Will Germans be the eventual custodians of Sanskrit, its rich heritage and culture? If the demand for Sanskrit and Indology courses in Germany is any indication, that is what the future looks like. 

Unable to cope with the flood of applications from around the world, the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, had to start a summer school in spoken Sanskrit in Switzerland, Italy and – believe it or not – India too. “When we started it 15 years ago, we were almost ready to shut it after a couple of years. Instead, we had to increase strength and take the course to other European countries,” said Professor Dr. Axel Michaels, head of classical Indology at the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg.

Germany has already been a storehouse of Sanskrit scholars to the world.”The majority of Sanskrit scholars including those of Harvard University, California University, Berkely University and UK Universities are Germans.

Early traces:
The first German scholar of Sanskrit was Heinrich Roth (1620-1668) who mastered Sanskrit language during his stay in India. Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829) was another Indologist who got inspired to study Indian languages, literatures and the systems of philosophy. This deep interest in India and its culture, finally led to the foundation of the study of Indology and comparative linguistics in German universities. His brother, August Wilhelm von Schlegel, in 1819, became the first Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Bonn, and, therefore, the founder of Indology in a German university. Interestingly, the first Sanskrit book printed (around 1820) in Europe was the Bhagavadgita accompanied by a Latin translation done by Schlegel himself. Another Indologist, Georg Forster (1754-1794) translated into German the famous 5th century drama by Kalidasa Shakuntalam. This translated drama triggered an interest in Germany to know and study the Indian culture and languages. Max Mueller (1823-1900) is amongst the most well known Indologists and possibly the most talented Sanskrit scholar of all times. He is credited with the German translation of the holy Hindu texts, the Rigveda. In his honour, Goethe Institutes in India are referred to as “Max Muller Bhavan”. Today, Indology is taught in 12 German universities and some of the faculties are over two centuries old.

Introduction of Sanskrit language in Germany:
The Consulate General of India, Munich has consular jurisdiction over two southern States of Germany, viz., Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg. Both these two States are home to some of Germany’s premier universities and four of them have Indology faculties teaching Indian religions, literature, history, arts, culture, politics, economics, society, philosophy, film, media, music, etc. at the graduate, master and Ph.D level. They are Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) and University of Wuerzburg in Bavaria and University of Heidelberg and University of Tuebingen in Baden-Wurttemberg. These universities also have active such engagement with various Indian universities through cooperation agreements. Under agreements, faculty members from these universities visit India for research on various Indian languages and India-related topics and periodically invite Indian scholars and lecturers to their universities. Indology departments in these universities often conduct seminars on India related topics which are well attended by Indologists across the globe.

Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU) Munich:
It was King Ludwig-I himself who desired Othmar Frank (1770-1840) to teach Sanskrit in LMU. Frank taught Sanskrit from 1826 to 1840 and is credited with publishing of German-Sanskrit Grammar in 1823. The Chair for Sanskrit and Comparative Linguistics was formally established in LMU in the year 1868 and Martin Haug was the first head of the Indology faculty.

LMU’s Indology faculty focuses on the exploration of cultural and intellectual history of South Asia from the beginning to the present. It examines the written sources of the cultures of South Asia using philological and historical methods.  Religions and literature of India; philosophical approach, history and arts are taught at bachelor and master level. Sanskrit is regularly taught in the form of two-semester introductory course. Pali and Prakrit are also offered. Hindi, Kannada and Tamil are currently offered in graduate and post-graduate courses. Detailed information about the Faculty, its history and the courses may be accessed at http://www.indologie.uni-muenchen.de/index.html.

University of Wuerzburg:
Chair of Indology in the University of Wuerzburg was established in 1821 and was known as Chair of Oriental Philosophy and Philology with a focus on India and Persia.  However, much before the Indology faculty was formally established at this University, Georg Forster accomplished the task of translating Kalidasa’s Shakuntala in the year 1791.

