Born in England in 1771, Edward Moor sailed to India as a cadet at the age of 11. Since he spent a large part of his early years in India working for the East India Company, Moor came to be known for his proficiency of the “native tongue”. A participant in the British detachment which accompanied the Maratha army in their campaign against Tipu Sultan from 1790 to 1792, Moor decided to chronicle his times in India. He not only described the campaign but also left a delightful account of what he saw en route to Srirangapatna and back to Bombay in A Narrative of the Operations of Captain Little’s Detachment and of the Mahratta Army Commanded by Purseram Bhow.
This account, along with his other works such as Oriental Fragments and Hindu Infanticide, remain a fine and rare chronicle of the contemporary Indian social life while Moor’s The Hindu Pantheon is a collection of pictures and engravings of Hindu deities aimed to introduce Hinduism to an English readership. Yet, few are aware of Moor’s contribution, a scholar attached to the Literary Society of Bombay — now, the Asiatic Society of Mumbai — to unprejudiced chronicling of Imperial India.
In 2014, the Asiatic Society published a monograph on Moor that talks about his works and examines his views on India, which has been penned by Dr Mridula Ramanna and edited by historian Aroon Tikekar. This, however, was only the first of a series and was titled Founders and Guardians of The Asiatic Society of Mumbai. “We were keen to explore and also bring into spotlight the works by scholars such as Edward Moor, who contributed significantly to iconography, numismatics, geology, geography and even folklore at a time when Indians were hardly a part of such archiving and studies,” explains Tikekar, who commissioned the series and is the editor of the series.
Four more such monographs have since been published, based on the Jervis brothers (George Risto Jervis and Thomas Best Jervis), John Faithfull Fleet, Sir George Birdwood and Alexander Kinloch Forbes. A five-year project with a total of 25 monographs, the Asiatic Society aims to publish five such books — roughly 100 pages each — per year. The Ministry of Culture has also financially aided the project.
The Asiatic Society has evolved through four phases: The Literary Society of Bombay (1804-1829), Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, London (1829-1847), the Asiatic Society of Bombay (1847-1995), and the Asiatic Society of Mumbai (1995-present). “Many of these scholars who were closely attached to the Society, were born and brought up in India and spoke several Indian languages fluently. They were Indophiles who travelled widely to chronicle the country they had come to love. Yet, the contribution of several of them remains closeted in the archives of the Society. The monographs, thus, are a way of charting the history of the Asiatic Society,” says Tikekar.