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I Point to India (Selected Writings of Max Muller)

I Point to India (Selected Writings of Max Muller)

I Point to India (Selected Writings of Max Muller)

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Item Code: NAD745
Author: Nanda Mookerjee
Publisher: Ramakrishna Misssion Institute of Culture
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9788187332732
Pages: 173
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 206 gms
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About the Book

If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we, here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact, more truly human, a life, not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life - again I should point to India.


At the end of the eighteenth century, when other nations were competing with each other in getting a foothold on the South Asian subcontinent and in gaining economic profit and political influence, Germany discovered an India of another kind, which as Friedrich Max Muller once said, lay deep beneath the surface. It was Johann Gottfried Herder, who was a pioneer in this field. In his Ideas on the Philosophy on the History of Mankind he drew up an impressive image of India, where in his opinion the 'cradle of mankind' and the 'golden age' were to be found, the traces of which had been preserved from mankind's infancy till today: 'The Indian puts his blissfulness in passionless peace, in an undisturbed enjoyment of serenity, he breathes joy, he swims in a sea of sweet dreams and delightful fragrances in contrast to our opulence, for which we are unsettling and robbing all parts of the world. What does it want, what does it seek? New and strange spices for a dulled tongue, strange fruits and dishes, which we in an excessive mixture do not taste even once, intoxicating drinks, which rob us of peace of mind, whatever can have been created to destroy our nature, is the predominant goal of our life. '

The longing of the Western countries winged their way towards the East in order to 'partake of the air of our patriarchs'. Christianity imagined the geographical position of paradise to be nowhere else but in the East. The middle Ages, which trembled under the onslaught of Islam, had dreamt of St. John, the priest-king, who, it was said, would hurry from the distant Orient to save the people. Mankind as a whole apparently does not fare differently to individuals, who console themselves in their disappointments and privations in life by recalling childhood memories. Similarly when looking back on the early stages of the culture of mankind in the Orient a golden childhood dream illuminates the morning sky.

Even Goethe was captivated by the enchantment of the distant wonderland, when he received the first German translation of Indian literature. In 1791 Georg Forster published his translation of Kalidasa's Shakuntala. Goethe received it from Herder and promptly drafted his reply in the famous distichs, which give direct expression to his delight: 'Shall I embrace the blossoms of spring, the fruits of the autumn, All that enchants and that charms, all that nurtures and fills, Shall I embrace in a name all heaven and whole of the earth: Call I, Sakontala, thee-all is comprised in one name. '

This masterpiece of Kalidasa's accompanied the Prince of Poets throughout his life and provided him with the idea of inserting a 'Prologue on the Theatre' in his 'Faust', similar as in Kalidasa's Shakuntala. Unfortunately we cannot linger with him, as tempting as it would be to show the depth to which this encounter with India inspired him and the extent to which it reflected itself in his works. Goethe's example shows us, that from the beginning the encounter between India and Germany was not of a superficial nature. On the part of the Germans it was an attempt towards an understandin~ of India, which demanded the utmost human efforts of many eminent poets and philosophers and found the unlimited participation of the best men.

After Friedrich Schiegel, the first German to learn Sanskrit, there is a long list of illustrious moments of German Sanskrit scholars who have provided India's history of language, literature and religion, with significant contributions and strong foundations and without whom a study of these sciences and an understanding of Indian culture and its history would be unthinkable today. Foremost and representative for the large number is Friedrich Max Muller (1823-1900), who earned the honorary title of a 'German Pandit' for his first edition of the Rig Veda, in the original language. With a staff consisting two- thirds of German scholars' he published the fifty volumes of The Sacred Books of the East and wrote the wonderful book India-what it can teach us, in which he defends contemporary India against the disrespect and arrogance of the Europeans, who thought they knew better:

As classical scholars yearn to see Rome or Athens, I yearned to see Benares and to bathe in the sacred water of the Ganges. But at that time such things were out of question, writes the scholar born in Dessau and living in Oxford, in his essay on Dwarkanath Tagore. To Keshub Chunder Sen, who visited him in his Oxford study, which was packed with books and manuscripts he says:

I feel I am always in Benares. I love to imagine this house as Benares. I do not desire to see the geographical Benares with my physical eye. My idea of that city is so high that I cannot risk disillusionment.

