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William Jones’ Views

  • In 1783, William Jones came to India as a junior judge, to work in the Supreme Court set up by the East India Company. In addition to being a lawyer Jones was a linguist.

William Jones

  • Jones knew many languages. Greek, Latin, French, English, Arabic and Persian were some of the languages he knew.

  • As Jones had a deep passion to learn many languages he spent many hours with pandits who taught him the Sanskrit language, grammar and poetry.

  • Soon he started studying ancient Indian books on law, philosophy, religion, politics, morality, arithmetic, medicine and the other sciences.

  • Jones discovered that his interests were shared by many British officials living in Calcutta at the time. Englishmen like Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathaniel Halhed were also busy discovering the ancient Indian heritage, mastering Indian languages and translating Sanskrit and Persian works into English.

                                       Colebrooke and the Asiatic Society

Henry Thomas Colebrooke

  • Jones, Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathaniel Halhed set up the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and started a journal called Asiaticks Researches.

Asiatic Society of
Bengal Building

Asiaticks Researches - Journal

The Asiatic Society of Bengal was founded by the renowned English jurist Sir William Jones. He brought Asian languages, literature, arts, and sciences to the attention of Europeans. The members of the Asiatic Society of Bengal were the first European scholars to recognize the common ancestry of Sanskrit with Greek, Latin, and other European languages. They considered Sanskrit as the classical language of India and praised its wonderful structure and stated that it was more perfect than the Greek.
  • Jones and Colebrooke came to represent a particular attitude towards India. They shared a deep respect for ancient cultures, both of India and the West.

  • India had a glorious past and to understand this one had to read the sacred books that were written during the ancient times.

  • These ancient books revealed the real ideas and laws of the Hindus and Muslims. One had to understand these books to chart out the basis of future development in India.

  • Jones and Colebrooke were involved in the discovery of ancient books, understanding their meaning, translating them, and making their findings known to others.

Jones and Colebrooke felt that their findings would not only help the British learn from Indian culture, but it would also help Indians rediscover their own heritage, and understand the lost glories of their past. Their findings will also establish the British as guardians of Indian culture and gain total control.

Many officials of the English East India Company who were influenced by the findings of Jones and Colebrooke wanted to promote Indian rather than Western learning. They felt that institutions should be set up to encourage the study of ancient Indian texts and teach Sanskrit and Persian literature and poetry. The British hoped to win a place in the hearts of the ‘Native Indians’ by teaching them the languages they were familiar with.

  • In 1781 a madrasa or college was set up in Calcutta to promote the study of Arabic, Persian and Islamic law.

  • In 1791 the Hindu College was established in Benaras to encourage the study of ancient Sanskrit texts that would be useful for the administration of the country.

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