URBAN HERITAGE AT ASIATIC LIBRARY, MUMBAI

 In Urban Conservation (Asiatic Society)

The Urban Heritage Committee of the Rotary Club of Bombay was formed three years ago as a result of a deep interest in conserving the historical and cultural heritage of Mumbai

IT WAS FITTING THAT THE COMMITTEE
focussed on the Asiatic Library as its first major project. The library, a seat of learning established in 1804, has been housed since its inception within the imposing Town Hall, Mumbai’s iconic landmark.

The Asiatic Library is a repository of ancient books, manuscripts, maps, coins and artefacts. Its archives and holdings are a treasure trove, which includes a rare copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy (one of only two illustrated copies in existence), old coins of Ashoka’s reign and rare Buddhist relics.

The library also encourages and disseminates research. It offers a forum for public debate on critical issues, organises lectures and exhibitions.

Sadly, over the last several years, the collections have deteriorated due to lack of funding and infrastructure. Despite being such an important part of the city’s heritage, lack of knowledge and general apathy have led to disengagement. And although the Town Hall is such a familiar and well-loved landmark for Mumbaikars, few have entered
its portals.

The Society’s holdings include over 3,000 manuscripts in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Prakrit from all over India and Nepal. They are mostly on paper, but some are on palm leaf. They include technical literature on linguistics, medicine, astronomy, Jaina and other Brahmanical literature in Sanskrit, an appendix on Buddhist manuscripts, Jaina literature and manuscripts in Gujarati, Hindi and Marathi. Apart from the variety of topics covered, some of the manuscripts are distinguished for their fine calligraphy and paintings. The latest addition to the manuscript collection is the entire work of Pu La Deshpande donated by him.


What has been accomplished

CONSERVATION LABORATORY
One of the first goals undertaken by Rotary’s Urban Heritage Committee was to renovate the Conservation Laboratory so that rare and irreplaceable books could be restored. This new facility enables hundreds of books to be restored and, thereafter, digitised, every year.

ADOPT-A-BOOK
The Committee has initiated a book sponsorship programme whereby individuals and corporates provide the funds to adopt, restore and digitise a specific number of books.

MAP PRESERVATION A source of particular concern was the manner in which ancient maps, many of them hand drawn, were
being stored in damp basements. Steel cabinets have been provided to store them properly and protect them from further climatic deterioration.

UPGRADING SERVICES & FACILITIES
The committee co-sponsors the housekeeping and maintenance of library facilities to provide a better environment for staff and visitors. Work is in progress to install WiFi and to enhance the Asiatic’s website and social media presence.

ORGANISING CULTURAL EVENTS
It is important to attract more visitors to the Asiatic and Town Hall in order to make the institution once more relevant to the city. Toward this end, various well-attended functions have been organised by the Rotary Club of Bombay. These include a dance performance, several plays, lectures and cultural events.


WHAT YOU CAN DO
It is the goal of Rotary’s Urban Heritage Committee to make the Asiatic Library self-sufficient. The strategy is twofold: to increase its membership and activities, and to create sources of revenue for the institution. There are several avenues through which those who realise the importance of preserving our heritage are able to participate.

SUPPORT THE HERITAGE
Use your CSR funds to sponsor events and to restore/refurbish the Asiatic Library’s invaluable assets. Leading corporates, including Edelweiss, Hermes, JSW Steel, Phillips Capital, Raymonds and Tata Capital have contributed towards conservation projects.

ADOPT – A – BOOK
Individuals and corporates can sponsor the restoration and digitisation of one or several books. Unless attended to,
many valuable and irreplaceable books will otherwise be lost to future generations.

BECOME A MEMBER
Demonstrate your commitment to Mumbai’s heritage by becoming a member of the Asiatic Library.
• Life membership
• Family membership
• Annual membership:
Forms are available at the Library’s website: www.asiaticsociety.org.in

HOST AN EVENT
One of the Asiatic’s assets is its location and the majestic Darbar Hall. Recently renovated, this venue is available
to host meetings, conferences and cultural events.

SOME VALUABLE AND ANTIQUE BOOKS IN THE LIBRARY

– Dictionary of Malayalam and English by Rev. B Bailey, 1846
– Voyages by François Bernier, 1710
– Le Bhagavata Purana (in 4 volumes) by M. Eugène Burnouf, (French) 1840
– Dictionary of the World by R Brooke, 1772
– Voyages to the South Pole and Round the World 2 vols by Captain James Cook, 1777
– Linceo Diologo (Italian) by Galileo Galilei, 1632
– The Birds of Asia by John Gould, 1850-1883
– Rig Veda (translated into German) by Hermann Grassmann, 1876-77
– Monuments Anciens et Moderns del Hindostan (French) by L Langles, 1821
– Alif Laila (Arabic) by W.H. Macnaghten (ed), 1839
– Futewa Alemgiri (Urdu) by Sheikh Nizam, 1829
– Benares Illustrated by James Prinsep, 1831
– Aesop’s Fables (translated into Gujarati) by Bapu Shastri Pandya Raikwal, 1826
– History of the World by Sir Walter Raleigh, 1736
– An account of Indian serpents collected on the coast of Coromandel by Patrick Russell, 1796
– First Folio, William Shakespeare, 1623
– Travels in Western India by James Todd, 1839

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