Panjab Digital Library: Bringing The Past Alive


Panjab Digital Library: Bringing The Past Alive


In India, the history of manuscript preservation has often been a tale of indifference. Access to rare historical documents, spread widely across the world, has also become difficult.

These concerns spurred the creation of the Panjab Digital Library by Punjab-based Nanakshahi Trust. The library aims to preserve the history of Punjab and the Sikhs by digitizing books, records and documents, and making them available online even after the originals cease to exist.

Davinder Pal Singh, the library's Executive Director, bemoans the invaluable literary heritage lost on many occasions.

"For instance, the Sikh Reference Library was destroyed in a fire on 7 June 1984 [by Indian government troops long after the cessation of hostilities], destroying a majority of the rare documents. In recent years, more manuscripts have been burnt on pyres in the name of religion," he says. "Situations like inadequate storage ... also add to the problem. Though the originals can never be restored, their digitization could provide for their virtual copy, which could be used continuously forever."

Even the name of the library has a story behind it. "There is a definite difference between the way the word Punjab is spelt today and the way it should be if one keeps the pronunciation in the mother tongue in mind," Davinder Pal says. "The idea behind naming it as Panjab Digital Library was to connect it with our nationality and the way we speak our mother tongue."

Launched in 2003, the library progressed fast; by 2006, 10 active working groups were digitizing 5,000 pages every day. Currently, it has installed 35 working stations and digitized five million pages - 3,400 manuscripts, 2,990 issues of periodicals, 6,200 books, 15,578 issues of newspapers and 6,152 photographs.

The digitization process is painstaking. After a document is assessed and analysed for its historical importance, it is accorded an accession number. With a scanner or digital camera, the document is then digitized and placed on the website. Five backups are created of the same digital file, to ensure its safety.

The documents digitized thus far include copies of the Guru Granth Sahib dating back to 1653, inscriptions by Guru Gobind Singh, an 1866 copy of the Bhagvad Gita, Arabic texts such as the Quran, and manuscripts written in the now-extinct Sharda script.

The library also holds periodicals such as The Indian Express, The Tribune, the Akali Patrika, Ajit, the Hind Samachar and the Jag Bani from 1961, issues of the Sikh Review from 1953, and other rare magazines from 1946. "But the most interesting one," says Davinder Pal Singh, "has been reproducing the coin of the first Sikh nation, which was issued by Baba Banda Singh Bahadar in 1711."

[Courtesy: Live Mint]

November 8, 2010


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Conversation about this article at

1: Jasbir Singh Sethi (Houston, Texas, U.S.A.), November 08, 2010, 4:27 PM.

Congratulations. You have taken up a most important work of preservation. 1) Most of the records of old civilizations like the Mayan and many others all over the world have simply disappeared. 2) Is there any chance to get back those rare volumes that were looted from Central Sikh Reference Library in 1984? 3) I don't know how will these records be kept in multiple locations and safeguarded from extinction by malicious agencies? 4) Are these accessible for research to common persons? 5) Google had undertaken to create such a massive archive for the whole of humanity, can you become part of that too? 6) As an ordinary but concerned citizen of the world, what are the ways I can help and contribute to this project? 7) Do you have satellite locations overseas too, say in the U.S.A.? 8) What support and cooperation are you getting from numerous universities all over, who in fact should be sponsoring, helping and funding such projects? 9) Is there any other organization doing similar work? 10) Are such organizations working cooperatively or are at logger-heads or in competition with each other? 11) What are the different kinds of documents that are being targeted? Only old manuscripts or other articles too, museum pieces, art work, relics, weapons, architectural, geological and anthropological finds and records, genealogical records, oral history archives, jewelry (pictures), photographs, videos, audio tapes ...? I have numerous other questions and concerns in my mind, but it would become an overload. Please do not misunderstand me, but my main concern is that the organization that is handling it is capable of "preserving" or can it be easily "hacked" and records manipulated and thus made useless.

2: PDL Team (SAS Nagar, Punjab), November 09, 2010, 7:10 AM.

S.Jasbir Singh ji, thank you for responding with very thought-provoking and stimulating enquiries! Your concerns are very genuine indeed. Please do not hesitate to send us more questions. We'll try to answer your questions one by one: 1) Nanakshahi started digitizing rare manuscripts and documents in 2003 and the project was later named the Panjab Digital Library. 2) All of us should keep on trying earnestly to get records of the Sikh Reference Library back till we are able to retrieve them all. But, Nanakshahi started the project with a motto: Let us first save what remains. Considering our technological skill and expertise, we thought of trying to digitally preserve what was left of our heritage. As nature is the more powerful destroyer than any human agents, so we thought of digitally preserving records for future generations. 3) Digital data is being kept at multiple locations across the nations for safe-keeping. This has been defined in our Data Backup Policy. 4) Out of over 5 million pages already digitized, 1 million pages are available online through free of cost for research and general viewing. 5) We will seriously consider if there is any proposal or opportunity to join Google. 6) You can contribute by volunteering for the project, you can help us locate precious treasures for digitization, and you can contribute financially by adopting a book for digitization or simply donating. Visit for all the options. 7) In U.S.A., we are based in San Antonio, Texas and S. Gurvinder Singh is coordinator for North America. He can be contacted at 8) At the moment we are not getting any support from the universities except that one university has got their manuscripts digitized. 9) There was another organization doing digitization under Prof. Manjit Singh, former jathedar of the Akal Takht, on a similar project. They did some work, digitized about 300 manuscripts, in 2005-06. We approached them with an offer to work together to avoid duplication. We also proposed that we can give technical know-how and skilled personnel and they can help the project with their connections, but they preferred to work alone. Probably, they stopped doing digitization in or around 2007. 11) At the moment we are focusing only on paper based heritage items like manuscripts, books, magazines, newspapers, photographs, diaries, legal documents, letters, etc. Rest of the items you have listed will be taken up later ... but sooner, if we have a sponsor. Digital data is being kept at multiple locations and in multiple formats for safe keeping. We have been trying to draft as many policies as possible for people to follow if we are removed from the scene. We also work on the advice of our advisory board and working groups consisting of professionals. All of our patrons are most welcome at our headquarters in Punjab and give their suggestions on how to further improve our working. You are welcome to write to us at if you have more questions and suggestions.