Article: Royal Asiatic Society

Contributed by Kathy Lazenbatt

Collections of the RAS

The library at the Royal Asiatic Society provides access to specialist books, periodicals and research material free to readers.

Library at the Royal Asiatic Society
Image by Helen Porter © Royal Asiatic Society

Although the collections of the Royal Asiatic Society feature numerous items originating in the Indian subcontinent, the society's holdings comprise items from across Asia. The RAS holds a small yet valuable collection of Jain artefacts, which consists of works of art as well as manuscripts. Several of these pieces are very rare outside India.

Most of the unique material in the RAS library – such as manuscripts, paintings and drawings, and photographs – was donated during the early to mid-19th century. In its early days the society built up a museum, which included some beautiful and rare objects, such as a jade cup owned by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Later the museum objects were disposed of, mainly to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. However, the society has retained its other collections. The society has never purchased material other than books, so its collections have developed from the generosity of many donors.

The library collections include:

  • 1700 manuscripts in Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit and other Indian languages, Tibetan, Malay, Javanese and Pali
  • 2000 paintings and drawings from all parts of Asia
  • 4000 photographs, in particular 19th-century photographs from India and China
  • 40,000 books and journals relating to the history, languages and literature, arts and culture of Asia.

As a result of the long British association with India, the library collections relating to South Asia are particularly strong.

Jain material

The Royal Asiatic Society's collection of Jain heritage material consists of:

  • paper manuscripts, part of the Tod Collection
  • paintings on cloth
  • miniature paintings, from the Baxter Collection.

Of these, three items are available as digitised images on JAINpedia.

Tod Collection of manuscripts

James Tod (1782–1835) of the British East India Company authored several books and articles on Indian topics in the early 19th century. Though not a scholar, he carried out research over his 23 years in India and joined the Royal Asiatic Society

James Tod
Image by unknown © public domain

Most of the Jain works at the Royal Asiatic Society are in the Tod Collection. Out of the 190 manuscripts in the collection, 36 relate to Jainism. Some manuscripts contain copies of several different texts, so the collection is made up of nearly 60 individual Jain texts. Of these the most significant is a copy of part of the Kalpa-sūtra with the Kālakācārya-kathā, under the shelfmark Tod MS 34. The text appears to have been copied in VS 1461 (1404 CE), making it a very early copy, and it has several exquisite coloured illustrations.

The collection is named after its original owner, James Tod (1782–1835), who was a well-known soldier and administrator in British India. He served as the East India Company’s political agent to the western Rajputana states in the early 19th century, and while working there he undertook extensive research on Rajput history. Tod later published this research as his exhaustive two-volume work Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan (1829/32).

On his return from India Tod was appointed the first Librarian of the newly formed Royal Asiatic Society. He gave the society four large collections of manuscripts, coins, miniature paintings and topographical drawings. Some of the manuscripts were presented to Tod by local rulers, such as Maharana Bhim Singh of Mewar. Many others were copied for him on the orders of rulers of various Rajput states who knew of Tod's keen interest in Rajput history.

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