When the English East India Company seized large swathes of the Indian subcontinent in the 18th century, they were forced to transform from “merchants” into administrators. They needed a new army of English civil servants, not only to deal with the considerable revenue that was being generated, but also to construct and preside over a system of law for “one of the most populous and litigious regions of the world”:
The pleadings in the several courts, and all important judicial transactions, are conducted in the native languages. The law which the Company’s judges are bound to administer throughout the country, is not the law of England, but that law to which the natives have long been accustomed under their former sovereigns…. These observations are sufficient to prove, that no more arduous or complicated duties of magistracy exist in the world, no qualifications more various or comprehensive can be imagined, than those which are required from every British subject who enters the seat of judgment within the limits of the Company’s empire in India.
(1805, The College of Fort William in Bengal, 3)
It was out of this need to train civil servants that the College of Fort William was born. During the half-century of its existence, the College accumulated a vast library of literature in many languages and became one of the intellectual centres of what has been referred to as the Bengali Renaissance. In particular, it collected numerous manuscripts of Sanskrit law treatises, commentaries, and digests which the English used to administer “Hindu” law.
The BnF possesses a copy of one of these manuscripts, of the Bālambhaṭṭī, that was acquired from the collection of Philippe-Édouard Foucaux. As the title suggests, the work is attributed to the 18th century paṇḍit Bālambhaṭṭa. However, if we turn to the end of the manuscript, the colophon gives an entirely different title — Lakṣma or Lakṣmī — and attributes its authorship to a woman, Lakṣmīdevī.