INSTITUTE OF INDIA
by Dr. Gautam
ASIATIC SOCIETY OF INDIA
‘Some institutes reflect history and some
contribute to it’. Asiatic Society not only reflected the by gone era but
contributed initiated a multi-facet academic endeavour. Alongside it
contributed by retrieving, restoring, preserving and studying the ancient
remains and thus revealing the country’s past.
It was a dream of Sir William Jones who
arrived in Calcutta on 25 September 1783 as a Poison Judge of the old
Supreme Court. While sailing to India on the frigate Crocodile he planned
his dream study. This included ‘the laws of the Hindus and Mohammedans;
illustrations of scriptures; traditions concerning the deluge; modern
politics and geography of Hindustan; Arithmetic and Geometry and mixed
sciences of Asiaticks; Medicines; Chemistry; Surgery and Astronomy of the
Indians; natural products of India; poetry; etc’
This heritage institution, with the process of
time kept on changing its name. It was Asiatick Society (1784-1825); The
Asciatic Society (1825-1835);The Asiatic Society of Bengal(1836-1951) and
the Asiatic Society again since 1951.
The Asiatick Society grew with European
patronage and until 1829. No Indians were admitted until 1829 when Dr Horace
Hayman Wilson mooted to include Indian members. The earliest Indian members
of the Society were Prasanna Kumar Tagore, Dwarkanath Tagore, Russamay Dutt
and Ram Camul Sen.
Asiatic Society after Jones death got
institutionalized and accelerated the Indian renaissance. The first
publication of the Society Asiatick Researchers in 1788 and its subsequent
four volumes created an awe in the European world. This publication Asiatick
Researchers was so much in demand in the literary and scholarly field that a
‘pirated edition’ of the first volume came into circulation in England
in 1798.German and French scholars also got copies in their languages.
Asiatic society marched ahead by collecting
rare items from Mss. Rock Edicts to coints etc. Let us see the collection of
the Asiatic Society which will unveil the contribution of this heritage
Aciatic society’s biggest asset is its
Manuscripts collections which was augmented by Raja Rajendralal Mitra. There
are some 45000 Mss which have been catalogued and total holding scales more
than 60,000. The earliest is Asokan rock edict of 3rd century B.C.
The collection of Mss encompasses forty-one
languages and dialects. Those are Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit, Hindi, Meithili,
Sarda, Gujarati, Marathi, Assamese, Oriya, Bengali, Rajasthan, Tamil
Telegu etc. Beyond the Geo-political borders there are Persian, Turkish,
Pushto, Armenian Mss which are kept under excellent
arrangement. Apart from these there are thousands of Sino-Tibetan and
Southeast Asian languages Mss kept in the society. Prof Kajol Sen said that
society has been microfilm those rare Mss. so that socholars can have
access to those records easily without disturbing the original documents. Dr
Federico Mayor, Director General UNESCO was so impressed about the Mss. and
other collections that he identified the society as ‘Memory of the World’.
Asiatic Society’s another important
collection is the Book and Journalists. There are about 200,000 books and
Journals, monograph and pamphlets in European and Indian languages on various
streams of huministic knowledge enveloping oriental studies. There is a good
collection of books and Journals on life science and earth science. The
earliest possession of Asiatic Society is a rare book : Julii Firmici
Astronomicorum libri octo integri printed in Venice in 1499).Other rare
possessions are Kitablal Qarum (Asiatic/Rome 1595); S Purchas’s Purchas;
His Pilgrimage (London 1614) etc.
Heritage institution, Asiatic Society is
incidentally mother of Indian Museum. The collection started in 1814 under
two broad categories Archeological, ethnological, technical and Geological and
Zoological materials. The society procured its items from private collection
like Col. Stuart, Major R. Taylor, General Colin Mackenzie etc.
The Society built up its Museum as a socially
useful centre by concentrating on its educational role to all people. The
society, while advocating the foundation of National Museum at Calcutta
wrote to the Govt. ‘Those who would derive most benifit’ from the
Museum, would be person, who, having acquired the first elements of
knowledge elsewhere, would are the Museum and its adjuncts as an aids in
their further pursuit of their enquires.... The majority of its visitors
would not be the pupils of any scholastic institution be the common people,
and a Museum like that contemplated ought not to be viewed as a portion of
any merely scholastic arrangement.’ The most of its collection were
transferred to the Indian Museum however there are many unique items are
still in the possession of the society.
Today the Society has a small but very
valuable collection of oil Painting and some busts,the latter memorials of
the many great men such as Sir William Jones, H. Colebrooke,J Prinsep, H.H.
Wilson, Asutosh Mukherjee, U N Brahmachari etc.
There are some rare original painting of
Peter Paul Rubens, Reni Guido, Robert Home, Domenichinr,Sir Joshua Reynolds,
Tilli Kettle, Nicholas Roerich George Chinnery, Thomas and William Daniell
etc. Through this paintings one can peep through the world of renaissance
through the touch of varying colour temperatures.
Society has an unique philatelic collection
numbering 5,599 stamps which provides a glimpses of a pan world culture and
colours. Moreover, one can have a rare glimpse of the Society’s numismatic
collection which remain an enviable heritage collection of the world.
Asiatic Society has original archival
materials like papers relating to Chitagong Armoury Raid Care and Prof.
Nirmal Kumar Bose’s collection of Gandhiji’s letters and papers. Letters
and Mss. Nathanilal Brassy Hallhead,Jomes Prinsep, Buchanam
Hamilton,Alexender and many others. There are also letters and request
letters for many Mss and coins which are in the possession of Society’s
Asiatic Society is the oldest Academic
publisher of India and over 150 years has been publishing a series of
learned books known as the Bibliotheca Indica. It is a collection of works
on oriental literatures grammars, dictionaries. There are about 2000
facsimile representing approximately 400 different titles.
After Asiatic Researcher, the Journal of the
Asiatic Society of Bengal remain a historical endeavour of the Society.
Nirbed Ray, Publication officers said ‘We have published all works from
1786 to 1865 and indicies are available’ and said that in future many of
the information will be available in Web pages. One can write to the Society
to buy those rare publication published by the Society. Those are not any of
importance from information content but have great historical value.
There are century old engravings, stones and
copper plate inscriptions which makes this society truly asiatic in context
and pan universal in content. Multi level of arts punctuated with mile stone
of different era be it through rock edicts, Mss. coins, publications remains
a matter of Indian pride and creates an avenue to celebrate next millennium
with the touch of heritage.