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Tamil language collections

The British Library’s Tamil collections include manuscripts, early and modern printed books, periodicals, newspapers, and audiovisual materials. We have particularly important holdings of 19th to mid-20th century publications, and the Library's holdings overall are an important resource for the study of South Asia.

Manuscripts

We hold approximately 204 items including manuscripts on palm leaf and paper. The manuscripts collection includes items which came from the India Office Library, the Oriental Collections of the British Museum, and those acquired subsequently by the British Library. 

Among the Oriental Collections manuscripts are two autograph items by Father Beschi, along with palm leaf manuscripts and items from the Hugh Nevill collection. Among the India Office Library Tamil manuscripts is a copy of the Christian epic poem, Tembavani, by Father Beschi, possibly written in the author's own hand in 1724.

Early and modern printed books and periodicals

The Library holds, and continues to acquire, books and journals in the humanities and social sciences in Tamil. Books are acquired mainly by purchase from India and elsewhere, and through donations. The monograph collection amounts to roughly 50,000 items, with particularly important holdings of 19th and early to mid-20th century Tamil materials. Among the printed books are many publications of the Tranquebar Mission Press, which are the oldest surviving Tamil printed books, dating back to 1714.

Catalogues

Manuscripts

A handlist of Tamil manuscripts from the Oriental Collections and India Office Library collections has been prepared, and is available for consultation on request in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. In recent years a few manuscripts have been included in Explore the British Library. Four Tamil items are included in Indian charters on copper plates, A Gaur, London, 1975.

Books and journals

Tamil books catalogued since 1980 are included in Explore the British Library. Older books are listed in the following printed catalogues, available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

  • India Office Library and Records Catalogue of Tamil Books pre-1950
  • India Office Library and Records Catalogue of Tamil Books 1950-1972
  • India Office Library and Records / Oriental Collections Tamil catalogue 1972-1983, edited by Nalini Persad
  • Catalogue of the Tamil books in the library of the British Museum
    Barnett, L.D. 1909
  • Supplementary Catalogue of Tamil Books in the British Museum
    Barnett, L.D. 1931
  • A Second supplementary catalogue of the Tamil books in the Library of the British Museum.  Edited by A. Gaur, A. 1980

Proscribed publications

These are publications banned by the pre-1947 Indian government. 29 publications in Tamil language can be found in Publications proscribed by the Government of India: A catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books by Graham Shaw and Mary Lloyd (London: British Library Reference Division, 1985).

Periodicals

Bibliography of South Asian periodicals: a union list of periodicals in South Asian languages
Shaw, G.W. and Quraishi, S. Brighton, 1982

Current and post-1982 periodical publications can be found in Explore the British Library

Manuscripts and older books may be consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. More recent books may be viewed in any St Pancras reading room, and books in Tamil published since 1945 are available for loan to libraries and other institutions through the Library's Document Supply Centre.

Contact

Mrs Nalini Persad, Curator of South Indian Language Collection
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7659
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7850

E-mail: nalini.persad@bl.uk