Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Budget windfall spurs Asiatic Society's Delhi debut, expansion plans

The 225-year-old Asiatic Society, the pioneering institution promoting Indo-Asian culture, books and heritage in the country, will make its maiden foray into the capital in 2010 from its two-century old Kolkata home.

The Kolkata-based society, set up in 1784 by William Jones, has benefited the most in the 2009-2010 union budget's culture outlay with an allocation of Rs.28.6 crore, logging an increase of Rs.19.34 crore, next to the Archaeological Survey of India, since last year.

"We are scouting for prime land in the capital to set up an extended publication cell of the Asiatic Society, one of the country's oldest heritage publishing houses," a top official of the society told IANS over telephone from Kolkata.

"We hope to acquire it soon. In fact, most of our research papers and the four Asiatic Society journals are picked up by Delhi-centric publishers, who sell them in the capital and in the adjacent states," the official said.

The Asiatic Society, which celebrated its 225th anniversary Jan 15, 2009 with a gala ceremony attended by President Pratibha Patil and Vice President Hamid Ansari, was declared an institute of national importance on its 200th birthday, 25 years ago by then prime minister late Indira Gandhi vide the Asiatic Society Act V (1984).

"Since then, the society has been expanding and recently relocated to a new building from its old 201-year-old headquarters on Park Street. We are in the process of adding two more floors which will cost us Rs.10.5 crore. It will be used from the budget outlay. The plan, which was stuck because of the heritage building of the old Asiatic Society next door, was approved by the ASI and the West Bengal government in April," the official said.

The Asiatic Society is an integral part of the country's British heritage with its collection of 47,000 heritage manuscripts in 26 scripts, 117,000 books, 79,000 journals, 293 old maps, 182 paintings, 2,500 pamphlets and 2,150 photographs.

The earliest printed book preserved in this library is Juli Firmici's "Astronomiconum Libri" published in 1499 AD. The most important historical manuscripts in the possession of the Society include an ancient illustrated Quran and the original text of "Padshanamah (Shahnamah)" bearing Emperor Shah Jahan's signature.

The society's first accession of importance was a gift from the Seringapatnam Committee in 1808 that comprised a collection of books and art works from the palace library of Tipu Sultan.

The society, said the official, will use Rs.3.11 crore from the budget outlay to modernise and digitise its library and manuscript section for "better preservation of books".

"We publish one rare book every month and four annual Asiatic Society journals; but we did not have the money to archive them digitally," the official said.

Besides, the society will spend Rs.3.6 crore for a new campus in Salt Lake in Kolkata, Rs.1 crore for the modernisation of the existing publication unit, Rs.1.5 crore on international seminars, including one of Darwin, whose original works have been in the Asiatic Society journals and Rs.35 lakh on refurbishing the interiors, the official said.

The Asiatic Society will also set up nine core faculties on Indology and ancient language studies.

"The rest of the money - nearly Rs 8 crore - will be kept as a cushion to tide over the cost escalations," the official said.

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