The Baroda Record Room

Everything you needed to know about the Record Room in Baroda

by Nandini Bhattacharya



Photo courtesy of the British Library, London

The old Kothi, which housed the record room, since replaced by a resplendent building in 1922


The city of Baroda like all of small-town India has changed so much in the past two decades, that it is unrecognizable from the charming, slow-paced erstwhile princely capital that it was, formerly. Before they were swamped by the expanding concrete high rise buildings and the ubiquitous glass- and -chrome shopping malls and multiplexes, the prominent and visible architecture of Baroda included palaces, college buildings, hospital and marketplace erected in the Indo-Saracenic style during the reign of Maharajah Sir Sayajirao III (r. 1873-1939).


The archives or the Record Room of the former Baroda State is in one such princely building, the Kothi-which was the Secretariat of the Baroda Durbar until 1948. The Kothi still functions as the collectorate office of the district of Baroda (renamed Vadodara) today. The Kothi was built in 1922, inspired, it is said, by the royal Balmoral castle in Scotland, and replaced an older building, serving as the Secretariat from the late nineteenth century  on, at the same site.

The archives and records of the erstwhile Baroda State represent the reinvented and modernized state itself during Sayajirao’s reign; like similar princely states (most prominently Travancore and Mysore), the content of this modernity was ambivalent and fragmentary. Nonetheless, Sayajirao’s reign oversaw the reformulation of the Baroda State’s infrastructure in certain fundamental ways. The most significant of these was the streamlining of revenues, which included tributes from scores of smaller princely states in Gujarat and Saurashtra, and the organization of alternative sources of revenue from the traditional agrarian surplus such as the imposition of control, licensing and taxation on opium, salt, and alcohol. The new institutions of the state included the establishment of the famed Baroda College referenced on the western university model followed by the Bombay Presidency; investment in an extensive railway line across and beyond the State, and the rudiments of public education and health systems. The capital city itself was rebuilt to display the amenities of a modern civic culture: these included public gardens and libraries and a museum and art gallery that teemed with paintings and artifacts imported from Europe.


Marooned in a crowded bazaar

The Kothi is now marooned in the crowded bazaar, court house and offices of the old city that surround it. The Record Room itself, housed in a separate one-storey block, looks abandoned and quiet in contrast, much like many other provincial archives in India. The difference, however, is that here the records are generally maintained in excellent condition and are in order, a rare exception for a regional archive. There are bahis in both English and in Gujarati (the Bodiya script). The day-to-day administration of the Baroda Durbar was recorded in Gujarati, and therefore the bulk of the documents are in the Gujarati Bodhiya script. Both the records begin from around the 1770s and continue until the 1930-40s.


Huzur English and Huzur Political

The substantial numbers of archival documents in English are from two principal offices of the Baroda administration: the Huzur Political and the Huzur English. Both are comprehensively indexed. The indexes are available in the form of hand-written registers. I have had the occasion to use them the occasion to use them several times over the past ten years and although these are now in tatters, they are still serviceable. There was talk of extensive digitization in the archive around four to five years ago, but steps in that direction are now not visible.

The Huzur Political series is an eclectic one and contains correspondence related to almost every department; revenue including abkari, audit, general administration reports, education, health, government orders and notifications, roads, railways and municipal governance, to name the most substantial ones.

The Huzur English series contains correspondence between the Court, the Dewan’s office, and the Residency. Given that the Residency interested itself in every branch of administration from the royal palace intrigues to the revenues, the Huzur English series is fairly comprehensive as well. It is not a coincidence that the Baroda Durbar has engaged the attention of scholars exploring a range of historical problematics related to the princely states from high politics and diplomacy to courtly culture; agrarian land systems to the princely states’ indigenous modern cultural and material entanglements. The sheer ease and access to the documents of the Baroda State and by extension, its tributary states in the south, central, and north Gujarat and Kathiawad offer great opportunities to researchers of western India. Research students from the M. S. University of Baroda use the archive extensively for their postgraduate and doctoral theses.


