Asiatic Society of Bengal and Bombay UPSC

Asiatic Society of Bengal, scholarly society founded on Jan. 15, 1784, by Sir William Jones, a British lawyer and Orientalist, to encourage Oriental studies. At its founding, Jones delivered the first of a famous series of discourses.

  • An outstanding scholar from the University of Oxford, Jones arrived in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on Sept. 25, 1783, as a supreme court judge. The society was founded shortly after his arrival.
  • The Asiatic Society had the support and encouragement of Warren Hastings, the governor-general (1772–85) of Bengal, though he declined its presidency.
  • Until Jones’s death (1794) it was the vehicle for his ideas about the importance of Hindu culture and learning and about the vital role of Sanskrit in the Aryan languages. Indians were first admitted as members in 1829.
  • Headquarters are in Kolkata. The society owns an art collection that includes paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and Joshua Reynolds.
  • The society’s library contains some 100,000 general volumes, and its Sanskrit section has more than 27,000 books, manuscripts, prints, coins, and engravings. The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal is published regularly.

Functions

The Government has declared the Society as an institution of national importance.

Library

The library of the Asiatic Society has a huge collection of about 1,17,000 books and 79,000 journals of all the major languages of the world.It also has a collection of large number of maps, microfiches, microfilms, paintings, pamphlets and photographs. JuliFirmici’sAstronomicorumLibri published in 1499 is the earliest book preserved here. The library also has large number of manuscripts of different languages and scripts. Most notable one is the manuscript of PadshahNama bearing the signature of Emperor Shahjahan.

Museum

The museum of the Asiatic society was established in 1814 by N. Wallich. It has transferred most of its collections to Indian museum of Culcutta. However it still possesses some masterpieces like a rock edict of Asoka (c. 250 BCE), Joshua Reynolds’ Cupid asleep on Cloud and Guido Cagnacci’s Cleopatra etc.

Others

Asiatic Society, Mumbai

The Asiatic Society is housed in the iconic Town Hall building in the colonial-era Fort precinct and has witnessed the evolution of the city’s intelligentsia in its long history.

  • It is a learned society whose activities include conducting historical research, awarding historians, and running an institute of post-graduate studies.
  • Its library, home to over 1 lakh books, consists of rare manuscripts contributed to it by the East India Company.
  • It has generous donations by the likes of Mountstuart Elphinstone, Jagannath Shankarsheth, Cowasji Jehangir, and Bhau Daji Lad.
  • The library recently scrapped its referral system for membership, thus expanding access to its resources.
  • Among the prized collections of the Society is an original copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and coins issued by Kumaragupta (5th century), Akbar (16th century), and Shivaji (17th century).
  • The Society offers Junior Fellowships for research and recommends scholars for the Tagore National Fellowship of the Ministry of Culture.
  • The Governor of Maharashtra is the Society’s Chief Patron.

A 200-year history

  • The Asiatic Society began its journey in 1804 as the Literary Society of Bombay.
  • It was founded by Sir James Mackintosh, a Scottish colonial administrator who had a keen interest in Oriental studies.
  • In 1826, the Literary Society became the Mumbai arm of the London-based Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland and came to be called the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (BBRAS).
  • In its early days, membership of the Society was restricted to European “gentlemen”, and the “natives” were not allowed to join until 1841.
  • The Bombay Geographical Society and the Anthropological Society of Bombay merged with the BBRAS in 1873 and 1896 respectively.
  • In 1954, the institution was severed from its London parent and became the Asiatic Society of Bombay. In 2002, it acquired its present name.
  • According to the Society’s website, its journal has been in publication since 1841.

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