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Urdu language collections

The British Library’s Urdu collections are unparalleled outside South Asia. They contain more than 950 manuscripts, the earliest of which is dated 998 AH (1590 AD); approximately 80,000 printed books, from the presses of the 19th century to the most significant publications of present-day India and Pakistan; and 442 periodicals.

A selection from Musannifin-i Urdu ki tasviron ka
albam
(1939) / 14110.f.10. From top left:

Mir Taqi Mir, Mir Babar ‘Ali Anis,
Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib,
Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Nazir Ahmad,
Akbar Allahabadi, Muhammad ‘Ali Jauhar,
Sir Muhammad Iqbal, Josh Malihabadi

About the Urdu collections

The collections provide a unique resource for those involved in South Asian research, particularly in the fields of history, politics, language, literature, Islam, law, education, anthropology, genealogy, geography, music, art and architecture.

They are currently accessible in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, alongside similar collections in other South Asian languages and English; the India Office Records and Private Papers; and prints, drawings and photographs relating to South Asia.

Manuscripts

The manuscript collections contains some of the earliest Urdu works extant today. Rich and varied in content, they are particularly strong in poetry, from exquisitely illuminated Dakhani masnavis to the divans of later famous Urdu poets and the tales and romances composed by the munshis of Fort William College in the early 19th century. 

Islam is, naturally, well-represented, as are Urdu grammar and lexicography, history, geography, politics, genealogy and biography (including the tazkirah). There are some important works on music.

The collection also offers a wide variety of archival material, such as autograph letters from prominent litterateurs, ‘ulama and politicians, historical diaries, farmans, notifications, rules and petitions.

A folio from the Qasidah of Nusrati

A folio from the Qasidah of Nusrati

Printed books and periodicals

The British Library's collections of Urdu printed books and periodicals range from the early output of European missionary presses to current research-level publications from India and Pakistan. In content, they span the whole range of humanities and social sciences. There is good coverage of works from the last quarter of the 19th century through to 1947. Within this, ‘Proscribed publications’ are of particular interest – more than 200 pamphlets, periodicals, handbills and posters banned by the British government in India during the crucial four decades leading up to independence.

The title page of Divan-i-Malikah

The title page of Divan-i-Malikah

 
The Avadh Akhbar

The Avadh Akhbar

Catalogues

Electronic catalogues

At present, post-1984 Urdu publications are included in Explore the British Library. Entries for our earlier printed book collections (including ‘Proscribed publications’) are currently being added to the South Asian Union Catalogue.

The following catalogues, detailing sections of the British Library’s Urdu manuscripts and early printed books, can also be consulted on other websites:

  • J.F. Blumhardt, Catalogue of the Hindi, Panjabi and Hindustani manuscripts in the Library of the British Museum. London, 1899.
  • J.F. Blumhardt, Catalogue of Hindustani printed books in the Library of the British Museum. London, 1889. (Please note: this is a 30 MB pdf and may take some time to download.)
  • J.F. Blumhardt, A supplementary catalogue of Hindustani books in the Library of the British Museum acquired during the years 1889-1908. London, 1909. (Please note: this is a 30 MB pdf and may take some time to download.)

If the Urdu manuscript, book or periodical for which you are searching cannot be found via any of the above links, the chief means of locating material remains a series of published catalogues (see below), supplemented by card and blue slip catalogues. These can be consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at the British Library.

Manuscripts: printed catalogues

J.F. Blumhardt, Catalogue of the Hindi, Panjabi and Hindustani manuscripts in the Library of the British Museum. London, 1899.

J.F. Blumhardt, Catalogue of the Hindustani manuscripts in the Library of the India Office. London, 1926.

Salim al-Din Quraishi and Ursula Sims-Williams, Catalogue of the Urdu manuscripts in the India Office Library (Supplementary to James Fuller Blumhardt’s catalogue of 1926). London, 1978.

Salim al-Din Quraishi, Catalogue of the Urdu, Panjabi and Kashmiri manuscripts and documents in the India Office Library and Records. London, 1990.

Qazi Mahmudul Haq, Handlist of Urdu and Panjabi manuscripts acquired by Oriental Collections since 1899. London, 1993.

Printed books, proscribed publications and periodicals: printed catalogues

J.F. Blumhardt, Catalogue of Hindustani printed books in the Library of the British Museum. London, 1889.

J.F. Blumhardt, Catalogue of the Library of the India Office. Vol. II.-Part II. Hindustani books. London, 1900.

J.F. Blumhardt, A supplementary catalogue of Hindustani books in the Library of the British Museum acquired during the years 1889-1908. London, 1909.

Salim al-Din Quraishi, Catalogue of Urdu books in the India Office Library 1800-1920 (Supplementary to James Fuller Blumhardt’s catalogue of 1900). London, 1991.

Graham Shaw and Mary Lloyd, Publications proscribed by the Government of India. London, 1985.

Graham Shaw and Salim al-Din Quraishi, The bibliography of South Asian periodicals: A Union-list of periodicals in South Asian languages. Sussex, 1982.

History of the collections

Our Urdu holdings come from manuscripts, books, periodicals and archives collected by the India Office Library prior to 1982, by the British Museum Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts prior to 1973, and from subsequent acquisitions made by the British Library.

From the last quarter of the 19th century up to 1947, printed books were acquired through the Indian Press and Registration of Books Act of 1867, and the resulting selection of titles by both the India Office Library and the British Museum Department of Oriental Printed Books from the quarterly lists of Indian publications. There is thus particularly good coverage for this period.

Internet links

The Digital South Asia Library includes a wealth of digital material relating to South Asian Studies, in particular a collaborative wiki with information about archives and libraries in South Asia.

Of specific relevance to Urdu are John Shakespear’s A dictionary, Hindustani and English and John T. Platts’ A dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindi, and English on this Digital Dictionaries of South Asia page. See also the Annual of Urdu Studies, Muhammad Husain Azad’s Ab-i hayat and C.M. Naim’s Introductory Urdu and Readings in Urdu prose and poetry in the Digital South Asia Library.

A digital copy (from the British Library’s collections) of Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa’s Umrao Jan Ada has been contributed to Columbia Universities In-house Book Digitization Project and can be viewed together with additional information by Professor Frances Pritchett on her website of South Asian study resources. 

Contact

Asian and African Studies enquiries
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7873
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641

E-mail: Ask the Reference Team

PDF files

The links below are to Adobe PDF files. Accessibility solutions and free Reader software are available from Adobe.