The room

There is a large shared desk in the sitting area for research scholars, and although there is no air conditioning, it is a pleasant working space. The deputy archivist has his desk in the same space and is present to help the scholars if necessary and to keep an eye on them. Until very recently this position was occupied by Mr. Solanki, who was very knowledgeable about the archive and represented, in fact, the sum of institutional memory in that place. He displayed several visiting cards of research scholars from India and abroad under the glass on top of his desk. I remember seeing Barbara Ramusack’s, for instance. It is clear that officials at this archive are proud of their collections and of their ability to assist research scholars. The archivist himself sits in a separate office and in my experience, found it best to direct all queries to his deputy.


Working hours and bring a letter with you 

The working hours are from 11 to 4, Mondays to Fridays. Requisitions for files and bahis are accepted all day until 3. One minor inconvenience of accessing the archive is that the Baroda Record Room insists on a letter of introduction from a member of the faculty, the department of history at the M.S.University of Baroda, regardless of any other credentials the outstation research scholar may produce. While this may provide opportunities for enjoyable socializing over tea at the history department to many, it is not always suitable for strangers who arrive there on short visits.


Kopra kachoris

There are government offices across the road from the record room; along with the collectorate itself, these contribute bustle and urgency to what would otherwise be a very quiet corner in the Kothi complex. Researchers at the archive use the canteen at the office across the road which serves tea and snacks, including delicious kopra kachoris.


Dr. Nandini Bhattacharya is Director, Scottish Centre for Global History, School of Humanities (History), University of Dundee, UK, and author of Contagion and Enclaves: Tropical Medicine in Colonial India, Postcolonial Studies series, Liverpool University Press, 2012.  Contagion and Enclaves examines the social history of medicine in two intersecting enclaves ; the hill station of Darjeeling ; and the adjacent tea plantations of North Bengal. 

Tanuja Kothiyal on the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner


Tanuja Kothiyal teaches history at Ambedkar University, Delhi. She is the author of  Nomadic Narratives – A History of Mobility and Identity in the Great Indian Desert, which examines the processes of settlement in Western Rajasthan.

On first entering the archive

I first visited the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner for the first time as an MPhil Research Scholar in 1995.  After I gingerly filled a requisition slip for the index register, the in-charge of the research room placed a thick bahi in front of me, to browse, while they found the index. I struggled with an unfamiliar script, which after a while seemed like a string of old nagari letters without a break. This was a sort of test, I realized much later. Once the in-charge realized I intended to stick it out, help came from several unexpected quarters, from, someone who would help me read the script, someone who would know the exact bahi which contained references to the routes I was looking for, someone who would let me in to the cavernous stacks to hunt for the exact basta that could not be found.

Research in an Indian archive is never a fully impersonal, professional exercise. A researcher’s journey through the archive is full of personal vignettes, reminders of each stage where the research appeared futile or took a definitive turn. The old research room at the Archives in Bikaner was like that. Attendants would point to the chairs where Satish Chandra and later Dilbagh Singh sat. The monotony of poring through records would be broken by the 4 o’ clock call to the pigeons which would signal the beginning of the end of the day for employees of the archive and yet another struggle for the researchers who wanted to stay on till 6:30.

Over the years…

Over the years the research section has shifted to a new state of the art air conditioned room, with computers to examine the digitized copies of old records. Few records are now ferried from the old stack rooms, which seem far better organized than before. Yet, it is a place where old and new, coalesce and clash, with each record containing within itself histories, sometimes contentious, of acquisition.

The idea of an archive of records and manuscripts was itself located in reimagining of princely states as both, subjects of historical research as well as modern bureaucratic enterprises. The early decades of the twentieth century witnessed a rise in interest in fashioning of a ‘self’ by the princely states, leading to collection and organization of manuscripts and records pertaining to royal families. However, most of these records and manuscripts continued to be lodged within different princely states, until a reorganization of the state of Rajasthan was achieved in 1952, and a modern archive for research into history of the new state conceptualized.

