The mythical image of India had cast her spell on the Western man since the beginning of history. The present book is a brief account of the response of German intellectuals of India in its different phases - from its initial romantic attitude to its more mature and critical appreciation of the languages and literatures, philosophy and religion of India. The discovery of ancient wisdom by German indologists added a new dimension to disciplines of Linguistics, Religion and Mythology. The present writer also points out the subtle and significant impact of the labours of German poets and philosophers, grammarians and sociologists in understanding Indian culture on Indian intelligentsia.
Sisir Kumar Das (1936- ) was educated at the Universities of Calcutta and London and received doctorate degrees from both. For some time he was a post-doctoral fellow in Linguistics at Cornell University. He was a lecturer in Bengali at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, for three years. At present he is the Reader in Bengali, University of Delhi. He is a poet, playwright and a literary critic. His Early Bengali Prose (1966) written in English is a pioneering work in the study of stylistics in this country.
This essay bearing the title Western Sailors: Eastern Seas is very apt, for what else did the Western scholars in their quest for finding the sources of Eastern wisdom do but start on an uncharted voyage to its land of origin? To my mind, it has not yet been sufficiently realised that here is one of those rare human enterprises where the intellectual elite of a country of takes the most lively and selfless interest in the culture of another nation, so much so that these scholars dedicated their life’s work for this pursuit without ever expecting any gain or honour from it. It is as though they followed the behest of the Bhagavad Gita that our work should never be tainted by ambition or desire for gain and fame. “Do they work and do not think of the fruit thereof.”
We have to thank Dr. Das for having taken great pains in following the route taken by our indologists, starting with their first faltering steps till the present time when there is a very lively two-way traffic on our mutual relations and when indological studies in my country cannot only look back to great achievements made during more than one and a half centuries but look ahead with equal confidence to ever-increasing and widening activities. So often we Germans hear from our Indian friends how indebted India is for the research work done by our indologists which helps not only to make the intellectual elite conscious of India’s cultural heritage but through their voluminous writings also projected abroad an image of India which lifted her up in the eyes of the world at a time when she suffered political oblivion. Yes, when names are mentioned like Schlegel, Bopp, Deussen and scores of those we feel convinced that they indeed were largely responsible for ushering in Indian’s cultural renaissance in the 19th century.
And yet one also hears nowadays dissenting voices from quarters that want to look forward unhampered by what they call the trammels of tradition. But for these, so it is argued, I India would have forged ahead much faster and been along with the rest of the modern world in the vanguard of modern civilisation. The argument of these advocates of outright progress who want to break away from the very roots of India’s culture cannot be brushed aside lightly, for they are too vocal to be overheard. And yet, we have to pause and ask ourselves whether the achievements of our indological friends in the west were really made in vain or whether modern civilization with its overemphasis on matter and materialism will not draw strength from the deep well of India’s ancient wisdom.
I for one am of the firm opinion that life is blossoming at its best only when the material needs of man are informed and regulated by spiritual values. And here India can and should play a decisive role in the world by not bartering away her culture’s priceless treasures for a mess of pottage but rather nurture and allow it to act as a catalyst which will bring about a balance between spirit and matter and only them enable us to live an integrated life in relative material comfort and based on the rockbed of the spirit. Our world is made up of dualistic principles, the primordial amongst them being that between matter and spirit. Only when these two these two are in harmony with one other can a true culture come into being. None of these two must override the other and here it can perhaps be maintained with some justification that our indologists have laid too great a stress on the religious and metaphysical aspect of India’s culture. In order to supplement their work and to show that German scholars are not only interested in India’s past and pursue indological studies in the more literal sense but are now very much alive to the problems and plans of present-day India, we are just preparing a book called German Scholars on India, in which account will be given by German scientists on the work they carry out in their particular field of research. I may refer here also to the South Asia Institute of the Heidelberg University where not only indology in the classical linguistic sense is taught but where the India of today in all her multifarious facets is the subject of research. And furthermore, there are groups of German scholars at present in India who are studying in situ local problems from their particular scientific angles; problems that have bearing on the further development of India’s vast rural areas.
