Maharshtra govt sanctions Rs 5 cr for Asiatic Society to digitise rare items

The Asiatic Society has a collection of over 1,00,000 books, 2,500 manuscripts and 1,200 maps - some of which date back to the 12th century.

Written by Dipti Singh | Mumbai | Published:February 6, 2016 1:19 am

The Maharashtra government on Thursday officially sanctioned Rs 5 crore to the 211-year-old Asiatic Society library to kickstart a project to digitise its rare books and manuscripts.

The Higher and Technical Education Department on Thursday issued a Government Resolution (GR) announcing the move. The library has a collection of over 1,00,000 books, 2,500 manuscripts and 1,200 maps – some of which date back to the 12th century.

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Under the project, all these rare collections will be digitised and the output will be saved in the form of DVDs and microfilms, which will be accessible to members, researchers, and scholars.

“Besides preservation, the project is expected to open up the treasures of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai to scholars across the world,” an official from the society said.

Maharashtra government had already made an announcement to sanction Rs 5 crore to the Asiatic Society for this project in August last year, the digitisation programme was inaugurated by Maharashtra Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao. However a GR to this effect was issued only on February 4, 2016.

The library has a total of 2,55,463 items. As many as 15,000 of these books have been categorised as rare and valuable, of which a few are even classified as first editions.

Some of the rare books include two volumes of Captain James Cook’s A Voyage Towards The South Pole and Round the World (1777), Galileo Linceo Galilei’s Dialogo (1632), Hermann Grassmann’s German translation of Rigveda (1876-77), Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World (1836), William Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623), John Gould’s The Birds of Asia written between 1850 and 1883 and Hindostan – a French book written in 1821.

The library also has collections of newspapers dating back to 1801.

Among the 3,000 manuscripts are the original 14th century Italian manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy(1350) and the Suryasiddhanta with bhashya of Candelvara (Astronomy, Sanskrit) that dates back to the 12th century. Besides this the library has a collection of over 12,000 coins including the gold coin of Kumar Gupta, a gold muhar of Akbar and coins of Shivaji Maharaj’s era.

According to officials, the society is currently facing a challenge to provide all these books online.

“Owing to the copyright policy on some books, we are facing issues on making it available online. Access to those digitised copies will be then have to be restricted to the library,”said an official from Asiatic society.

Meanwhile, the government will be disbursing 50 per cent of the total sanctioned amount, that amounts to Rs 2.5 crore, to the society soon. The rest will be disbursed after a review of how this Rs 2.5 crore is spent, sources said. The Director of Libraries, Mumbai, Maharashtra, has been appointed as the sanctioning authority for the project.

The Asiatic Society will have to submit the reports of all work done under the project to the director of libraries.

Meanwhile the director of libraries is expected to inspect and review the digitisation of rare and handwritten books and submit his report to the state government.

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