The building

The brown and red Rajasthan State archive building is itself a part of the modernizing project of Maharaja Ganga Singh, a vision so visible in the Junagarh fort museum, with the World War I DH-9DE Haviland war plane acquired as a war souvenir in 1920 as a pièce-de-résistance. When it was built in 1934, the building was expected to accommodate the Government Press. However, a part of it was converted in to the Rajasthan State Archives in 1955, to store and make available for research, records of older princely states and the former Chief Commissioner’s province of Ajmer-Merwara that were amalgamated into the state of Rajasthan.

And the records

These records, ranging from a period of mid seventeenth century to 1952, are in various Rajasthani dialects, Persian, Urdu, Hindi and English. These records pertain to state orders, accounts of taxes levied, of purchases and expenses, correspondence between officials, as well as appeals made by common people. While the earlier state records are in form of bahis written in various forms of mahajani and modhi scripts, the nineteenth century records are in form of files, and organized according to departments like Railways, Salt, PWD etc. It is difficult not to be impressed by the neat rows of red bundles in the stacks of the Rajasthan State Archives in Bikaner. These bundles humble a researcher by reminding her of the vast bureaucracy that stored away little facts from the seventeenth century onwards, to be ferreted and made sense of later. However, a number of old princely state manuscripts and records are still retained by the old princely families and are accessible only through contacts with the families.

A large number of manuscripts are also located in the libraries and institutions like the Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute and Rajasthani Shodh Sansthan in Jodhpur, Anup Sanskrit Library in Bikaner, Pratap Shodh Sansthan in Udaipur etc, as well as in some private collections.

The state archive however, does house a Tessitori gallery dedicated to the Italian Indologist and grammarian L P Tessitori, who was employed by Bikaner, and collected a vast range of manuscripts and wrote copiously about them. The archive has acquired some correspondence between Tessitori and the Bikaner state, though most of Tessitori’s research notes and correspondence was transferred to his heirs and is located in the municipal library at Udine.

The Rajasthan State Archives also has an Oral History Division which contains interviews of several freedom fighters. The library attached to the Archives houses a collection of reports from the mid nineteenth century onwards, like Annual Administration Reports, Survey Reports, Census Reports, Reports of Famine Commissions, as well as gazetteers and travelogues. It is also a rich repository of historical books and vernacular journals published in Rajasthan.

As I pointed out earlier, research in the Rajasthan State Archives is never a mere professional experience. The mere fact of visiting the research room itself creates a camaraderie, based on ability to access the archive. The town itself has little to offer beyond the tourist attractions, and the researchers tend to spend most of their time in the archive itself. A few years back it used to offer a dormitory for male researchers, but the facility has been withdrawn for sometime now. Female researchers are however expected to find private accommodation, though guest houses, hostels and hotels. Food remains a concern for people not used to spicy and oily cuisine.

With increasing digitization it is now possible to view indexes, as well as some records online, but without visiting the archive, and poring over records in the old fashioned way, it is difficult to imagine writing a history through those records. I say this not merely out of nostalgia for the archive and archival research, but from the experience that archive, its assembly, arrangements, rules of access, hierarchies, all have their own histories that have to be experienced and incorporated into the histories that we write.




India’s National Library Goes Digital – Sort of by C. M. Naim

This post is reproduced with permission from C. M. Naim.

C.M.Naim, among other things, is an Urdu scholar and translator of the Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir’s Zikr-i-Mir, Professor Emeritus of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

In April 2014, The Guardian published a longish piece by Samuel Gibbs entitled, “The most powerful Indian technologists in Silicon Valley.” It opened: “Ever since waves of Indian graduates poured into Silicon Valley in Northern California in the 1970s and 1980s, talented Indians have made breakthroughs, pushed boundaries and held positions of power in the world of technology and media.” Gibbs then went on to give brief but substantial accounts of the achievements of eleven such Indians, nine men and two women. Included were such luminaries as Ajay Bhatt—“credited as being the father of the USB standard”—and Vinod Dham—“The father of the famous Intel Pentium processor.” What is also striking about these men and women is the fact that almost all of them received their foundational education in India, in some of its most prestigious institutions. One may then rightly assume that those institutions, and others like them, must have by now produced a very large number of well-trained and talented people. Too numerous, perhaps, even to imagine. So why is it that not one of them apparently found his or her way to be on the staff of the National Library at Kolkota? For as anyone who visited it knows that the National Library’s website is nothing short of a disgrace to such a prestigious institution.

