South Asia manuscripts

from the opening folio of Shaha jo risalo (19th century) / Or. 2987.
from the opening folio of Shaha jo risalo (19th century) / Or. 2987.

More than 80,000 manuscripts in both Asian and European languages make up a unique body of material, constituting one of most significant collections of its kind in the West.

About the collection

Our collection ranges in subject matter from history and poetry to medicine and divination and include religious treatises and scriptural texts from a number of South Asian religious traditions. The collections also comprise the writings of politicians, diplomats, academics, travellers, missionaries, artists and journalists. The papers of colonial administrators relevant to South Asia are, in a number of cases, accompanied by collections of manuscripts in various South Asian languages, acquired by the same officers during their service. An outstanding example of this is the collection in the languages of Nepal formed by Brian Houghton Hodgson.

What is available online?

A number of key electronic resources for the study of South Asia are also available at the British Library. For licensing reasons, most of these may be accessed only from the Library’s reading rooms. Many important reference resources are held, including Asian Studies Virtual Library, Digital South Asia Library, Electronic Buddhist text Initiative, Journal of Asian Studies and Digital Himalaya. The Library also subscribes to a growing number of electronic journals relevant to South Asian studies.

The Library also has digital copies of materials held in South Asia, and digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme.

Manuscripts in the Asian languages are not yet included in Explore the British Library. They are listed in published catalogues and unpublished hand-lists, by language.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Our manuscript collections can be viewed in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room where the services and facilities of the Reading Room are available to researchers.