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Over 1 lakh rare books, 2,500 manuscripts set to be digitised

Maharashtra allots Rs. 5 crore for ambitious project.

August 09, 2015 10:03 pm | Updated March 29, 2016 02:24 pm IST - MUMBAI:

Maharashtra Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao (second from right) looking at some of the rare items from the AsiaticSociety’s collection after inaugurating the digitisation programme last week.

Maharashtra Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao (second from right) looking at some of the rare items from the AsiaticSociety’s collection after inaugurating the digitisation programme last week.

The Maharashtra government has flagged off a programme to digitise over 1,00,000 books and 2,500 manuscripts, some of which date back to the 12th century, at the 211-year-old Asiatic Society library in Mumbai.

The digitisation programme was inaugurated by Maharashtra Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao this week. Under the project, the archives of the library will be digitised and saved in the form of CDs and microfilms, which will be accessible to members, researchers, and scholars. The Maharashtra government recently released a grant of Rs. 5 crore to the society for the project.

Collection of coins too

The library has a collection of 2,55,463 books and bound volumes of periodicals. 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 antique books include two volumes of Captain James Cook’s AVoyageTowards the South Pole and Round the World (1777), Galileo Linceo Galilei’s Dialogo (1632), Hermann Grassmann’s German translation of Rig Veda (1876-77), Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World (1836), William Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623).

Also available are John Gould’s The Birds of Asia written in 1850-1883 and Hindostan , a French book written in 1821. Newspapers dating back to 1801 are stacked in neat books. 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. The library also has in its collection of more than 12,000 coins the gold coin of Kumar Gupta, a gold muhar of Akbar and coins of Shivaji Maharaj.

Asked if all books will be available online post digitisation, Mr. Kale said: “We are facing challenges owing to the copyright policy on some books so we are in talks on how to resolve it. In that case, access to those digitised copies will be restricted to the library.”

Time-consuming work

Society president S.G. Kaletold The Hindu that one of the major benefits of the project was that the originals could be preserved. “The online portal would also allow scholars access valuable collections, thus allowing us to let the knowledge reach whoever is willing,” Mr. Kale said. Attempts are being made to produce a catalogue of coins for easy reference.

“The digitisation process involves scanning over 14 lakh pages and will certainly take time,” Mr. Kale said.

The Asiatic Society of Bombay was founded by Sir James Mackintosh, a lawyer, jurist and public figure in England, to disseminate knowledge about the India and the Orient. Then known as the Literary Society of Bombay, it met for the first time on November 26, 1804, nearly two decades after Sir William Jones had set up the Asiatic Society of Bengal. In 1826, the Literary Society merged with the Royal Asiatic Society of Britain and Ireland, and four years later moved into the imposing facade of Townhall with its tall pillars and the flight of stairs. In 1954, it ended its 128-year-long association with the Royal Asiatic Society.

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