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Asiatic Society of Bombay

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Asiatic Society

Mains level : Read the attached story


  • On Saturday, the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, which was started by and for white European men in the early 19th century, elected the first woman president in the 215 years of its existence.
  • Prof Vispi Balaporia will head the institution that is a treasure house of remarkable historical artifacts.

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.

Back2Basics

Asiatic Society

  • The Asiatic Society was founded by civil servant Sir William Jones on 15 January 1784 in a meeting presided over by Sir William Jones, Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Calcutta.
  • It aimed to enhance and further the cause of Oriental research.
  • In 1832 the name was changed to “The Asiatic Society of Bengal” and again in 1936 it was renamed as “The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal”.
  • One of the main activities of the Asiatic Society was to collect the old manuscripts of India. There was an enormous collection of Sanskrit manuscripts with the society.
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