What the orthodox Hindus felt for him after the publication of his Rig Veda in six volumes is revealed in Raja Radhakanta Deva's letter dated the 5th March 1855 to the editor himself, that the Pandits were quite beside themselves and could scarcely believe their eyes when they were told that the sacred book, which lay before them had been edited by a foreign European scholar, who had had no opportunity to consult a Vedic Pandit. The scholarly world was deeply grateful to him, continued the Hindu, for having collected, copied and compared manuscripts of the text and commentaries, which were in a partly mangled and garbled condition, for having referred to scanty and partly inaccessible sources in order to establish the original version and then finally for having read the proofs with smarting eyes.

It is a fortunate link in the deep-rooted tradition of Indo- German relations that the Indo-German Cultural Centres bear the name of Max Muller Bhavan today. They have offered thousands of young Indians from all walks of life the opportunity to learn German. For a still larger public these institutes are well-known places, where Indians and Germans meet to discuss and exchange views, be it in the field of science and literature, or in the field of music, theatre, film .and the fine arts. The eight Max Muller Bhavans in India, which have been set up as branches of the Goethe Institute in Munich, try to keep alive the mutual understanding under the changed and ever-changing conditions which industry and technology impose on the world today. Thus Germany considers its task in the development of modem India to lie not only in cooperation with economic and technical aid but at the same time it strives to extend and strengthen the dialogue between the two great cultures, which has been in progress for two hundred years which forms the most reliable fundament for the continuation of the ever-cordial friendship between India and Germany since time immemorial.

The editor of this book, Nanda Mookerjee, has taken great pains to go into the sources and collect from the immense volume of Max Muller's essays and letters to his numerous Indian friends those passages which point to India. Thus he has presented a compact image of India as portrayed by Max Muller. And so this book will be appreciated as a most welcome contribution to the Indo-German dialogue.


Recalling his first acquaintance with India, Max Muller wrote: 'I well remember when I was at school; one of my copybooks had a large picture of Benaras on the outside. It was a very rough picture, but I can still see the men, women and children as they stepped down the Ghats to bathe in the waters of the Ganges. That picture caught my fancy and set me dreaming. What did I know of India at that time? Nothing but that the people were black, that they burnt their widows, and that, in order to get into Paradise, they had first to be mangled under the wheels of the car of Jagannath. On my picture, however, they are represented looking tall, and, as I thought, beautiful, certainly not like niggers; and the mosques and temples, visible on the shores of the liver, impressed me as even more beautiful and majestic than the Churches and palaces at Dessau. Boys will dream dreams, and as I was sitting idle at school dreaming and seeing visions of Benaras, instead of doing my copy, I was suddenly taken by the ear by our writing-master, and told to copy several pages containing such names as Benaras, Ganges, India, and all the rest, because I had been so idle and had made a very bad copy. This was my first and somewhat painful acquaintance with India.'

Max Muller's romantic vision, with the passage of time, developed into a genuine love towards India. He lived and moved, to quote Swami Vivekananda, ' ... in the world of Indian thought for fifty years or more, and watched the sharp inter- change of light and shade in the interminable forest of Sanskrit literature with deep interest and heartfelt love, till they have all sunk into his very soul and coloured his whole being.'

The only son of Wilhelm Muller, the distinguished poet, and of Adeiheid, the daughter of Ludwig von Basedow, Prime Minister ofthe small Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau, Max Muller was born at Dessau in 1823, losing his father when he was only four years of age. Max Muller attended the grammar school of his native town till 1836. His vision 'appeared again and assumed then a more tangible form when he entered the University of Leipzig in 1841 with the intention of studying Latin and Greek. When he was getting 'a little tired of Greek and Latin, and the warmed- up cabbage, the crambe repetita, of Homer and Horace' I, he heard of the foundation of a Chair of Sanskrit and came across an advertisement of Professor Brockhaus' lectures on Indian literature. He 'fell seriously in love with Sanskrit, and became more and more faithless' to his first classical love. I Under Professor Brockhaus' excellent care he began Sanskrit with a will and read with Brockhaus Nala, Shakuntala and even a little of the Rig Veda. I the first result of his Sanskrit studies was his translation of the Hitopadesha, which he published at the age of twenty.

