National Library in Kolkata: the largest library in India

Hitaishi Majumder | Live the World

November 23, 2022

What does the sight of over 2 million books laid across shelves exactly look like? If the mere thought of this sight excites and intrigues you, then you must visit the National Library in Kolkata, India’s largest library by volume. That the library is looked after by the Ministry of Tourism, Department of Culture and the Government of India, in collaboration with each other, speaks volumes of its significance as a cultural landmark. And the National Library does not just house books. The United Nations has honored it as a repository library. So, all United Nations publications come to the National Library completely free of cost. This is the best place to be in the City of Joy if the aroma of books stimulates your soul. 

History of National Library

© iStock/ ePhotocorp

Although the National Library was inaugurated in 1953, its first brick was laid way back. In 1836, the Calcutta Public Library was founded to facilitate the quest of knowledge of underprivileged students. It was a non-government organisation, and the proprietor was Prince Dwarakanath Tagore of Jorasanko Thakurbari, the first great entrepreneur of modern India. The institution was dependent on the donation of books during its early days, and the biggest donation came from Lord Metcalfe, the then Governor-General of British India. He moved 4,675 volumes to the library from the College of Fort William. 

In 1891, Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India, ordered the merger of several of the cities’ secretariat libraries, and the Imperial Library was born. However, access to this library was restricted to high-ranking British officials and the elites. To ensure the proper utilization of both the libraries, Lord Curzon ordered combing the two, and a new library called the Imperial Library opened its doors for the public in 1903. After India achieved independence from the British rule in 1947, Imperial Library was rechristened as the National Library and was inaugurated on 1 February 1953. 

Inside the National Library

© Wikimedia Commons/ Biswarup Ganguly

The National Library is spread across 30 acres of land. The palatial white edifice is surrounded by manicured lawns, verdant gardens with numerous flowering plants, lakes, and it enjoys the shade of huge trees. It is more or less a subtropical oasis amid a bustling metropolis like Kolkata. The white facade of the library is accentuated with Corinthian pillars, Roman beams and bears testament to colonial grandeur. Today, the National Library is home to not just over 2 million books but also 86,000 maps and 3,200 manuscripts, some of which go back to the 18th century! To match the pace of the modern world, it has also digitized and archived rare books. And when it comes to preserving official documents, the National Library is second to none. Official records from the beginning of the British rule in India till today are maintained with care. If you are looking for a rich repository, you need not look further than the National Library

How to reach the National Library

© Kaustuv Roy

The National Library is located at Alipore’s Belvedere Estate in the heart of the city. The nearest metro station from the place is Netaji Bhavan. However, if you do avail Kolkata Metro, I suggest getting off at the Jatin Das Park station as autos are more readily available from there. You can reach the National Library by availing a public bus from any part of the city. The two nearest bus stops are Ekbalpur and Kothari Hospital. You will find cabs and Kolkata’s famous yellow taxis wherever you are in the city and can avail these as well. The National Library remains open from 9 AM to 8 PM on weekdays and from 9:30 AM to 6 PM during the weekend. It remains closed on Indian national holidays. You will be issued a temporary card for entry into the premises. Do not forget to carry a valid photo identity without which the card will not be issued. The grand Victoria Memorial is located only a few minutes away from the National Library and can be easily accommodated into that day’s itinerary. 

Do you know that the total length of all the shelves at National Library put together is 45 kilometres? Kolkata is the intellectual capital of India and is really the perfect place for housing the largest library in the Indian subcontinent. So, do not forget to add the National Library to your Kolkata itinerary

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