The Asiatic Society of Mumbai is one of the key landmarks of South Bombay. Completed in 1833, it originally functioned as the town hall and was the cultural centre of the fortified town of Bombay. The north wing of the structure has been used as a private library run by the Asiatic Society of Mumbai (a literary society founded in 1804), and is open only to members. The south wing, however, is used by the State Central Library, and is open to all.
The Asiatic Library and Town Hall are among the earliest examples of neo-classical architecture in Mumbai. The style is characterised by iron pillars, a triangular roof on the façade, white paint and a false ceiling in the main foyer. The architectural style is a revival of ancient Greek and Roman structures that are known for its elegance. The inside of the Town Hall is made of cast iron imported from England during the late 1820s. The flooring and bookshelves were built using Burma teak shipped from Myanmar. Since the structure was built before electricity had reached the Indian subcontinent, the Town Hall and the library were built with skylights. The structure houses three skylights, one each in the North and South wings, and one in the main foyer. The imposing architecture of the building is frequently featured in many films and TV advertisements.
The Asiatic Library houses close to 3.5 lakh books. Some of the highlights include the original manuscript of Dante’s 14th century poem, The Divine Comedy, a 16th century Sanskrit manuscript of the Mahabharata, and coins issued by Shivaji. Digital versions of manuscripts are also available online at asiaticsociety.org.in.
The Asiatic Library overlooks the Horniman Circle Garden, which is a great place to relax and take a break after an intense studying schedule at the library. The steps leading to the library, popularly known as the “Asiatic Steps” are a popular hangout spot during the evenings and have also featured in several TV commercials.