In April 2014, The Guardian published a longish piece by Samuel Gibbs entitled, “The most powerful Indian technologists in Silicon Valley.” It opened: “Ever since waves of Indian graduates poured into Silicon Valley in Northern California in the 1970s and 1980s, talented Indians have made breakthroughs, pushed boundaries and held positions of power in the world of technology and media.” Gibbs then went on to give brief but substantial accounts of the achievements of eleven such Indians, nine men and two women. Included were such luminaries as Ajay Bhatt—“credited as being the father of the USB standard”—and Vinod Dham—“The father of the famous Intel Pentium processor.” What is also striking about these men and women is the fact that almost all of them received their foundational education in India, in some of its most prestigious institutions. One may then rightly assume that those institutions, and others like them, must have by now produced a very large number of well-trained and talented people. Too numerous, perhaps, even to imagine. So why is it that not one of them apparently found his or her way to be on the staff of the National Library at Kolkata? For as anyone who visited it knows that the National Library’s website is nothing short of a disgrace to such a prestigious institution.

Click on the above link and you will see the following:


Note the invitation—“User can register from this website free of cost”— on the left, spilling out of its box. Ignore the amateurish effect, and instead try to register. You will be immediately forced to make an arbitrary choice. There is on the right of the screen a tempting box titled “New User?” with a winking sign saying “Register Now!” But there is also smack in the middle of the screen a box marked “User registration.” Most likely, you will do what I did and click on the “New User” box, to be greeted only with the following bracing message: “This facility will be made available soon.” Now try the box in the middle. It works. You can register – but only if you are an Indian citizen. It does not say that in so many words. However, I as an American citizen was in no position to answer all the “mandatory” questions, even if I chose to ignore their highly obtrusive nature. I gave up and consoled myself by concluding that “User Registration” was perhaps not meant for those who only wished to use the website and the NL’s online information resources.

I next tried the button saying “View Recently Digital Books” (sic), assuming that they actually meant “Recently Digitized.” What did I find? Just one title, as can be seen below.


Ignore your disappointment, ignore the incongruity of “1 Records Found.” But do consider the details of the one “recently digital” book. The author is given as “Ober, Fredwick Alboin.” His parents, however, had named him: Fredrick Albion Ober. Now look at the title of the book as offered by the National Library of India: “Comps in Carbbees; the adventures of a naturalists in the Lesser Antilles.” The book when it came out in 1880 was actually titled: “Camps in the Caribbees: the adventures of a naturalist in the Lesser Antilles.” Four serious typos in a context where not one should have happened.

I next tried the box in the middle of the page titled, “Digitised Book (sic),” expecting to find some description of the nature and number of the books, with perhaps an alphabetical list of the most prominent authors so far included. Instead I found I had to blindly try, and if I were lucky I could find something. As fate would have it, almost all the times I was only told: “No records found.” It soon became obvious that no browsing was possible. One could only make a specific request and then pray for good luck.

Finally, I decided to search the library’s online catalog as offered on the home page. My recent research interest has been popular fiction in Urdu at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20 centuries, in particular what was translated from the English. Two authors, George W.M. Reynolds and Marie Corelli, had been particular favorites in Urdu, as in fact they had been in several other Indian languages. I thought the National Library should have a good record of the titles by these authors that had been available in India as well as the translations that appeared in Indian languages. I was not disappointed. A substantial number of the two authors’ early editions are preserved. I also found titles of some translations in Bengali and Malayalam. But very few. Far fewer than were actually done in those two languages. And no mention of any translation in Urdu, though at least 34 novels of Reynolds and 5 of Corelli were to my knowledge translated and avidly read in Urdu in the 1920s.

