The Desaï Collection

The special collections may only be consulted to a limited extent; reasons must be given in writing.
Book cover: In Memory of D.B. Desai

Dhirajlal B. Desaï (1908-1951) was, from 1948 to 1951, the first Special Ambassador and plenipotentiary Minister of India, in Switzerland. His father, a close friend and associate of Ghandi, had been one of the principal leaders of the Indian National Congress. 

After studying law in Bombay and in London, Desaï practiced in the higher courts of Bombay.  He was an active participant in the industrialisation of India and was one of the artisans of the Pan-Indian Congress, before being elected President of the Congress Committee of the province of Bombay.

The three years spent in Bern by this fervent art loving diplomat, contributed to the deepening of relations between India and Switzerland. 

After his premature death, his widow, Mrs. Madhuri Desaï, donated his personal library to the SNL. She was herself the author of a book on Ghandi, entitled "Begegnung mit Gandhi - Des Mahatma Leben und Lehre nach seinen Gesprächen und Schriften dargestellt", published in 1949 by the Bern publishers Herbert Lang (German adaptation by Hans Zbinden). In the following years, to complete her husband's collection, she also donated to the SNL many items of great value such as paintings on fabric and Kangra miniatures. The collection was exhibited at the SNL in 1958.

Today, the Desaï Library contains some 1700 items (monographs and periodicals), most of which deal with Indian philosophy, religion, history, ethnology and sociology. It comprises some very rare works such as:
  • William Robertson, A Historical Disquisition concerning the knowledge which the Ancients had of India, London 1791
  • James Prinsep, Essays on Indian antiquities, Historic, numismatic, palaeographic, London 1858.
  • Rupam Magazine 1921-1930, 8 vol.
  • E. Thurston/V. Asari, Illustrations of metal work in brass and copper mostly South Indian, Madras 1913
  • William Jones, The history of the life of Nader Shah, king of Persia, London 1773
  • Robert Gill/ James Fergusson, One hundred stereoscopic illustrations of architecture and natural history in western India, London 1864
  • Richard Gough, A comparative view of the ancient monuments of India, London 1785
A catalogue of the Desaï library was published in 1957.  A copy of the collection’s catalogue can be consulted at the Institute for Religious Studies at Bern University.  The artwork was entrusted to the Bern Museum of History. It consists notably of painted fabrics dating back to the 16th century, decorated with very rare gold embroidery, believed to have belonged to the great Mogol Jahangir.

Further information

Opening hours

Access to the collections on appointment; an advanced reservation is required.

Guided tours

Introductions to the print and drawing collections for schools or groups on appointment.

Last modification 25.04.2016

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