Asiatic Society (1784) The first learned organisation in Bengal to study Asian civilisations scientifically, particularly of South Asia. The idea of founding an association for pursuing systematic research on Asia in general and South Asia in particular first came from Sir william jones (1746-1794) who joined the Calcutta Supreme Court as a Puisne Judge in 1783. Already a group of Company servants including nathaniel brassey halhed, charles wilkins, HT Colebrooke was quite actively involved in oriental studies. warren hastings, the Governor General, himself was deeply interested in Indian classical languages and literature. Therefore, Jones' proposal to set up a regular organisation for oriental studies had received enthusiastic support from other colleagues at the fort william.
On January 15, 1784, thirty such interested Europeans met in the Grand Jury Room of the Supreme Court at Calcutta and adopted the proposal of Jones for founding the institution, which was christened as "The Asiatick Society". William Jones became its first President and continued in this position until his death in 1794. Warren Hastings was made the Patron of the Society. Since then the position of the Patron was held by the Governor General and lately by the Bengal Governor down to 1947. George Hillarow Barlow was elected the first Secretary of the Society. Any European person interested in cultivating and promoting knowledge could seek membership of the Society. The membership of the Asiatic Society was thrown open to learned natives in 1829 when five of them - Prasanna Kumar Thakur, dwarkanath tagore, Shibchandra Das, Rasamoy Datta and Ram Kamal Sen - were elected members. Since then persons of all nationalities irrespective of religion, race and caste could apply for membership.
There had been considerable confusion as to the name of the Society and of its series of publications. The original name was "Asiatick Society". In 1825 the antique "K" was dropped and henceforth it became "Asiatic Society". From 1832, the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal began to be published under the editorship of james prinsep as a private concern, though it mainly published the research reports of the Asiatic Society. In 1842, the Asiatic Society acquired Prinsep's journal as its own organ, but keeping its title intact, thereby, creating confusion between the name of the organiszation and the name of its journal. An attempt was made in 1899 to change the name of the Society to "Asiatic Society of Bengal" but the proposal was voted down by the general assembly. A Royal charter was obtained in 1936 and the Society was then renamed "The Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal". At a general meeting held on January 2, 1950, the organization was again named "Asiatic Society". Confusion exists about the title of the Society's journal as well. Its unofficial organ Asiatick Researches continued from 1788 to 1849. The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal continued from 1832 to 1934. From 1935 to 1952, it was called the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal. From 1953, the Journal came to be known as the Journal of the Asiatic Society.
The most prestigious and influential work of the Asiatic Society is its publications under the Bibliotheca Indica series. It consists of an extraordinary series of oriental texts in Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Bengali, Tibetan and other Asian languages and their translations. The Society's Library, Archives and Museum have rich collections.
The Asiatic Society, located now at its own site at 1, Park Street, Calcutta, had played the pioneering and most crucial role in discovering India's past. The reconstruction of the ancient Indian history is almost entirely the achievement of the Asiatic Society. The great Indologists and Orientalists like William Jones, Charles Wilkins, HT Colebrooke, BH Hodson, Francis Wilford, Samuel Davis, HH Wilson, James Prinsep, Edward Fell, had created their intellectual marvels at the Asiatic Society, which gave them a forum for their investigation through its publication facilities and Journals - Asiatick Researches, Gleanings in Science, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and various Memoirs. The proceedings and actual publications of the Society shall reveal its role in the reconstruction of the history of modern south Asia from the debris of the past.
What is particularly remarkable is the fact that the Asiatic Society had a tremendous impact on the trends of the intellectual exercises of the world. For the study of mankind, Orientalism emerged as a powerful tool to interpret civilisations. Learned organisztions like that of the Asiatic Society were springing up all over the civilised world. In 1829 was established the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland with its chapter at Bombay, called Bombay Royal Asiatic Society. Asiatic Societies were also established in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Tokyo, and America.
The organizational set-up of the Society was adopted from that of the Royal Society and is still maintained by and large. From the beginning it had a patron who had been always the head of the State. As in the past the Society has now a Council to administer its affairs with a President, a Vice President, a Treasurer, and a number of Additional Members in charge of various disciplines. The Society admits members, honorary members, associate members and corresponding members. The Council elects outstanding orientalists to fellowship. The Society's businesses are transacted in its Monthly Meetings. The Council is elected by members for a term of one year. At present the Asiatic Society is funded by the Central Government under the Asiatic Society Act, 1984 which declared 'the Asiatic Society in Calcutta to be an institution of national importance'.