This is, indeed, as it should be, for only through knowledge of each other’s difficulties will strengthen our mutual understanding and reinforce our friendship. That Dr. Das has so painstakingly worked toward this end is very gratifying and justifies in ample measure his being awarded my Government’s Nehru Award.
Western Sailors : Eastern Seas is a brief account of the cultural relationship between Germany and India. The subject is important and difficult. It is importance because is it one of the illuminating chapters in the history of human understanding and because the discovery of ancient Indian wisdom by German scholars assed a new dimension to disciplines of Linguistics, Religious and Mythology. It is difficult because like all human relationships, relations between nations are conditioned and shaped by national temperament and their sense of valise. The present writer has only tried to outline the salient features of the history of the relationship between these two countries.
The sailors from Portugal, Holland, France and England came for material gains. They wanted a new territory for the extension of their trade and commerce and ultimately for their empire. Missionaries came to spread the Word. At last came the scholars to ship home the order treasures. British scholars were the first among their European counterparts to arrive in India and became pioneers in many fields of Indology. Many of them loved India. They translated the ancient texts, deciphered the language writing in manuscripts and inscribed on the rocks. India remembers them with gratitude and respect. Germany had neither a colony in India nor had she any territorial interest in the country. Naturally the German scholars had to wait to arrive in the new field of Indology. Heine wrote that while other nations were interested in the gold of India the Germans had “all along been left to watch it. Today Schlegel, Bopp, Humboldt, Frank, etc. are our East Indian sailors. Bonn and Munich will be good factories.” The Poet’s hope was fulfilled. Though they were late the Germans gave a new direction to several disciplines when they discovered ancient India.
This discovery had its import on India too. The educated Indian of the last century had but a vague idea about his own heritage. The Western Indologists presented him with the most precious gift he ever had from Europe. They discovered his own heritage for him which helped him to realize the significance of his role in the great human drama. He acquired new strength to cope with his present. It is not surprising that Lord Curzon was annoyed with Max Mueller because he thought Max Mueller’s writings influenced the rebellious minds of young Indians.
The present paper has six sections excluding the conclusion, an appendix and a bibliography. The first section describes the initial romantic response of Germany to India thought, the second deals with the neo-grammarians in the main and their contribution to the Indic studies in general and the third with the nature of the response of philosophers to Indian religious thoughts. The next two sections are devoted Max Mueller and Tagore respectively. The Indo-German relationship reached its climax in Max Muller. His towering personality, great scholarship and love for India-both ancient and modern–distinguish him from all others working in the same field. His love and concern for India have made him the most honoured European scholar in India. On the other hand Germany’s attitude to Tagore shows her keen awareness of the richness of the modern Indian thought. By honouring Tagore, in whom Indian renaissance found its finest expression, Germany honour modern India. The sixth section Not by love Alone discussess the observations of Max Weber on Indian religions. His analysis may not be very pleasant to many Indians but it is objective is original, perceptive though critical. This element of criticism is important for any healthy relationship. Cultural relationship is different from trade or political relations. Stream of wisdom flows even through the barriers of political expediency. Cultural relationship is a relationship of minds. It grows through mutual admiration and love but by love alone.
We often talk of Eastern and Western thoughts and cultures. The validity of such distinction is open to question today when the world has become smaller with man’s triumph over distance and any citizen of this small planet can claim all achievements of man as his own heritage. Any man’s death diminishes it-it is more than a poetic truth and the modern world is trying to realise the fact. This realisation is achieved through the establishment of relationship. German response to our culture is an example of such relationship.
This essay was written in the summer of 1969 and for it I was awarded that year’s Nehru Award of the Federal Republic of Germany University of Delhi. I am grateful to His Excellency Guenter Diehl, German ambassador to India, for his keen interest in my paper. I take this opportunity to thank his Excellency for the kindness he has shows to me. I also thank Mr. Hermann Ziock, the Press Counsellor, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, for making necessary arrangements for the publication of this essay.
1. A Land of Desire
2. What's in the Scroll?
3. Ancient Voice : Modern Echo
4. The Vedavyasa of the Kali Yuga
5. The Goethe of India
6. Not by Love Alone
Appendix : A Chronology of Events Relevant to the Indo-German Cultural Relations
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