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Charles Wilkins

The Translator of the Bhagavad Gita

Charles Wilkins (1749-1836) was an Orientalist, founder member of the Asiatic Society in Kolkata and the inventor of modern Bangla and Persian printing typefaces. Charles Wilkins joined the East India Company in 1770 as a writer. He is the first Britishman to develop interest in Orientalism and learn Sanskrit thoroughly. For the use of the Europeans he wrote ‘A Grammar of Sanskrit’ in 1779. While in Calcutta he received the patronage of the first Governor General of India ,Warren Hastings. He launched a drive to collect oriental manuscripts and inscriptions and read and interpret them. Wilkins was the first European Orientalist to read Sanskrit inscriptions for the reconstruction of ancient history. The first successful effort at interpretation of Sanskrit inscription was made by him in 1785, when he read the Badal Pillar Inscription in Dinajpur district, of the Pala king Narayanapala. Later the Maukhari inscriptions from the Barabar Hill caves (in Bihar) enabled Wilkins to tackle the inscriptions of the Gupta rulers. His epigraphic readings led to discoveries of Pala and Maukhari dynasties.

Under the patronage of Warren Hastings, Wilkins translated the Bhagavad Gita , the great India Epic, in 1785. He prepared designs of Bangla and Persian typefaces with the help of Pundit Panchanan. Wilkins was the pioneer in setting up printing press for Bangla and Persian languages. The government, which had no press for Indian languages before Wilkins invented the Bangla and Persian types, now began to publish its Bangla publications from his printing press. Wilkins began publishing the research journal ‘Asiatick Researches’ on his own. It was from Wilkins's press and under his supervision and press-editing that the ‘Asiatic Researches’ was first published. Later on, it was recognized by the Asiatic Society to be its own organ.

On his return home to England, Wilkins published translations of Hitopadesa (Fables of Pilpai), and ‘Shakuntala’(the play written by the Great Indian Poet Kalidasa). The Royal Society of London made him a Fellow in 1788. In 1800, he was invited to take up the post of the first director of the India House Library, which became over time the world famous 'India Office Library' (now British Library - Oriental Collections). King George IV gave him the badge of the Guelphic Order and he was duly knighted in 1833.

Updated on 4th January, 2016

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