I also found that there was no easy way for me to check Urdu titles. As shown below, the page invites readers to use regional languages but where is the “Control Panel” that it asks them to use?


I had to resort to Romanized forms of Urdu words. It worked – mostly. But it would have more helped if they had offered a guide to their Romanizations. It turns out that there is no fixed system. Different people on the staff have differently Romanized Urdu titles and authors’ names. I wonder if that has happened with other languages too or was that some special treatment meted out to Urdu? Surely, it is not fair to change Urdu ‘z’ to Hindi ‘j’ even in Romanization. Not in Kolkota, where people lustily pronounce ‘z’ and ‘f’ even where they are not required to.

Why should this be the case? A friend suggested the practice of “tendering out” such jobs could be to blame. The library wished to have a website; it asked for tenders from different IT firms; then chose the least costly, hence the least efficient. The usual bureaucratic fiasco. There is also that attitude so prevalent among Indian librarians. Very few of them think of themselves as providers of an essential service to the general public. Most of them view themselves simply as custodians of the contents of their institutions—contents that they preserve and protect but do not, in the same measure, also make available to rightful users. After visiting the National Library’s website it was obvious to me that no one had bothered to try it out and see if it actually worked. They can now claim, like everyone else, to have a website, that it worked or not was of little importance.

Ned Bertz on various archives in Gujarat

Ned Bertz teaches in the Department of History, University of Hawaii and his areas of interest are South Asia, Africa, Indian Ocean, World History. Bertz says that the uncategorised archives produce surprising finds: ‘An 1884 history of Gujarat will be next to the cinema rules of Bombay in 1953. Law court decisions will be next to a pamphlet on Kathiawad’s population problem.’

3 Aina Mahal

Ayana Mahal, which houses the district archives in Junagadh

PBR archives godown

Ayana Mahal, which houses the district archives in Junagadh

After Bombay State was bifurcated into Maharashtra and Gujarat, the latter found itself without a state archives, while the former inherited the Bombay State Archives (later the Maharashtra State Archives). Most of the records relating to Gujarat remained in Bombay, but Gandhinagar saw the need to create its own state archives to collect records scattered across the state as well as centralize other records held in the National Archives of India. The Department of Archives for Gujarat was formally founded in 1971. In the later 1970s and 1980s, the Gujarat State Archives (GSA) expanded to include several branches, varying dramatically in their size and organization. I have been working in several different branches of the GSA since 2009. My overall sense is that the archives are underused, although this is understandable given the uneven nature of its organization.

The headquarters of the GSA is in Gandhinagar, where a library exists but a full records office does not. At least for foreign scholars, permission must be taken here for access to any of the branch archives. The GSA is under the control of a state minister who is also in charge of a range of portfolios including Youth, Sports, Education, and Cultural Activities. All foreigner applications for research have to be cleared by the central state secretariat, as facilitated by the Director of the Archives, which can be an unpredictable process. Each permit is valid for one year. In-person visits and follow-up visits seem essential for clearance. Indian researchers I believe can gain access through a much simpler process.

The largest branches of the GSA are the Southern Circle Record Office in Baroda and the Western Circle Record Office in Rajkot. In working in Rajkot (I have not visited the Baroda office), I found a friendly staff and fair working conditions. There was an ongoing digitization process as of several years ago, and a fairly new building. There is no centralized index to the GSA, but Rajkot has an accession list of holdings in no apparent order. It was clear that not all items held at Rajkot were on that list. For example, a worker there located passport registers for me when I described what I might be interested in. The material held consists mostly of official records and reports dating from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, with a random assortment of books, some of them of historical value.

