Setting Up The Asiatic Society- How This Institution Of History Began
The Asiatic Society of Bengal was started in 1784 as a site of colonial knowledge. It is one of the most fascinating institutions even today, with colonial paintings and sculptures, which are placed amidst a sea of books! Here is a history of how this building came to be and how this massive archive was established by the British:
Tipu Sultan’s Library which was seized and looted after the Battle of Seringapatam in 1799, in which battle Mysore was captured by the British, was the first significant collection that officiated the Asiatic Society Collection. It had some rare books including various versions of the Quran, as well as Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s book, Padshahnama which contained the emperor’s signature on the first page, and another precious early-modern manuscript called Gulistan written by SadiShirazi. These books are prized possessions in the Asiatic Society Collections. The Oriental Collection is therefore the basis of the Asiatic Society.
The First Catalogue
Charles Stewart made the first catalog of this library. Stewart categorized the books according to the language that they are written in and then subcategorized them as per genre. The catalog includes predominantly books, written in Arabic, Persian, Hindi, and Dakhani and encompasses a wide range of topics, ranging from histories and biographies about Central Asia, Indian histories, Ecclesiastical histories, Sufism, ethics, fables, letters, arts, and sciences, Arithmetic, Astronomy, Physics, Philosophy, philology, Arabic books, lexicography, theology, jurisprudence, Hadis and Qurans as well as commentaries on them, books of poetry, and prayers. Altogether, he lists around 2000 books.
In 1808, when the building was finally established, requests were made through correspondences exchanged regarding shipping this collection to the Asiatic Society from its location at the time at Fort William College in Calcutta. In 1836, the rest of the collections of books, meant for the Asiatic Society of Building were shipped off there. It was a golden year for the Asiatic society, as it was this shift that ensured the rich collections.
Asiatic Society Today
Today Asiatic Society is composed of two massive buildings in the middle of Park Street, still open to the public and interested readers. This building is composed of multiple sections each containing precious books and manuscripts, divided in terms of language and subject. While the Urdu-Persian and Sanskrit sections are in the older building, the new building also contains numerous books of different genres.