History & Heritage: Hardayal Library, an Oasis of Calm in Busy Chandni Chowk

Knowing the Secret Treasure in the National Capital

Hardayal Municipal Heritage Public Library is a century-old building located in Old Delhi, adjacent to the Kotwali police station. It is a peaceful retreat amidst the busy and bustling streets of Chandni Chowk. This library is one of the oldest in the city and houses over one lakh books. Originally known as the Institute Library, it was established in 1862 as a reading room for the British in the Lawrence Institute, now known as Town Hall in Chandni Chowk.

Old World Charm

The Hardayal Library is a sprawling, flat-roofed structure, supported by circular pillars and filled with airy interiors and racks of old and dusty books.

Its walls bear photographs of Indian freedom fighters, who fought against British colonial rule, and it is open to all.

The library is a reminder of a bygone era and has an old-world charm that attracts visitors.

Oldest and Rare Block-Printed Books

According to the website of the Union Ministry of Culture, the library has one of the world’s few collections of the oldest, rare block-printed books. Most of the library’s collection came from Englishmen who carried books with them during their sea journeys that lasted several months.

Decoding the History- Shifting of Library and the Renaming

In 1902, the library was moved to its second location in Kaccha Bagh and renamed the Delhi Public Library.

The library’s current building is its third home, and it was named after Lord Hardinge, the viceroy of India, after a bomb attack on him in 1912.

The attack was carried out during a grand procession when a group of revolutionaries threw a bomb at the viceroy and his wife.

The library’s name was changed to Hardayal Library after India gained independence. Lala Hardayal was an Indian nationalist revolutionary who had publicly eulogised the bomb attack.

Rich Legacy and Historical Significance

The events surrounding the shifting of the library and the change of its name highlight its historical significance. The attack on Lord Hardinge received condemnation from the people of Delhi, who subscribed to a fund to offer rewards on information about the perpetrators. Eventually, the government bore the entire expense of the reward, and the fund was used to finance Lady Hardinge Medical College and Hospital, and towards a new building for the Municipal Library, which was named after Lord Hardinge.

A place for people across all ages

The library, despite its age of over one-and-a-half centuries, remains a cherished destination for individuals of all generations. Its vast and diverse collection of ancient and rare books offers a glimpse into India’s pre-Independence era, serving as a testament to its historical significance. While the advent of the digital age has revolutionised the way we consume literature, the charm of traditional book reading continues to lure people of all ages to this hallowed space.