Jump to content
The Education Forum

Work of “Mild Orientalism” in Asia

Sumir Sharma

Recommended Posts

This article refers to following quotes of Shanet Clark.

“In the “Indian” school of thought a mild “orientalism” attempted, in general, to limit harsher authoritarianism and militant expansionism, but was generally overruled by the “London” authorities (exemplified by the Duke of Wellington).”

“Hastings’s new interest in Persian and Hindustani language and culture grew slowly within the dominant ideology of Imperial Britain. The British reduced Hindustani dialects and Persian court traditions to their deference mechanisms. Terms of address were modified to suit British protocols, the wearing of shoes was noticed and enforced by the British and traditional “Moors” or pidgin exchanges in the trading vernacular were dropped. The British remained very dependent on the honesty and work of the translator corps and many signs of disrespect were ignored. John Gilchrist, a Bengal Army Surgeon from Edinburgh made a mark on this school of authoritarian, paternal “orientalism” with his Oriental Linguist and Dialogues, which taught brief commands and how to “berate servants.” Short, pre-emptory commands and declamatory orders mark Gilchrist’s poular approach to communication in India.”

“The interests and ideology of the King, Prime Minister and Duke of Wellington in London were ascendant in the early 19th century, at the expense of the East India Company in general and the “Indian” faction especially. Political intrigue at Westminster and Whitehall, concern with the Czar’s actions for example, had taken pre-eminence over the needs of the British company in India, and certainly over the needs of the Indians themselves. Equally unsettling to those negotiating the British position in India “the Court of Directors guiding philosophy was firmly anchored in London.” This Court was “stacked” against Indian field veterans and the interests of the Company in India was subsumed to unrealistic military policies arrived at in London.”


The Structure of British Authority in Colonial India: Theories and Applications from the Elizabethan Period to 1857 In: State of India: Affaires Brief

by Shanet Clark

Apropos, I desire to present following write up in support of the “Indian” faction which worked as follows in face of the dominance of the Duke of Wellington and his London Faction and the Board of Directors.

A list of the works undertaken by Orientalists under the aegis of Asiatic Society of India and Fort William College when the Duke of Wellington was dictating the course of the British Indian Empire being raised by East India Company presents a different picture of that period. The following works stand testimony to the preceding statement.

Sir Charles Wilkins in 1785 presented the translation of Bahavadgita (included in the eighteenth chapter of Mahabharata, most probably in the fourth century); translation of Hitopodesa in 1787 and Grammar of Sanskrit Language.

Sir William Jones tranlsated Kalidasa’s Sakuntala in 1789, Gitagovinda in 1789, Manusamhita in 1794 and edited Ritusamhara in 1792.

In case of Persian literature, Sir William Jones translated Laila Majnu.

Colebrooke translated Vivadadhangarnava of Jagannath Tarkapanchanan under the title of Digest of Hindu Law on Contracts and Succession in 1798. It is a book which well read lawyers still use in courts for their pleading and has force of evidence in many judgements.

In 1808, Colebrooke published Amarakosha, a Sanskrit dictionary of Gupta period.

H. H. Wilson published Kalidasa’s Meghaduta in 1813. He published Kalhana’s Rajatarangani in 1825. Rajatarangani, is considered as the first historic book of India produced in the twelfth century. It is the history of Kashmir up to the rule of Varmans. It was after this period, that the Islamic rule was established in Kashmir which contradicts the claims of the JKLF, a separatist movement of Kashmir. Wilson also arranged the translation of eighteen Puranas into English during his secretary tenure of the Asiatic socieyt from 1811 to 1833.

Sir John Shore, who had contended the legal basis of Permanent Settlement of Cornwallis, published an English translation of Yoga Vasistha by Ptanjali from a Persian version produced by Dara Shikoh, son of Shahjahan and elder brother of Aurangzeb.

The Asiatic Society also published Bibliotheca Indica which consisted of numerous original texts in Sanskrit, arabic, Persian, Bengali, Tibetan and other Asian Languages along with their translations before 1833.

In 1832, John Princep, the pioneer of Comperative Philology, which laid the basis of Indology, converted the Journal of the Society to “The Journal of the Asiatic Society” when it received the approval of the the Board of Directors.

