Calcutta Book Society of 1817 a unique institution

Kolkata book society.
Romanized School Dictionary by Calcutta School Book Society,
Kolkata book society.
 Calcutta Book Society was an institution  first started  in Kolkata during the British Raj. Established in 1817, the aim of the society was to publish text books and supply them to schools and madrasa (Muslim religious schools) and  it is a unique  society, as a matter of fact, it was the first institution of this kind in India well supported by people  belonging to different faiths. The English translation of the Bible in Sanskrit, Bengali, Assamese and Oriya and  the Ramayana, Mahabharata and other Indian epics  was much appreciated by the natives. The Calcutta Book society, on the similar model, wanted to encourage Bengali writers and journalists to translate their works in English so that the western world would understand the literary value of Bengali and other Indian native languages. Further there was no proper curriculum for school education, Nor were there Bengali books designed for pedagogic purpose.

In the mean time as part of consolidation of the English colony and their supremacy by the the East India company under the Crown, English  became  the official language of British India in the Charter of 1833. The main force behind it was  Thomas Babington Macaulay. So, a necessity arose for the students of the the Hindu College in 1816 and the Sanskrit College in 1824  and other institutions coming up under the society to learn the English language as they liked it or not.

After the establishment of Fort William College in 1800 in Kolkata  by Marquis Wellesley, the interest in the Bengali communities to learn English and western sciences was on the increase and at one stage it was just overwhelming as the British rulers used the English language for their administrative works and proficiency in that language would be an asset for  them  to secure a government job. Further, it was believed that the English language had special professional and scientific advantages and  knowledge can be enriched by reading imported English books. Based on this view, the Hindu College and the Oriental Seminary in early part of 19th century were established. To strengthen the educational progress,  School Book Society in Calcutta was formed in 1817. An independent Institution, catering to a cross section of people interested in English as well as Bengali books, was planned  by an association set up exclusively for this purpose to frame the rules, etc. The proposed Calcutta Book Society was to be operated on the premises of the College of Fort William.

To begin with a provisional Committee was appointed, with  an Englishman as its head  and eight members, including  Bengalies. On the 4th July of 1817, the School Book Society was finally organized and ‘instituted on the recommendation of the Provisional Committee. The society's responsibility included supply of moral tracts non-interfering with religious sentiments of anyone; manage preparation, publication, and cheap or generous  supply of works  that may find useful to Schools and Seminaries of learning; no religious books were allowed.  Society had to furnish books of Asian languages and school instruction books and the members of the society were given special privileges worth for their annual subscriptions

The very first managing committee of the Society for the year 1817-18 included  some orthodox Hindus, Muslims and also  missionaries such as William Carey, one of the earliest Protestant missionaries to have come to India in the early 19th century, joined the Department of Bengali at Fort William College as the head of Sanskrit department and others. The subscribers included the Governor-General Lord Hastings and his wife, many English officials and businessmen and also  rich landlords.The Society in 1918 produced and distributed as many as 126446 copies of useful works in different languages without financial aid from the Government.The financial support, at last, came in 1821. 

The society expanded  its social and educational services by  way of preparing, procuring and  undertaking permission to reprint books published by the London Society for the spread of essential Knowledge. and the society's popularity gained over a period of time. They complied the elementary Class-Books in English, widely used in the  schools and covered such branches as  Geography, Maths and History. Their dictionaries became popular.

The  Calcutta School Book Society functioned methodically as planned to make available cheap English books covering various branches for the express purpose of helping schools across India under the British rule. To make books easily available, they ran Branch Depositories of the Calcutta School Book Society in many parts of the country. Further, the society made available  all  ordinary Class-Books; and other books that could easily be procured in Calcutta or direct from England. Later the society also supplied vernacular books in Urdu, Bengali, etc and In 1862 th society was merged with the vernacular society. Some people associated with Ft. William college and the society were responsible for the early ''Bengal Renaissance."

Now, the society is operating within the city limits of Kolkata. The formarion of the Kolkata Book Society in the early 19th century exemplifies the cooperation of local intelligentsia of different faiths and nations for a common cause - education.