"Who will give the world light? Sacrifice in the past has been the Law, it will be, alas, for ages to come. The earth's bravest and best will have to sacrifice themselves for the good of many, for the welfare of all." - Swami Vivekananda













PRABUDDHA BHARATASanskrit Studies and Comparative Philology  






                 Sanskrit Studies and Comparative Philology



                 Swami Tathagatananda




                        (Continued from the previous issue)




     The Oriental Renaissance: Sanskrit Studies and Comparative Philology in the Nineteenth Century




     After the rediscovery of Greco-Roman antiquity in the fourteenth century in Italy and in the fifteenth century elsewhere in Europe, a ‘phenomenon of primary importance’ was witnessed in Europe in the nineteenth century with the rediscovery of the East. Amaury de Riencourt described it as the ‘Oriental Renaissance.’ (1)


     In his Gunie des religions (1841), French historian Edgar Quinet introduced the title ‘The Oriental Renaissance’ to his chapter describing the event: ‘In the first ardor of their discoveries, the orientalists proclaimed that, in its entirety, an antiquity more profound, more philosophical, and more poetical than that of Greece and Rome was emerging from the depths of Asia. … [One that promised] a new Reformation of the religious and secular world. … This is the great subject in philosophy today.’ (2)


     Quinet believed that ‘When human revolutions first began, India stood more expressly than any other country for what may be called a Declaration of the Rights of the Being. That divine Individuality, and its community with infinity, is obviously the foundation and the source of all life and all history.’ (3)


     L. S. S. O’Malley’s observation describes the impact of the translations of Sanskrit works in the West:


     The wisdom found in Sanskrit works was greeted with something like reverential awe. Thus the French philosopher Victor Cousin, speaking of the poetical and philosophical movements of the East, and above all, those of India, which were, he said, beginning to spread in Europe, declared that they contained so many truths, and such profound truths, that he was constrained to bend the knee before the genius of the East and to see in that cradle of the human race the native land of the highest philosophy. (4)


     The enthusiasm for Upanishadic thought that was expressed paralleled the intensity with which, in but a few decades, significant Sanskrit works were translated into French. Simon Alexandre Langlois’ complete translation of the Rig Veda appeared on the heels of Horace Hayman Wilson’s (1786-1860) translation in 1838-51, then Hippolyte Fauche’s (1797-1869) Ramayana, most of the Mahabharata, and all of Kalidasa’s literary works, Loiseleur-Deslongchamps’ Laws of Manu, and Eugene Burnouf’s (1801-52) Saddharmapundarika and Bhagavata Purana. With the exception of Burnouf’s, these translations were ‘pretty but unfaithful’ and still represent a substantial body of work and influence. (5) Langlois’ work, Samkhya, which appeared in 1852 in the Memoires de l’Acadumie des Sciences morales et politiques, is still distinguished as an important resource for Indic scholars today.


     According to the great Sanskrit scholar Louis Renou (1896-1966), the three principal poets of the Romantic period in France, Lamartine, Alfred-Victor de Vigny (1797­1863) and Victor Hugo (1802-85) were all greatly influenced by the Upanishads. Their enthusiasm and wonder increased when they became acquainted with translations of the great Sanskrit works. Lamartine lauded the Shakuntala as a ‘masterpiece of both epic and dramatic poetry, combining in one work the essence of the pastoral charm of the Bible, of the pathos of Aeschylus and tenderness of Racine.’ (6) Vigny described his excitement in his Journal d’un poete and in his Letters. Victor Hugo’s respect and awe for the literary masterpieces of India were born of his perception of the immensity of the universe described in the epics. In ‘Supremate,’ a poem in his Legend of the Ages, he versified the narrative portion of the Kena Upanishad in 1870. Sensing that India possessed a great richness of spiritual unity, Henri Fruduric Amiel, a contemporary of Vigny and Hugo, saw the need of ‘Brahmanising souls’ for the spiritual welfare of humanity. (7)




     The Special Significance of France




     France played a unique role in the advancement of Indic studies in Germany - Paris had become the ‘capital of nascent Indology’. The universality that prevailed in Europe during the nineteenth century permitted German scholars to enter France and England without discrimination. They freely associated with their elite counterparts in their adopted countries. Indology, which began with the first English scholars generously disseminating Sanskrit manuscripts and translations, became centralized in Paris in 1803 and attracted the German scholars who disseminated the wisdom of India further into the West. It is significant that between 1820 and 1850 Europe gained more information about India, both ancient and modern, than it had obtained in twenty-one centuries since Alexander the Great.


