The collections of General Amar Singh Kanota Library & Museum Trust, housed at Kanota, reflect a rich family tapestry. The collections hold many objects that date from Thakur Zorawar Singh’s time, with gradual additions by other members of the family, especially the multi-faceted General Amar Singh. Amar Singh is perhaps the only member of the Rajput nobility to have developed and sustained a practice of writing / chronicling. Culminating in a voluminous set of diaries, these offer a fascinating glimpse of the royal courts, colonial encounters and connected histories of Rajasthan. The rest of the collection ranges from paintings, maps, photographs, books and household accounts to carriages, arms, armour and firearms. Part of the living heritage of Kanota, many of these objects are regularly used for ceremonial purposes.
He had the spirit of a scholar and thinker, writing a diary for forty four years from 1898 to 1942, leaving behind eighty-nine volumes of what is perhaps the longest continuously-written diary in the world. A vast and astonishingly detailed resource for his times, it provides fascinating insights into both British and Rajput life. His legacy also includes several thousand books he read about 60 books a year, journals, manuscripts and magazines in both Hindi and English in what is possibly the finest period library in Rajasthan.
The library is located over the taikhana (the underground apartment where residents took refuge during the hottest months), with the imposing facade of the 19th century Castle Kanota on the left. Astonishingly, Amar Singh never seems to have photographed his beloved library. The only visual reference the archivists found was a photograph taken in 1970 by a Mr. Robin von Breton; the room was recreated after this fashion.
While every Rajasthan thikana has its collections of paintings and arms and some might have archives of manuscripts and documents, none has a library, indicating that bookish learning was not a priority for the erstwhile royals. The closest parallel to Amar Singh’s collections would possibly be the large country house libraries in the UK, typically built by generations of a family. Amar Singh’s library, on the other hand, is the work of one man. Besides the historical value, the library is a valuable resource as it includes first editions, out-of-print books and rare titles.
The museum is warm, welcoming, interactive and alive with an energy that seems to be exuded by the books, maps, photographs and memorabilia. The laboratory at Mehrangarh Museum, Jodhpur, worked on conserving the photographs, albums and maps, carefully peeling photos off crumbling albums and mounting them afresh in the original sequence, and stabilizing maps on acid-free backed mounts. The diaries are being similarly conserved in small batches. The books, luckily, are in a reasonably good condition.