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Mahabrahata

Envisioning South Asia

Texts  Scholarship  Legacies

Exhibition on view from January 11, 2016 to March 18, 2016
Special Collections Research Center Gallery

Bound in Translation

 

European study of Indian languages gained momentum in the eighteenth century, when Sir William Jones (1746-1794) and other Orientalist scholars postulated the common origin of Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin, laying the foundation of Indo-European comparative philology. At the same time, European Romanticism sparked an interest in the great texts of Indian civilization, reflected here in Jones's famous 1789 translation of Kalidasa's Sanskrit drama Shakuntala.

Advances in print technology aided Orientalist endeavors. The creation of movable type fonts for Indian languages enabled the production of works such as Nathaniel B. Halhed's A Grammar of the Bengal Language (1778), the first book printed with Bengali type.

From the late eighteenth century onward, the expansion of East India Company rule made it imperative to train British military and civil servants in the modern languages of South Asia. The three additional grammars shown here were among the first standard works for European learners of Urdu, Tamil, and Marathi.

Despite Orientalists' reliance on Indian linguistic expertise, the contribution of their learned assistants and interlocutors often remained unacknowledged. Recent scholarship has begun to highlight the role of indigenous intellectuals in the philological encounter. A notable example is Mohammad Ismail Khan, an Afghan scholar of Arabic, Persian, and Islamic law, who worked as Inspector of Schools. Khan produced some of the earliest handbooks on Pashto, including Khazana-i Afghani (1889), a collection of Pashto idioms with English translations.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the rise of public education and literacy created a demand for primers and other linguistic aids in Indian languages. Some of the earliest schoolbooks, such as the First Reading Book in Asamese (1842) shown here, were produced by missionaries. The Bengali Alphabet and Spelling-Book (1907), published in Macmillan's 'Text Books for Schools in India' series, reflects British publishers' investment in the burgeoning subcontinental print market.

Drawings from A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language...

John Borthwick Gilchrist (1759-1841)
A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language, or Part Third of Volume First, of A System of Hindoostanee Philology

Calcutta: Chronicle Press. 1796
Rare Book Collection

One of the most exciting finds for the exhibition's curators is this rare volume from the Library's Special Collections. Incorrectly catalogued as John Borthwick Gilchrist's The Oriental Linguist (Calcutta 1802), it is actually an incomplete copy of Gilchrist's A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language (Calcutta 1796), bound together with the first pages of the Oriental Linguist.

John Borthwick Gilchrist (1759-1841) was a prolific author, translator, and one of the foremost linguistic scholars of Persian and Urdu in British India. Born and educated in Edinburgh, Gilchrist came to India in 1782 as an assistant surgeon in the East India Company's Medical Service. He developed a keen interest in Urdu (which he termed Hindoostanee) and in 1801 was appointed head of the Hindustani Department of the newly established College of Fort William, Calcutta, a training institution for the Company's civil servants. Some of the earliest printed books in Urdu and Hindi were published under his direction. Following his return to England in 1804, Gilchrist continued to publish on Oriental languages and briefly taught at the East India Company College, Haileybury, and at University College London. He left England in 1828 and spent the rest of his life in France. He died in Paris in 1841.

The copy of Gilchrist's Grammar featured here is unique in that its interleaved pages not only contain hand-written annotations and an entire narrative text in Urdu, but also sixty drawings and paintings by one or more unidentified amateur artists who used the Grammar as a sketchbook. The uneven quality of the paintings suggests several hands. The numbered illustrations, some of which are painted over the annotations, are mostly in watercolor and start at No. 44.

The illustrations are in both European and Indian styles. While some are inspired by Indian paintings, others are drawn from observation and depict fascinating scenes from Anglo-Indian life, civilian and military, in Calcutta, Benares, and other places at the turn of the 19th century. The uniforms worn by the Company soldiers, the women's dresses, and the furniture are typical of the period.

The artists seem to have been connected to the family that is shown seated around the dining table in illustration No. 58. Some of the persons depicted in this and other paintings are identified by name, which may eventually help to establish the artists' identities.

Paulinus a S. Bartholomaeo (1748-1806), Sidharubam seu Grammatica Samscrdamica

Paulinus a S. Bartholomaeo (1748-1806)
Sidharubam seu Grammatica Samscrdamica

Romae: Sacrae Congregationis de Propaganda Fide. 1790
Rare Book Collection


Paulinus is the author of the first Sanskrit grammar printed for a European audience.

 

Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719), Grammatica Damulica...

Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719)
Grammatica Damulica...

Halae Saxonum: Litteris & impensis Orphanotrophei. 1716
Purchased from the Theodora Platt Bobrinskoy Book Fund
Rare Book Collection

Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1751-1830), A Grammar of the Bengal Language

Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1751-1830)
A Grammar of the Bengal Language

Hoogly, Bengal. 1778
Rare Book Collection

Kalidasa (fl. 5th c.) / trs. by William Jones (1746-1794), Sacontalá, or, The Fatal Ring: An Indian Drama

Kalidasa (fl. 5th c.) / trs. by William Jones (1746-1794)
Sacontalá, or, The Fatal Ring: An Indian Drama

London: J. Cooper. 1790
Rare Book Collection

 

James Robert Ballantyne (1813-1864), A Grammar of the Mahratta Language

James Robert Ballantyne (1813-1864)
A Grammar of the Mahratta Language

Edinburgh: J. Hall. 1839
Rare Book Collection

Mrs. E. W. Brown, First Reading Book in Asamese

Mrs. E. W. Brown
First Reading Book in Asamese

Jaipur, Asam: American Baptist Mission Press. 1842
Rare Book Collection

Mohammad Ismail Khan (d. 1912), Khazani-i-Afghani, with English Translation. A perfect Pushtoo Companion and Teacher ensuring success in the Pushtoo Examination

Mohammad Ismail Khan (d. 1912)
Khazani-i-Afghani, with English Translation. A perfect Pushtoo Companion and Teacher ensuring success in the Pushtoo Examination

Lahore: Victoria Press. 1889
Regenstein Library, General Collections

R. N. Ghose, Bengali Alphabet and Spelling-Book

R. N. Ghose
Bengali Alphabet and Spelling-Book

Calcutta: Macmillan & Company, Limited. 1907
Rare Book Collection