literature belonging to Sikh history and culture will soon be just a click away.

The digitisation project first started in 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

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.

Nonetheless, losing hope of getting back a substantial number of other priceless documents of the Gurus’ era, which were supposedly taken into possession by the Indian Army or CBI during Operation Bluestar, the SGPC has appealed to the people to donate any such documentation related to Sikh history in their possession to enrich the library.

SGPC’s Chief Secretary Roop Singh said their continuous appeals bore fruit when devotees donated books, documents and rare manuscripts related to Sikhism.

“The digitisation process is under way. Till date, around 80 per cent of our prized possessions have been scanned and digitised. Our motive is to make these available online so that the devotees can access those on their mobile phones or PCs,” he said.

The Library was established by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) in 1946. Though it was almost destroyed during Operation Bluestar in 1984, the library still has a mammoth collection of 25,000 books, magazines, newspapers, periodicals on Sikh religion and history, besides 600 handwritten ‘saroops’ (Guru Granth Sahib) and a repository of over 1,500 rare manuscripts, including copies of the Adi Granth, Damdami Bir (dated Bikrami 1739), a number of handwritten Hukmnamas (some bearing signatures of Sikh Gurus), and a few rare documents pertaining to India’s struggle for independence.

In 1984, it was alleged that the library’s material was confiscated by the CBI and Indian Army. While the Army authorities maintained that the library had caught fire during the exchange of fire, the SGPC claimed that the Army deliberately put the “empty library” on fire after taking the rare and invaluable material away in gunny bags.

The SGPC had pleaded with the Defence Ministry umpteen times and even approached the offices of the PM and President to recover the material, but in vain.

Meanwhile, Roop Singh said, “Our pleas to return the literature were never heard. If it is believed that the Army or the government has those documents, little care must have been taken to preserve those. Those must have got destroyed by now,” he said.

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.

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.