Official website of The Asiatic Society of Mumbai - History


The Asiatic Society of Mumbai forms part of the network of institutions created by the British to generate, systematize and disseminate knowledge of India and Orient: a vast and cumulative body of information, learning and knowledge which became constituted into the field of Indology. It was encyclopaedic in its scope, embracing diverse areas like numismatics, epigraphy, anthropology, history, archaeology, linguistics, philology, natural history, geology, philosophy, literature and theology.

The Asiatic Society of Mumbai was founded by Sir James Mackintosh, a distinguished lawyer, jurist and public figure in England who became the Recorder or the King’s Judge for Bombay. Known then as the Literary Society of Bombay, it met for the first time on Nov 26, 1804 and aimed at “promoting useful knowledge, particularly such as its now immediately connected with India.”  Its formally stated objective was the investigation and encouragement of Oriental Arts, Sciences and Literature.  In this venture, Mackintosh was influenced by Sir William Jones who, two decades earlier, had established the Asiatic Society of Bengal.  The Literary Society purchased the collections of the Medical and Literary Library, a private library founded in 1789, and this formed the nucleus of the Library.  In 1826, the Literary Society merged with the recently established Royal Society of Great Britain and Ireland (RAS) as its Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (BBRAS).  In 1830, it moved into the Town Hall Building, towards the construction of which it made a contribution of Rs 10,000/-.  In 1873, the Geographical Society of Bombay and in 1896 the Anthropological Society of Bombay merged with the BBRAS, bringing in their collections.

In 1841, the Society started publishing a journal titled Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society which continues to be published under the name Journal of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai.  That was also the year the Society began admitting Indians as members.  In 1954, it became separate from RAS and renamed itself as The Asiatic Society of Bombay and in 200_  "The Asiatic Society of Mumbai."

The personalities intimately connected with the Society in its early years included administrators, jurists, educationists, missionaries many of whom are scholars as well.  Many were important contributors to the Indian renaissance.  Many were active and influential in public life, engaging with issues of social reform and nationalism.  The subjects included within its scope, and the personalities associated with it – both British and Indian – have rendered it inevitable that in its two centuries of existence, the Society has been in close step with nationally significant intellectual currents.

The vestibule, and the Durbar Hall of the Asiatic Society are dotted with statues, busts and portraits of the outstanding scholars, administrators and philanthropists who contributed to the Society, through their research papers, through donating money and their collections of rare books, manuscripts and other antiquities.

The Town Hall which houses the Asiatic Society of Mumbai is heritage building, located deep in the city’s historic Fort area, shaped by colonial geography, architecture and sculpture.  Built on the Bombay Green, it has an axial orientation and west facing view.  As one stands on the top step of the main entrance stairway, the magnificent city vista spread out in front offers, if one looks carefully enough, a slice of history.  The circular Elphinstone Garden ( now Horniman Cirlce) in front, St. Thomas Cathedral and Flora Fountain ( now Hutatma Chowk) beyond, Mumbai Samachar building, the area’s oldest Agiary and other beautiful residential and office buildings make a walk in the neighbourhood an experience full of interwoven textures of past and present.  The dramatic flight of 30 steps up the Town Hall, the pedimented portico with its eight Doric columns, the wrought iron divided Regency banister leading up to the vestibule, the easy chairs in the Periodicals Room with the matching footstools that facilitate browsing and the majestic Durbar Hall all combine to create and impression of the Society as organically connected through colonial history to its immediate environs, while yet remaining its crest jewel.  “The most magnificent structure that taste and munificence combined have as yet erected in India”, said Sir John Malcolm, Governor of Mumbai in 1930.

Steps in Time