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ASIATIC SOCIETY OF BENGAL 1784

ASIATIC SOCIETY OF BENGAL 1784

  • The Asiatic Society was founded by Sir William Jones in January 1784 to enhance and further the cause of Oriental research.
  • A circular-letter was sent by Jones to a selected number of British residents of Calcutta with a view to establish a society for the Asiatic studies.
  • The Memorandum of Articles of the Asiatic Society, prepared by Jones said – “The bounds of investigations will be the geographical limits of Asia, and within these limits its enquiries will be extended to whatever is performed by man or produced by nature.”
  • Notable early members were Charles Wilkins and Alexander Hamilton (the cousin of the American statesman Alexander Hamilton).
  • From 1784 to 1828, only Europeans were elected members of the Society. In 1829 a number of Indians were elected members one of which was Dwarakanath Tagore.
  • According to Jones, Asia was the “nurse of sciences” and the “inventress of delightful and useful arts.”
  • He emphasised the superiority of Sanskrit as a language: “The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure, more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either.”
  • In 1837, James Prinsep, the then Secretary of the Society, deciphered the Brahmi Script and was able to read the Asokan Edicts. It was a world event that revolutionised all future Oriental studies and contributed to the growth of Comparative Philology.                                  ASIATIC SOCIETY OF BENGAL 1784
  • The Society extended its helping hand in paving the way to the Indian Renaissance through publishing classical Sanskrit works with their English translations, and the first book chosen for this was the Sanskrit epic, Ramayana. A valuable collection of books came from the Palace Library of Tipu Sultan in 1808.
  • Some of the famous contributions of the Asiatic Society during the first thirty years were in such diverse fields as Indo-European Language and Culture; on Royal Grants of Land, on Astronomical Calculations, on the Vedas, a Sketch of the Sikhs, on the Ancient Geography of India and on Early History of Algebra.

The Society also contributed immensely with translations into English of: 

  • Bhagavad Gita (1785), Hitopadesa (1787) by Charles Wilkins;
  • Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Shakuntalam (1789), Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda (1789), Manusmriti (1794) and editing of Ritusamhara (1792) by William Jones.
  • Digest of Hindu Law on Contracts and Successions (1798), Sanskrit lexicon Amarakosha (1808) by Colebrooke.
  • Kalidasa’s Meghaduta (1813), translation of eighteen principal Puranas into English, Kalhana’s Rajatarangini (1825), and Select specimen of the Theatre of the Hindus (1827) by Wilson (also translated into French and German)
  • Yoga Vasistha by John Shore
  • Alexander Csoma de Koros Grammar of Tibetan Language (1834), etc.

Most of the works of the Society were (and still are) research-based and research-oriented, and consist of a series of several hundred Oriental texts in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Bengali, Tibetan and other Asian languages, both in original and translation.                                                    ASIATIC SOCIETY OF BENGAL 1784

Many historical monographs and Oriental studies, all fruits of original research, were brought out in them.

Archaeological and Geological surveys, census reports, treatises on law and revenue systems, all these prepared the solid basis for all future researches on Asia and the Orient.

 

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