Flickr / pyrotechnicphoenix
Flickr / pyrotechnicphoenix

A requiem for the Jaffna Library

Chronicling the fall and resurrection of the Jaffna Public Library, and mourning all that can never be recovered.

In 1933, the same year the Nazis burnt large numbers of books that they considered 'anti-German', the idea of setting up a library in Jaffna was born. The Jaffna Public Library (JPL) would have celebrated its golden jubilee in 1983 had it not been burned down in 1981. Instead, June 2012 marked the 31st anniversary of that tragedy.

1933 was a difficult time in Sri Lanka. The economy was slow and unemployment was very high. Amid the gloom, one K M Chellappah, who worked for the district court in Jaffna, circulated an appeal in English and Tamil for "A Central Free Tamil Library in Jaffna", and approached labourers, unions, teachers, authors, business people and prominent retirees for support. He insisted that the library would house not just a Tamil collection, but would also hold books in other languages. The idea caught on, and soon a seminal meeting of interested individuals passed a resolution agreeing that "a Central Free Tamil Library Association be formed with the original subscribers and others who are present at this meeting as original members of the Association".

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Himal Southasian