Ludo Rocher and Rosanne Rocher, "Indian Epigraphy and the Asiatic Society: The First Fifty Years"


This essay documents the crucial role the Asiatic Society, founded in Calcutta in 1784, played in the development of Indian epigraphy. Though not engaged in targeted excavations, the Society made the deposit of accidentally discovered inscriptions a primary goal of its museum. An examination, not only of the articles published in its first organ, the 20 volumes of Asiatic Researches, but also of the proceedings of the Society’s meetings and the correspondence of its most prominent contributors, shows the emphasis the Society placed on adequately deciphered and translated inscriptions, a process in which Indian pandits played a significant, if spottily acknowledged, role. For all the interest its founder, Jones, Wilkins, and other early members showed in inscriptions, however, their importance for the reconstruction of Indian history became programmatic only two decades after the Society’s founding, with private and public defining statements by Colebrooke.