It is Dr. Julius Jolly, a German scholar and a Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Linguistics at the University of Wuerzburg, who is viewed as the most important Indologist from this university who remained active for many decades, till 1928, much after his retirement. In 1882, he visited  Calcutta  as the Tagore Professor of Law where he lectured on the Hindu Law of Partition, Inheritance and Adoption. His study of Indian medicine is still considered one of the most complete and reliable studies of the history of Indian medical literature. He also published a critical edition of Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

Presently, the Indology courses at Wurzburg University focuses on the intellectual and cultural history of India from late antiquity, through the classical period, to the present.  Classical and modern Indian languages (Hindi, Sanskrit, Kannada, Tulu), Visual culture (films, arts and media), history, religions, literature and the Indian society are also taught. Students are also offered internships in India, through projects and research at Indian partner universities.

In October 2010, the university, with the support of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, established a Centre for Modern Indian Studies under the German Academic Exchange Services (DAAD) with a special programme called ‘A new passage to India‘. The University has entered into agreements with various Indian universities for exchange of students, lecturers and research scholars.

Detailed information about the Faculty may be accessed at : http://www.indologie.uni-wuerzburg.de/en/department_of_cultural_studies_of_east_and_south_asia/

Heidelberg University:
The South Asia Institute (SAI) at the historic Heidelberg University is an inter-disciplinary centre for research and academic teaching on South Asia. Within South Asia, it focuses on India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Tibet. As a central academic institution, SAI today has seven professorships, namely, anthropology, development economics, geography, history, cultural and religious history of South Asia, modern South Asian languages and literatures as well as political science. SAI is the only institution of its kind in Germany that manages to combine social, economic and geographical studies together with cultural studies grounded in history of the region as well as philological expertise and offers a broad range of opportunities for conducting research on contemporary, modern South Asia studies. SAI has a well stocked library containing over 2,00,000 books. A wide variety of courses at bachelor level viz., history of South Asia, cultural and religious history of South Asia, modern South Asian languages and literatures, Sanskrit or one of the modern Indian languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Tamil are offered. At master level, three courses, namely, cultural and religious history of South Asia, modern South Asian languages and literatures and health and society in South Asia are offered.In 2010 the newly-founded Heinrich-Zimmer Chair for Indian Philosophy and Intellectual History was established in SAI which was sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Government of India. Prof. Amiya P. Sen currently holds the Heinrich-Zimmer Chair.

Detailed information about SAI may be accessed at : http://www.sai.uni-heidelberg.de/en/

University of Tuebingen:
University of Tuebingen has been one of Germany’s main centres of India studies since the mid-19th century. It was Rudolf von Roth who contributed to the new Veda research and for whom Tuebingen University established a Chair of Sanskrit in 1856. Hermann Gundert, another 19th-century academic from Tuebingen is also considered one of Germany’s greatest linguists in the field of South Indian languages. He is often called “the Luther of Kerala.” His translation of the Bible in Malayalam continues to be used in Kerala. In Kerala, the University of Tubingen is known as Gundert’s University.

The University houses the Asia-Orient Institute where Indology is taught at the Department of Indology and Comparative Religion Studies. The Indology faculty has a number of exchange programmes for its bachelor, master and Ph.D students with Indian institutions, namely, Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture, PuducheryUniversity of Sambalpur, Orissa, Kamaraj University, Madurai, Calicut University, Kerala, T.E. Malayalam University etc.

Starting October 2015, a new guest professorship, known as the ‘Gundert Chair’ will come into place at the University of Tuebingen. This Chair has been sponsored by the University Grants Commission, Government of India. Detailed information about Tuebingen University’s Indology faculty may be accessed at https://www.uni-tuebingen.de/fakultaeten/philosophische-fakultaet/fachbereiche/aoi/indologie-vgl-religionswissenschaft.html

In Germany, 14 of the top universities teach Sanskrit and have it in their curriculum. A significant part of the global cultural heritage will become extinct if major languages like Sanskrit,Hindi and Kannada fall prey to Indian English.


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