It is important to note that all such activities were carried out with active participation of Pundits and Maulvis. The scholars from India and the “Orientalist” developed a relationship of mutual admiration and cordiality both in Asiatic Society and Fort William College.

In social history and social legislation of Lord William Bentinck, it has been generally propounded that Bentinck was encouraged by the representations of Raja Rammohun Roy on Sati from the original sources and public opinions. It was on the basis of such references, that the Governor General had directed his Collectors to collect the data to learn the public opinion on the custom of Sati. On the basis of such a ground work that he passed the Sati Act. However, it is also on record that the first detailed work on the absence of any relgious sanctity was done by H. T. Colebrook nearly two decades before.

In 1814, the Asiatic Soceity started a public Museum. With in its first thirty years of its existence, it brought before the public, William Jone’s Thrid Annual Discouse in 1788 on Indo-Euroepan Language and Culture; Charles Wilkins’s :A Royal Grant of Land on a Copper Plate of 1788; S. Davis’s: On Astronomical Calculations of the Hindus in 1795; H. T. Colebrooke’s: On Vedas in 1805; J Malcom’s : Sketch of the Sikhs in 1810; F. Wilford’s: On On the Ancients Geography of India in 1815 and E Strachey’s: On Early History of Algebra in 1816.

There is truth in the claim that the Powers in London never encouraged such activities. It was done by the people on the ground. As a result, since the beginning of the Asiatic Society, it faced the problem of financing. It was the resourcefulness of the "bright young men" in India, that they came up with timely finance. Wellesley tried to achieve the same aim through Fort William College but it was closed in 1807 because the the Board of Directors did not approve the expenditure over that college.

Further, it is essential to observe that it is on the record that in the original memorandum written by William Jones which later went to establish the Asiatic Scoiety, it was envisaged that the study would be undertaken to include “'the laws of the Hindus and Mahomedans; the history of the ancient world; proofs and illustrations of scripture; traditions concerning the deluge; modern politics and geography of Hindusthan; Arithmatic and Geometry and mixed sciences of Asiaticks; Medicine, Chemistry, Surgery and Anatomy of the Indians; natural products of India; poetry, rhetoric and morality of Asia; music of the Eastern nations; the best accounts of Tibet and Kashmir; trade, manufactures, agriculture and commerce of India: Mughal constitution, Marhatta constitution etc.” It was also made the basis of the establishement of the Fort William College by Wellesley.

William Jones was not the first to seek such an activity. Before him, Charles Wilkins (1770), Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1772) and Jonathan Duncan (1772):Warren Hastings's "bright young men" had already embarked on such a course of study of Oriental Learning. Sir William Jones place is historic because he had planned an organisation for such an activity whereas there were many “bright young men” belonging to elite class of Britain eighteenth century had worked on individual study and research. On establishment of the Asiatic Society, the opening lines of the memorandum of Articles of the charter read, "The bounds of its investigations will be the geographical limits of Asia,and within these limits its enquiries will be extended to whatever is performed by MAN or produced by NATURE." It was made open to only European members. (It was Dr. Horace Hayman Wilson who allowed Indians like Prasanna Kumar Tagore, Dwarkanath Tagore, Russamay Dutt and Ram Camul Sen to become members in 1829.). It was due to the efforts of Dr. John Gilchrist that the society acquired a permanent building in 1808.

It was in one of the proceedings of the Asiatic society, it was placed on the record: “ The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure, more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either.”

It was one its member John Princep who had deciphered the Brahmi script which discovered Piyadasi of Mauryan Edicts with the Asoka of Puranas. . It was a world event that revolutionised all future Oriental studies and contributed to the growth of Comparative Philology.

Source Material:

A Social, Cultural and Economic History of India Vol 1, 2 and 3, by P. N. Chopra, B. N. Puri and M. N. Das, Macmillian Publication, Madras, 1974.

Asoka and Decline of Mauryas by Romila Thapar, Penguin.

Social History of India by K. K. Dutta.

Advance History of India by Majumdar, Raychaudhari and Dutta.

The Mughal Empire by John Richards, Bibliographic Essays.

The Sikhs of Punjab by J. S. Garewal, Bibliographic Essays.

Personal notes from Journal of Asiatic Society ( exact record of the issues not kept in my record).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...