One of the most picturesque spots in the city, The Asiatic Society of Mumbai is also a rich repository of rare documents, books, periodicals, manuscripts and maps. However, time has ravaged some of the invaluable resources available at the library, which is now over 200 years old. Some of the material available, which dates back to well over 300 years, has been in a state of despair, with the paper too brittle to even touch.
After years of efforts and lobbying, The Asiatic Society of Mumbai launched its digital library initiative, http://www.granthsanjeevani.com, on January 15. The event was attended by Minister of State for Culture Manish Sharma, who inaugurated the facility. The website, says society president Sharad G Kale, makes available nearly 2,000 manuscripts and 10,000 books from the collection. “An almost complete run of the Bombay Chronicle (1913-1959), and select volumes from 19th century Bombay newspapers, the Bombay Courier and the Bombay Gazette are on the portal. Government publications and reports from the nineteenth century can also be accessed,” Kale told The Indian Express.
The project that took off in 2015 after the government sanctioned Rs 5 crore for digitisation of the books. Kale says the fund was good to begin the project but not enough to see it through till the completion stage. “There have been several kind donors, who have helped too,” he said. The resources are available at an annual membership fee of Rs 2,400. Discounts are available for society members.
Granth Sanjeevani has a wide array of books — on history, literature, botany, theology and many other subjects, some of which date back to the 13th century. For instance, there is a rare copy of Rumi’s Masnawi in Persian from 1245. There are also manuscripts on astronomy and mathematics from 16th century, written in the Devanagri script. Also available are a range of history books, such as one on the mutinies in the Rajputana, published by a European scholar, and another that speaks about the reign of Alauddin Khilji in India, among other rulers.
The website has been designed with filters that will help users search on bases on the format, author, subject, language, publisher, place of publication and year of publishing, alongside the ‘search’ tab, making it user-friendly. Kale says a considerable effort went into updating the catalogue.
While one can view the repository along with catalogued briefs of all items, the texts and material will be available to read only after the payment of fees. Kale said it took considerable effort and several test runs to ensure the website is piracy-proof. And to counter piracy while microfilming the books, the company handling the digitisation worked at the Asiatic Society building. The data is on hard drives, copies of which are safely deposited in a bank vault. Now, while the society works towards adding more resources to Granth Sanjeevani, efforts are on to preserve the hard copies, said Kale. “Pages of some books had to pretty much be pieced together because they were falling apart. These books are part of our heritage. We are raising funds and also looking for the right method to preserve the books,” he added.