The 300-year-old ancient Padma Purana is one of the eighteen major Puranas in Hinduism. The book is named after the lotus in which Lord Brahma emerged and includes large sections dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Padma Purana consists of significant sections on Shiva and Shakti, the divine energies.
Written in praise of Manasa Devi, a goddess of snakes, worshipped mainly in Bengal, Jharkhand and other parts of northeastern India, the 800-page Padma Purana has already started to crumble inside the Bogura Woodburn Public Library.
"The same is true for the 1,000-page Govinda Kathamrita manuscript, which praises Gaur Govinda - one of the kings of the ancient Pundranagari, and the 700-page Hiranyakashipur manuscript of Hiranyakashipur in the Midnapore district of India," said Md Amir Hossain, an assistant librarian at the library.
Bogura Woodburn Public Library has manuscripts of Puthis which are over 300 years old and a collection of rare books.
"Written in Prakrit, Pali and Sanskrit, these manuscripts were written by Shri Bhagavat Gyanendra Kumar Bhattacharya- a royal poet," Amir Hossain added.
Md Rokunzzaman, a former librarian at the library, is frustrated at the sorry state of these ancient documents.
The Department of Public Libraries has not taken any step to preserve many priceless books including several ancient manuscripts of the library.
He said that the government had provided Tk40,000 for the preservation of manuscripts and other books. However, it was too little to take preservation measures.
"But no initiative has ever been taken to preserve these valuable manuscripts in the Woodburn Library. These books are undoubtedly priceless to researchers," said Md Rokunzzaman.
His suggestion is to decipher the manuscripts, so that the period of composition and the history, culture, and important information of the region can be found.
"Such an ancient collection is an invaluable resource for any nation," said Rokunzzaman.
How the books came here?
When asked how the manuscripts were found, Library Assistant Anisul Haque said the manuscripts, along with other books, were brought here after the merger of Woodburn Public Library with Bogura Woodburn Government Public Library in 2013.
"There is no clear information about how these rare manuscripts came to the Woodburn Library," he said.
Syed Mohammad Rezanul Alam, another employee of the library, said that a reader named Padma donated the books to the Woodburn Public Library to preserve these invaluable assets of his predecessors. However, no statement was found in support of this claim.
The story of the library
The foundation stone of this public library was laid in 1854 with the help of local elites. Later in 1908, then District Collector JN Gupta named it Woodburn Public Library after Lieutenant Governor of Bengal Sir John Woodburn.
In 1947, many great personalities including Sharat Chandra Bose, elder brother of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and Kiranshankar Das visited the Woodburn Public Library.
Nawab Syed Abdus Sobhan Chowdhury of Bogura had constructed a building for the library.
During the Liberation War in 1971, the Pakistani army damaged the library badly. They used about 18,000 books of the Woodburn Public Library as fuel for preparing their food during the war. Many rare and invaluable books were lost.
However, even after this loss, a rare book "The Heroes of Greek Fairy Tales" by Charles Kingsley, published in London in 1855, survived in the library.
The number of books in the Bogura Woodburn Public Library is now about 45,000.
Another book titled "The History of Bogra" by Shri Prabhas Chandra Sen- published in 1929- also remains unprotected. This book is considered the most authentic book to know about the history of Bogura.
There are still many rare books in this library but there is no information if those books have been catalogued or not. Moreover, even the names of some books remain a mystery as the cover pages have been destroyed.
The public library has been closed for the last 6 months due to the outbreak of coronavirus. Before the closure, an average of 150 readers visited the library a day.
Md Abu Saeed, Rajshahi Divisional Director of the Department of Public Libraries, said that initiatives have already been taken to preserve all the important manuscripts and books.
"Most of the funds received from the government is being provided to preserve all the manuscripts and books in the library. However, so far, not all books and manuscripts have been preserved."
These manuscripts and rare books will be preserved in phases, he added.
Letters have been sent to the Department of Public Libraries several times to preserve these valuable manuscripts. Although late, some funds have been allocated for conservation of the manuscripts.