Having taken his doctorate in philosophy in 1843, he went to the University of Berlin in 1844 to continue his work on philology and philosophy under Franz Bopp, the founder of the Science of Comparative Philology, and Friedrich von Schelling, the eminent philosopher.

Attracted by the fame of Eugene Bumouf, eminent not only as a Sanskrit scholar but also as the first zend scholar of his day, Max Muller went to Paris to attend Bumouf's lecture at the College de France. Though it was primarily at Bumouf's suggestion that the young Max Muller set about collecting materials for editing the Rig Veda, with the commentary of Sayana, there were two more reasons that prompted Max Muller to take up this commendable venture. Firstly, he had a desire 'to know a work which', to quote Max Muller, ' ... has been for so many centuries the foundation on which millions and millions of human beings have built up their religious convictions'. And secondly, to prove that Schopenhauer was wrong when, in a discussion at Frankfurt, he told Max Muller that the Upanishads were the only important portion of the Veda that deserved t be studied, the rest was nothing but priestly rubbish.'

With a view to continuing his work of copying and collating manuscripts, he came over to England in 1846. He had an introduction to the Prussian Minister in London, Baron Bunsen, who subsequently became his intimate friend. The greatest difficulty which he faced was to raise the funds required for the publication of this text. But this difficulty was overcome with the intervention of Baron Bunsen and H. H. Wilson, the first Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford, who recommended him to the East India Company which was fighting against taking over of the company by the Crown under the pressure of public opinion. In Max Muller's difficulty, the Directors found a golden opportunity to prove to the world that they were not bent upon exploiting India but that they were patrons of learning and culture." They sanctioned the money for the publication of complete edition of the Rig Veda with Sayana's commentary. In 1848, he went back to Paris for collating MSS. Suddenly the revolution broke out. Fearing the safety of the precious MSS, he hurriedly came back to London.

As his Rig Veda was being printed at the University Press, he migrated to Oxford in 1848 and spent the rest of his life there. The first volume of Max Muller's edition appeared in 1849, the sixth and the last in 1874. This printed Rig Veda caused a great commotion in India. Attempts were made in various circles to ban it, as having been printed by a mlechchha. But men like Raja Radhakanta Deva and Debendranath Tagore acknowledged it as a work of great merit. Radhakanta, in a letter to Max Muller in 1855, expressed sincere gratitude to the Western scholar for rendering inestimable service to the Hindus by 'supplying them with a correct and superb edition of their Holy Scr.iptures. 'I Appreciating Max Muller's edition of the Rig Veda, the Secretary ofthe Adi Brahmo Samaj, Calcutta, on May 28, 1875 wrote: 'Allow me to convey to you the best and most sincere thanks of the Committee of the Adi Brahmo Sarnaj for a very kind present of your edition of the Rig Veda, the sixth volume of which they received the other day. They cannot express to you their sense of the value of your magnificent present.

'The Committee further begs to offer you their hearty congratulations on the completion of the gigantic task which has occupied you for the last quarter of a century. By publishing the Rig Veda at a time when Vedic learning has, by some sad fatality, become almost extinct in the land of its birth, you have conferred a boon upon us Hindus, for which we cannot but be eternally grateful. '

Appreciating his great achievement Swami Vivekananda wrote in 1899: 'The Rig Veda Samhita, the whole of which no one could even get at before, is now very neatly printed and made accessible to the public, thanks to the munificent generosity of the East India Company, and to the Professor's prodigious labour extending over years. The alphabetical characters of most of the manuscripts, collected from different parts of India, are of various forms, and many words in them are inaccurate. We cannot easily comprehend how difficult it is for a 'foreigner, however learned he may be, to find out the accuracy or inaccuracy of these Sanskrit characters, and more especially to make out clearly the meaning of an extremely condensed and complicated commentary. In the life of Professor Max Muller, the publication of the Rig Veda is a great event.


Publisher s Note3
Editor s Note11
1Raja Rammohan Roy1
2Dwarkanath Tagore45
3Debendranath Tagore53
4Raja Radhakanta Deva64
5Keshab Chandra Sen85
6Ramtanu Lahiri107
7Rai Shaiigram Saheb Bahadur110
8Ramakrishna's Influence on Keshab Chandra Sen113
9Religious Movement in India117
10My Indian Correspondents127
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