On 15th January 1784 Sir William Jones who was a Poet, Linguist and above all an Orientalist par excellence invited thirteen gentlemen, the elite of the European community, like Justice John Hyde, John Carnac, Henry Vanisttart, John Shore, Charles Wilkins, Francis Gladwin and Jonathan Duncan in the Grand Jury Room of the Supreme Court at Calcutta with Sir Robert Chambers who was in the Chair, and a resolution was passed for the establishment of the Asiatick Society.
‘The bound of investigations will be the geographical limits of Asia, and within these limits its enquiries will be extended to whatever is performed by a man or produced by nature’ – a statement contained in the memorandum of Articles of the Asiatic Society was prepared by Sir William Jones in that historic meeting. Thus began the long journey of the Asiatic Society, Kolkata.
The name of the Society underwent several changes during the last two centuries such as the Asiatick Society of Bengal (1832-1935), The Royal Asiatick Society of Bengal (1936-1951) and in July 1952 it came to be known as the Asiatic Society.
With the march of time, the Asiatic Society had to expand its range of objectives and consequently the area of research. Of course it has not gone beyond the basic mandate issues by its founder Sir William Jones that it would work with “what is performed by Man and produced by Nature.” This instruction is being fully adhered to till now, consistent with the requirements of ever- expanding centre in human knowledge in modern times. Thus no disjuncture was allowed in the heritage and tradition of the Society.
Although the Asiatic Society was born in the premises of the Supreme Court of Bengal in the in the year 1784 on 15th January it was shifted to a newly constructed building at 1, Park Street, Kolkata-700016 in the year 1808. Augmentation of Research activities, collection of manuscripts from various sources and study of Indian Culture and Civilization were the immediate aims. The Asiatic Society was registered in the year 1961 as per the Society’s Act. It was a members’ society. The pioneering role of the members of the Society was remarkable. In the year 1984 on 25th June the Asiatic Society was declared an Institute of National Importance by an Act of Parliament consequent upon which the Asiatic Society Act 1964, Regulations and By-Laws came into force. The provisions of the Act shall have immediate effect notwithstanding anything contained in the memorandum or regulations or the West Bengal Societies Registration Act, 1961 or any other law for the time being in force.
The main objectives of the Society are :
- to organize, initiate and promote researches in Humanities and Science in Asia,
- to establish, build, erect, construct, maintain and run research Institutions, reading rooms, museums, auditoriums and lecture halls,
- to organize lectures, seminars, symposia, discussions, meetings and award of medals, prizes and scholarships in furtherance of the objectives.
The Administration, direction and management of affairs of the Society are vested in Council elected by the members of the Society. The office bearers and other members of the Council consist of President (1), Vice-Presidents (4), General Secretary (1), treasurer (1), 9 Sectional Secretaries as Library Secretary, Publication Secretary, philological Secretary, Joint Philological Secretary, Physical Science Secretary, Biological Science Secretary, Anthropological Secretary, Historical and Archaeological Secretary, Medical Secretary, 4 Members of the Council with 4 nominees of the Govt. of India, 1 nominee of the Government of West Bengal and one Representative of the Asiatic Society Employees’ Union. Besides the office bearers and other members of the Council, there is a Planning Board of the Asiatic Society, the Chairman of which is Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, Standing Finance Committee, the Chairman of which is the Additional Secretary and Financial Advisor of the Government of India, Ministry of Culture. The Asiatic Society is fully funded by Government of India since it has been declared as an Institute of National Importance by an Act of Parliament in the year 1984, 25th June.
The Asiatic Society is running in full swing in tune with its objectives as laid down in the Asiatic Society Act 1984, Regulations and By-Laws. The 234-year-old institution is acknowledged as Alma Mater of many institutions as the Indian Museum, Indian National Science Academy etc. in this country. It is the fountainhead of all Surveys in India and many institutions of this metropolis. Its administration is run by the Council of the Asiatic Society with its own capacity. The members of the Council are elected by the members of the Society as per Regulation and the learned Council members are of experts of different academic as well as administrative disciplines.