     In Paris, a British lieutenant was to play a very important role in the focus of Sanskrit studies in Germany. Lt Alexander Hamilton was employed by the East India Company and was one of the first twenty-four charter members of the Asiatic Society. (8) Hamilton, who collated Sanskrit manuscripts at the Bibliotheque Nationale for a new edition of Wilkins’ translation of the Hitopadesha, was the only one apart from Wilkins who knew Sanskrit and lived in Europe at the time.


     During the war between England and France, the orientalist Claude de Saint-Martin expressed his enthusiasm for ‘the numerous treasures that the literature of India is beginning to offer us,’ in his Le ministere de l’homme-esprit in 1803. (236) It was the same year Hamilton became a paroled prisoner in Paris but received special treatment due to his scholarly associations. The orientalist Constantine Volney was interested in his work and protected Hamilton’s right to continue cataloguing the manuscripts. (67) Hamilton taught Sanskrit to Volney and a few others, including the Latin scholar Burnouf, father of the great philologist Eugene Burnouf, Louis Matthieu Langlus, Claude Fauriel and Friedrich von Schlegel. Between 1803 and 1804, Schlegel used his knowledge of Sanskrit to translate excerpts from the Indian epics and the Laws of Manu. A private course he taught on world literature in Paris in 1804 included Sanskrit works. (67-70)


     In 1813, Hamilton published his catalogue of the manuscripts. (158) By 1814, news of Hamilton’s presence in Paris had spread. German scholars who were interested in Sanskrit studies rushed to Paris. Franz Bopp, who stayed in Paris to study Sanskrit until 1816, and August Wilhelm Schlegel, who made several trips to Paris to perfect his ideas about Sanskrit, were among them. In 1825 Schlegel returned to France to obtain the fonts of Nagari characters for his editions of the Hitopadesha and the Bhagavadgita. Bopp and Schlegel moved the centre of Indic studies from Paris and London to Germany by establishing the field of comparative grammar and introducing Sanskrit studies at the Universities of Berlin and Bonn. (78) Indic studies were further ensured when both universities received the Nagari typefaces. (88)




     Sociutu Asiatique de Paris




     On 1 April 1822, Silvestre de Sacy (1755­1838) chaired the first general meeting of the Sociutu Asiatique de Paris, which was founded in 1821. Paris became the first European city to officially provide teaching of the Sanskrit language and thus follow the example laid down by the Asiatic Society in Calcutta. Eugene Burnouf was an expert in Vedic language and literature and was everywhere considered the fountainhead of Sanskrit and Indological studies. He was a very enthusiastic member of the Sociutu Asiatique and contributed many articles to its Journal. In 1838, he began using his initiative to establish Indian studies in Calcutta, France and England. Other associates of the Sociutu included Wilkins, Wilson and Colebrooke from England, and Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt, Franz Bopp and Friedrich and August Wilhelm von Schlegel from Germany.


     In the ‘Announcements of the Sociutu,’ was announced the need for a better instrument than the existing Indological journals (‘new policies and details of interest solely to the East India Company take up so much space’). This was resolved when publication of the Journal Asiatique of the Sociutu began in 1823. It later became a series, producing more expository works to fulfil ‘the scientific and literary concerns’ of European scholars. (82-4) It was also well known throughout Europe that any research at the College de France in Paris set the standard for progress. The German philosophers and writers who came to Paris as associates of the Sociutu studied Sanskrit at the College. Christian Lassen (1800-76), the founder of Indian studies in Germany, also studied there.




     The Great Demand for Sanskrit Dictionaries is Fulfilled




     There was a great demand from European scholars for a Sanskrit dictionary to further their studies. Wilson was the first to provide one. His mentor in Sanskrit studies, Colebrooke, was president of the Asiatic Society at the time. He appointed Wilson as secretary in 1811, a post he held until 1832. Wilson continued Jones’ work in Indic studies with the more methodological approach that he acquired from Colebrooke. In 1819, the weight of Wilson’s position as secretary of Calcutta’s mint led the Indian government to send him to Varanasi to start a Sanskrit college.


     Wilson compiled and published his practical and useful Sanskrit-English dictionary in Calcutta in 1819. (53) More than 1000 pages long, it was reprinted in 1832 in Calcutta and posthumously in 1874 in London. It was the only dictionary available to Europeans with an interest in Sanskrit studies and enjoyed this hegemony until 1875, when the Roth-Bohtlingk German dictionary of Sanskrit appeared.




     Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary




     The highly qualified lexicographer and leading Sanskritist Sir Monier-Williams (1819­99) dedicated his life to the Sanskrit language. In 1846 he published the Elementary Grammar of the Sanskrit Language for the benefit of students. It was in great demand and many editions followed. He occupied Oxford University’s Sanskrit chair from 1860 to 1888. (9) His Sanskrit-English Dictionary, originally published from London in 1851, was published again from Oxford in 1872 and more recently from India. (10) He is indebted to the German Indologists for its second (posthumous) edition in 1899, which was written with the collaboration of Ernst Leumann and Carl Cappeller (1840-1925).


     Keenly aware of the need for reliable Sanskrit resources, Monier-Williams was dedicated to the task of compiling Sanskrit-English and English-Sanskrit dictionaries and Sanskrit grammars, and continued to improve his Sanskrit-English dictionary throughout his life. A new edition of the dictionary was published in 1951. His Sanskrit Manual for Composition and Practical Grammar of the Sanskrit Language were both published in 1862 from London during his tenure at Oxford.


     He was mindful of the prosaic beginnings of Indology in Europe when he wrote in Hinduism (1877):


     India, though it has, as we have seen, more than 500 spoken dialects, has only one sacred language and only one sacred literature, accepted and revered by all adherents of Hinduism alike, however diverse in race, dialect, rank and creed. That language is Sanskrit, and that literature is Sanskrit literature - the only repository of the Veda or ‘knowledge’ in its widest sense; the only vehicle of Hindu theology, philosophy, law and mythology; the only mirror in which all the creeds, opinions, customs, and usages of the Hindus are faithfully reflected; and (if we may be allowed a fourth metaphor) the only quarry whence the requisite materials may be obtained for improving the vernaculars or for expressing important religious and scientific ideas. (11)


     To know the Hindus, to understand their past and present condition, to reach their very heart and soul, we must study Sanskrit literature. It is, in truth, even more to India than classical and patristic literature was to Europe at the time of the Reformation. It gives a deeper impress to the Hindu mind, so that every Hindu, however unlettered, is unconsciously affected by it. (12)




     Sanskrit Dictionaries Published in Germany




     During the golden age of Sanskrit studies in Germany, English dictionaries, expensive and difficult to obtain, were in demand. The poet Friedrich Ruckert (1788-1866) copied Wilson’s entire Sanskrit-English dictionary. Franz Bopp and leading Sanskritist Theodor Benfey (1809-81) each composed German glossaries for student use in 1850 and 1865, respectively. The translation of Panini’s grammar into English by Richard Garbe (1857­1927) was also a boon to many Eastern and Western scholars. Theodor Goldstucker (1821­72) produced an unfinished Sanskrit dictionary in English in 1855. In Panini: His Place in Sanskrit Literature Goldstucker praised Panini’s work:


     Panini’s grammar is the centre of a vast and important branch of the ancient literature. No work has struck deeper roots than his in the soil of the scientific development of India. It is the standard of accuracy in speech - the grammatical basis of the vaidika commentaries. It is appealed to by every scientific writer whenever he meets with a linguistic difficulty. Besides the inspired seekers of the works which are the root of Hindu belief, Panini is the only one among those authors of scientific works who may be looked upon as real personages, who is a risi in the proper sense of the word - an author supposed to have had the foundation of his work revealed to him by a divinity. (13)


     Otto N Bohtlingk (1815-1904) and Rudolf von Roth compiled the first comprehensive German dictionary of the Sanskrit language in seven volumes. This work, known as the PW or Petersburger Worterbuch, was published by the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg between 1852 and 1875. (14) The Russian Academy later sponsored a shorter version by Bohtlingk that was published between 1879 and 1889 and referred to as the pw or smaller Petersburger Worterbuch. (361) All generations of Germans are indebted to these latter two works which form a comprehensive Indian thesaurus. In 1887, Cappeller edited his still smaller dictionary of 550 pages, Sanskrit Worterbuch. It was based on both pw and PW for the use of beginners. (361) An enlarged English edition of Sanskrit Worterbuch was published soon after in 1891. Supplements to both, published by Richard Schmidt (1866-1939) during 1924-28, included new additions from later translations. (361) The Sanskrit Worterbuch was reprinted in 1991 by Motilal Banarsidass and remains unsurpassed to this day.