District Record Offices also exist in Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Junagadh, and Porbandar, all of which I have visited except for Bhavnagar. Jamnagar and Junagadh, like Rajkot, have accession lists. The latter is housed in the gorgeous old Ayana Mahal, which unfortunately has leakage issues leading to ruined records each monsoon, despite the layers of plastic tarp the dutiful staff deploy every season. Porbandar does not have an accession list, but from a few days working there appears to have a tremendous store of unindexed files, bundled up in a godown away from the main office. Staff in each location are very friendly, although not always trained to assist researchers. Local researchers were present in Rajkot when I worked there, and I assume Baroda as well, but the other branches seem largely unvisited. The District Records Office in Kutch, I have been told, is under the charge of the district and not in the domain of the GSA.

The holdings in the GSA appear to be varied, and are largely in English and Gujarati. Official files from British India are present, as is ample material from the princely states. Jamnagar, Junagadh, Porbandar, and Rajkot have mostly holdings related to Kathiawad. These include administrative reports, law court decisions, legal notices, gazetteers, and statistical accounts. Some files from post-independence are also available. A range of printed books, pamphlets, documents, and other records are in the collection, although I have not seen any newspaper holdings.

No full survey of the GSA exists, to my knowledge. There is a publication called Gujarat State Archives at a Glance (1982), which I first found at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. It is also in the archives’ library at Gandhinagar. In 1998, a short piece on the GSA was published in Indian Archives.


National Archives of India no less!

Thanks to the indomitable Maya Dodd, I found that the NAI actually has a searchable index of some files online – here’s a promising start:

A search actually threw up these entries:
Goa Military Means adopted for the protection of the British inhabitants of Goa during the insurrection. Foreign INTERNAL 1895 12 PART B Progs., Nos. 393-410, December 1895 Digitize on Demand (0)
Demand of the Goa authoities for the surrender of Igancio de Loyola and four others concerned in the Goa Riots. Foreign INTERNAL 1891 4 PART A Progs., Nos. 126-132, April 1891 Digitize on Demand (0)
remittances by Goanese nationals from India to Portuguese India, and number of persons entering India from Goa and leaving India for Goa each year. External Affairs EUROPE – I 1949 0 Progs., Nos. 19(132)-Eur-I, 1949(B) Digitize on Demand (0)
Assistance to Mr. Mascarenhas arrested in Goa, for publication of some articles on Goa. External Affairs EUROPE – I 1949 0 Progs., Nos. 19(122)-Eur-I, 1949 Digitize on Demand (0)
e CUSTOMS DUTIES 1932 0 Progs. No. 67 -CUS-I, 1932 Digitize on Demand (0)

And: Stared (sic) Question in the Indian Parliament to be asked by Lala Raj Kanwar regarding the transfer of records of Historical and political interest kept in the custody of the Punjab Govt. prior to Partition

Who are the Guilty 1984

Who are the Guilty ?
Report of a joint inquiry into the causes and impact of the riots in Delhi from 31 October to 10 November 1984


A fact-finding team jointly organised by one People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) and people’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in the course of investigations from November 1 to November 10, has come to the conclusion that the attacks on members of the Sikh Community in Delhi and its suburbs during the period, far from being a spontaneous expression of “madness” and of popular “grief and anger” at Mrs. Gandhi’s assasination as made out to be by the authorities, were the outcome of a well organised plan marked by acts of both deliberate commissions and omissions by important politicians of the Congress (I) at the top and by authorities in the administration. Although there was the handiwork of a determined group which was inspired by different sentiments altogether.PUCL – PUDR Report: Who are the Guilty ?

An interview with Michael Fernandes

An interview with Michael fernandes

The emergency was quite a tumultuous time for their other brother Lawrence though. He was picked up under MISA too, tortured and was once even beaten up using branches of the banyan tree at the CID office in Bangalore. But more than the physical torment, it was the mental anguish he remembers. “He was taken to the railway tracks and they threatened to kill him and dump his body there,” says Michael. “I think at the time of my arrest the police weren’t so desperate, but with Lawrence they weren’t so patient,” he explains.

An interview with Michael Fernandes