To keep pace with time, the 233-year-old Asiatic Society here has started digitisation of its over 50,000 manuscripts and more than a lakh journals and publications. The digitisation exercise, which started in December, last year, would be completed in three phases, Asiatic Society general secretary Dr Satyabrata Chakrabarti told PTI. Dr Chakrabarti said, “In the first phase, only the old manuscripts will be digitised.” In fact, the premier institution has been late in catching up with the world trend of digitisation of books and manuscripts. Even in Mumbai’s 211-year-old Asiatic Society library the digitisation of over one lakh books and 2,500 manuscripts started in 2015. The Asiatic Society, established on January 15, 1784 by Sir William Jones (1746-1794), has around 52,000 over 100- years-old manuscripts, all of which would be digitised in the first phase, the secretary said.
The old manuscripts include an illuminated manuscript of the Quran and an old text of Gulistan, manuscripts of Padshanamah bearing an autograph of Emperor Shahjahan. It also has Surveyor-General Colonel Mackenzie’s collection of manuscripts and drawings. “Several of these manuscripts are two centuries old. There are manuscripts whose pages will break if they are merely touched. So we are taking a very cautious approach during digitisation. This is quite a challenging job,” Chakrabarti said. The premier institution has a much larger collection of historical and other works relating to India, the whole of its Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and Urdu works, mostly in manuscript form. The deadline of March, this year for the completion of the first phase of digitisation was missed and now it is likely be over in June, he said adding the second phase would start by July-end.
The third phase would take up digitisation of the many paintings that the Asiatic Society has in its possession, he said. “Because these paintings are extremely valuable we are taking extra precautionary measures. Digitisation of the paintings requires experienced experts,” he said. The Society has paintings such as Cleopatra by Guido, Cupid asleep on Cloud by Sir Joshua Reynolds, A Ghat at Benares by Thomas Daniell, Warren Hastings by Tilly Kettle. “Once the digitisation is complete we’ll put them on the website for meta data management so that it can be available to everyone absolutely free of cost,” he said.
Other than the private company which has been engaged in the process digitisation, the Society has also spoken to some very important people like Prof Sukanto Chaudhuri and Prof Amlan Dasgupta, both attached to the Jadavpur University, in this connection. The Society is also planning to redesign its website making it more attractive to visitors, the secretary said. “We feel that the website requires a change. So we have planned to redesign it by highlighting the Society’s rich heritage,” Dr Chakrabarti said.