Digital Rare Book:
The Bhagvat-geeta, or, Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon
By Sir Charles Wilkins
Published by C.Nourse, London - 1785
The worlds first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita.
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Sir Charles Wilkins, KH, FRS (1749 – 13 May 1836), was an English typographer and Orientalist, and founding member of the The Asiatic Society. He is the inventor of the shape of modern Bengali and French typefaces.
He is notable as the first translator of Bhagavad Gita into English, and as the creator, alongside Panchanan Karmakar,of the first Bengali typeface.
In 1784, Wilkins helped William Jones establish the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
Wilkins moved to Varanasi, where he studied Sanskrit under Kalinatha, a Brahmin pandit. At this period he began work on his translation of the Mahabarata, securing strong support for his activities from the governor of British India, Warren Hastings. Though he never completed the translation, portions were later published. The most important was his version of the Gita, published in 1785 as Bhagvat-geeta, or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon (London: Nourse, 1785). In his preface Wilkins argued that the Gita was written to encourage a form of monotheist "unitarianism" and to draw Hinduism away from the polytheism he ascribed to the Vedas.
His translation of the Gita was itself soon translated into French (1787) and German (1802). It proved to be a major influence on Romantic literature and on European perception of Hindu philosophy. William Blake later celebrated the publication in his picture The Bramins, exhibited in 1809, which depicted Wilkins and Brahmin scholars working on the translation.
With Hastings’ departure from India, Wilkins lost his main patron. He returned to England in 1786, where he married Elizabeth Keeble. In 1787 Wilkins followed the Gita with his translation of The Heetopades of Veeshnoo-Sarma, in a Series of Connected Fables, Interspersed with Moral, Prudential and Political Maxims (Bath: 1787).