     In 1927, the Latin scholar Friedrich August Rosen (1805-37), a professor of Oriental Studies and of Sanskrit at London University College, furnished Berlin with the ‘best collection’ (15) of grammars and lexicons produced by Hindus that missionaries had contributed since the eighteenth century. An exhaustive Sanskrit­English dictionary recently published in Pune brings these valuable resources up to date.




     Early German Sanskritists




     Kant (1712-1804) was the first German philosopher of importance with a serious interest in Indian philosophy and Sanskrit. His doctrine of the ‘categorical imperative’ may have been derived from Hindu philosophy, according to the Soviet scholar Theodore Stcherbatsky (1866-1942). After Kant, the works of Friedrich von Schlegel and August Wilhelm von Schlegel were next to appear. They were both great pioneers of nineteenth­century German Indology.


     Friedrich von Schlegel was the first German Indologist to study Sanskrit and Indian religion and philosophy in depth. (16) His knowledge of Persian, Greek and Latin put him in a unique position to recognize Indo­European linguistic relationships. Schlegel wrote acclaimed works on history and philosophy. Among them is the pioneering work Uber die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier: Ein Beitrag zur Begrundung der Altertumskunde (On the Language and Wisdom of India: A Contribution to the Foundation of Antiquity), which he wrote in 1808 after returning to Germany. This was a primary publication of nineteenth-century European Indology influenced by the Romantic Movement. This work thereafter inspired Germans to refer to the ‘Wisdom of India’ and was enthusiastically acknowledged for its scholarly translations of extracts from the Sanskrit texts of the Bhagavadgita, the Ramayana and the sacred literature of Buddhism. Schlegel wrote:


     May Indic studies find as many disciples and protectors as Germany and Italy saw spring up in such great numbers for Greek studies in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and may they be able to do as many things in as short a time. The Renaissance of antiquity promptly transformed and rejuvenated all the sciences; we might add that it rejuvenated and transformed the world. We could even say that the effects of Indic studies, if these enterprises were taken up and introduced into learned circles with the same energy today, would be no less great or far-reaching. (17)


     August Wilhelm von Schlegel occupied the first chair of Sanskrit and Indology at the University of Bonn. (18) He was the first to publish standard-text editions with penetrating commentaries in classical Latin translations of the Bhagavadgita, Hitopadesha and the Ramayana. (19) Between 1820 and 1830 he published Indische Bibliothek, a collection of Indian texts. He is regarded as the founder of Sanskrit philology in Germany. His unrestrained praise for the Upanishads and especially for the Bhagavadgita elicited this fervent remark:


     If the study of Sanskrit had brought nothing more than the satisfaction of being able to read this superb poem in the original, I would have been amply compensated for all my labors. It is a sublime reunion of poetic and philosophical genius. (20)



     (To be concluded)







     1. Amaury de Riencourt, The Soul of India (New Delhi, 1986), 247.

     2. Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Discovery of India and the East, 1680-1880 (New York, 1984), 11.

     3. Art, Culture and Spirituality (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1997), 343-4.

     4. L S S O’Malley, ‘General Survey’ in Modern India and the West: A Study of the Interaction of Their Civilizations, ed. L S S O’Malley (London, 1968), 801.

     5. Art, Culture and Spirituality, 344.

     6. Ibid., 340-1.

     7. Sisirkumar Mitra, The Vision of India (New Delhi, 1994), 202.

     8. Oriental Renaissance, 39.

     9. Gauranga Gopal Sengupta, Indology and Its Eminent Western Savants (Calcutta, 1996), 84-5.

     10. Ibid., 85-6 passim.

     11. M Monier-Williams, Hinduism (London, 1894), 13.

     12. Ibid., 18.

     13. Theodor Goldstucker, Panini: His Place in Sanskrit Literature, 1st Indian edn., 1965, 95-6. Cited from Swami Ranganathananda, Eternal Values for a Changing Society, 4 vols. (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1985), 1.256.

     14. Art, Culture and Spirituality, 361.

     15. According to Jean Pierre Guillaume Gauthier in his article, ‘A Glance at the Sanskrit Language and Literature, through Recently Published Works’, Revue Encyclopudique of November 1832. Cited from Oriental Renaissance, 90.

     16. Swami Ashokananda, The Influence of Indian Thought on the Thought of the West (Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama, 1931), 20.

     17. Oriental Renaissance, 13.

     18. Klaus K Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism (New York, 1994), 22.

     19. Influence of Indian Thought, 20.

     20. Oriental Renaissance, 90.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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