Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Monday, October 01, 2007

In Paris, a British lieutenant was to play a very important role in the focus of Sanskrit studies in Germany

Sanskrit Studies and Comparative Philology Swami Tathagatananda
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)
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)...
Towards the beginning of the nineteenth century, Russian scholars and writers shared with Western Europe an intense interest in Indian studies, especially studies in Buddhism. During the same period that Anquetil-Duperron was writing his Latin translation, Oupne­k’hat, in Paris, the message of Vedanta was entering Russia. N I Norikov, whose work relied on Wilkins’ English version, introduced it in 1787. (29) It was the first Russian translation of the Bhagavadgita.

At the request of Czar Alexander I, Gerasim Lebedev (1746-1817) set up the imperial printing house of Sanskrit with Devanagari types at St Petersburg. (30) In 1801, he published a grammar from London with a long, descriptive title - A Grammar of the Pure and Mixed East Indian Dialects … according to the Brahmenian System, of the Shamscrit Language … with a Recitation of the Assertions of Sir William Jones, Respecting the Shamscrit Alphabet … Calculated for the Use of Europeans. In 1805 he published his Unbiased Contemplation of the East Indian System of the Brahmins, Their Religious Rites and Popular Customs in Russian from St Petersburg. (31)

From the middle of the nineteenth century, Russia’s interest in Sanskrit and Hindu literature produced a growing commitment to Indian studies by her scholars. Uvarov was chancellor of the University of Saint Petersburg. Projet d’une Acadumie Asiatique (1810), the work of Uvarov, the chancellor of the University of Saint Petersburg, described his plan to establish an Asiatic Academy at the University and was inspired by Calcutta’s Asiatic Society. Russian instruction of the Oriental languages, with a preference for Sanskrit, finally began in 1818 when Uvarov, who had become a government minister, inaugurated the Asiatic Academy at the University of Saint Petersburg.

Initially, foreign scholars taught Sanskrit and other oriental languages at this Academy. (79, 449) Most of them came from Germany, like Friedrich Adelung. (79, 450) Adelung, who was a councillor of state, became the director of the Oriental Institute at St Petersburg in 1823 after writing his German papers on the relationship between Sanskrit and Russian in 1811. The Institute was attached to the Ministry of Foreign Relations. He was also the first to compile a bibliography of Sanskrit works, which was titled Bibliotheca Sanscrita in the second edition (1837). (172)

Count S S Novarov created a Sanskrit chair when he was appointed a Minister of Public Instruction and the president of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg. Robert Lenz (1808-36) filled the chair as a professor of Sanskrit and comparative philology at the Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg for only one year due to his early death. The sustained interest of Russian scholars in Sanskrit studies required a replacement. Pavel Yakovlevich Petrov (1814-75) was appointed to two chairs of Sanskrit, one at Kazan University in 1841 and the other at the University of Moscow from 1852 to 1875. (79) Petrov translated part of the Ramayana into Russian, adding grammatical notes and a Sanskrit glossary, in 1836. (32)

A significant event occurred between 1852 and 1875. The Academy of Sciences published the unexcelled Saint Petersburg Sanskrit-German Dictionary in seven volumes that was the fruit of Rudolf von Roth and Otto Bohtlingk’s labour. (33) Nearly all of Europe was now potentially in the realm of wisdom conveyed only through Sanskrit. The Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Katha, Aitareya, and Prashna Upanishads - all containing the Devanagari script - also became available. By the late nine­teenth century, partial translations of the Rig Veda, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata also appeared in Russian.

Ivan Pavlovich Minayev (1840-90) was appointed a professor of Sanskrit in 1869 and a professor of the comparative grammar of Indo­European languages in 1873 at the University of Saint Petersburg. He travelled extensively throughout India, lecturing in Sanskrit and mixing with Indians from all stations in life. Minayev’s first journey, from June 1874 to December of the following year, included trips to Calcutta, Nepal and Sri Lanka. His second visit five years later, from January to May 1880, took him to many cities throughout India. On his final visit, begun in December of 1885 and lasting five months, he travelled to Calcutta and Burma. He spent much more time in Calcutta on this last visit and met many leading Bengali intellectuals, including the literary luminary, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1838-94).

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