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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Western Indologists – A Study in Motives: Part 2

(This is part 2 of the monograph “Western Indologists – A Study in Motives” – by Pandit Bhagvad Datt, which is being presented as a 4 part series. Read Part 1 here.)

The Purpose Of Boden Chair Of Sanskrit In Oxford University

In Vikram Samvat (V.S) 1890 Horace Hayman Wilson became the Boden Professor of Sanskrit in the Oxford University. His successor Prof. M. Monier Williams has drawn the attention of the scholars to the object of the establishment of that chair in the following words:-

“I must draw attention to the fact that I am only the second occupant of the Boden Chair, and that its founder, Colonel Boden, stated most explicitly in his will (dated August 15, 1811 CE) that the special object of his munificent bequest was to promote the translation of Scriptures into Sanskrit; so as to enable his countrymen to proceed in the conversion of the natives of India to the Christian Religion·”1

Prejudiced Sanskrit Professor

I.) Prof. Horace Hayman Wilson was a man of very noble disposition, but he had his obligations towards the motives of the founder of the Chair he occupied. He, therefore, wrote a book on “The Religious and Philosophical system of the Hindus” and explaining the reason for writing it, he says “These lectures were written to help candidates for a prize of £200/- given by John Muir, a well-known old Haileybury man and great Sanskrit scholar, for the best refutation of the Hindu Religious system.”2

From this quotation the learned readers can conclude to what extent the aim of European scholarship could be called scientific, how far the theories propounded by them could be free from partisanship and called reliable, and how true would be the picture of Bharatiya civilisation and culture drawn by them.

II.) In the same spirit of prejudice the aforesaid scholar Rudolph Roth wrote his thesis – “Zur Literatur und Geschichte Des Veda.”3 a dissertation on the Vedic literature and history. In V.S 1909  was published his edition of the ‘Nirukta of Yaska’.4 He was too proud of his own learning and of the German genius. He asserted that by means of the German ‘science’ of philology Vedic mantras could be interpreted much better than with the help of Nirukta.5 Roth wrote many other things in this haughty vein.

III.) The same pedantry is exhibited in the writings of W.D. Whitney who asserts:”The principles of the ‘German School’ are the only ones which can ever guide us to a true understanding of the Veda.”!6

IV.) Max Muller was a fellow-student of Roth. Besides his teacher’s stamp on him, Max Muller’s interview with Lord Macaulay on 28th December, 1855 CE also played a great part in his anti-Hindu views. Max Muller had to sit silent for an hour while Macaulay poured out his views and then dismissed his visitor who tried in vain to utter a simple word. “I went back to Oxford”, writes Max Muller, “a sadder man and a wiser man.”7

Max Muller’s name became widely known to the people of Bharatvarsha for two reasons. Firstly, he was a voluminous writer and secondly his views were severely criticised by the great scholar and savant Svami Dayananda Sarasvati (V.S 1881-1940 ) in his public speeches and writings. The value of Max Muller’s opinions, may be estimated from his following statements:-

(I) “History seems to teach that the whole human race required a gradual education before, in the fullness of time, it could be admitted to the truths of Christianity. All the fallacies of human reason had to be exhausted, before the light of a higher truth could meet with ready acceptance. The ancient religions of the world were but the milk of nature, which was in due time to be succeeded by the bread of life ….. the religion of Buddha, has spread, far beyond the limits of the Aryan world, and, to our limited vision, it may seem to have retarded the advent of Christianity among a large portion of the human race. But in the sight of Him with whom a thousand years are but as one day, that religion, like the ancient religions of the world, may have but served to prepare the way of Christ, by helping, through its very errors to strengthen and to deepen the ineradicable yearning of the human heart after the truth of God.”8

(2) “Large number of Vedic hymns are childish in the extreme: tedious, low, commonplace.”9

(3) “Nay, they (the Vedas) contain, by the side of simple, natural, childish thoughts, many ideas which to us sound modem, or secondary and tertiary”10

Such reviling of the most ancient and highly scientific scripture of the world can come only from the mouth of a bigoted Christian or an impious atheist. Barring Christianity, Max Muller was bitterly antagonistic to every other religion which he regarded as heathen.

His religious intolerance is apparent from his bitter criticism of the view of the German scholar, Dr. Spiegel, that the Biblical theory of the creation of the world is borrowed from the ancient religion of the Persians or Iranians. Stung by this statement Max Muller writes: “A writer like Dr. Spiegel should know that he can expect no mercy; nay, he should himself wish for no mercy, but invite the heaviest artillery against the floating battery which he has launched in the troubled waters of Biblical crlticism.”11 (Strange to say that our History supports the truth of Dr. Spiegel’s view to the extent that the Biblical statements were derived from Persian, Babylonian and Egyptian scriptures.)

At another place the same devotee of the western ‘scientific’ scholar-ship says:

“If in spite of all this, many people, most expectant to judge, look forward with confidence to the conversion of the Parsis, it is because, in the most essential points, they have already, though unconsciously, approached as near as possible to the pure doctrine of Christianity. Let them but read Zend-Avesta, in which they profess to believe, and they will find that their faith is no longer the faith of the Yasna, the Vendidad and the Vispered. As historical relics, these works, if critically interpreted, will always retain a pre-eminent place in the great library of the ancient world. As oracles of religious faith, they are defunct and a mere anachronism in the age in which we live.”12

Even a superficial reader can see the strain of Christian fanaticism running through these lines. If Bharatiya culture could exact occasional praise from the pen of a bigoted man like Max Muller, it was only due to its unrivaled greatness and superiority.


The French scholar Louis Jacolliot, Chief Judge in Chandranagar, wrote a book calledLa Bible dans L’Inde” in Samvat 1926. Next year an English translation of it was also published. In that book the learned author has laid down the thesis that all the main currents of thought in the world have been derived from ancient Bharatiya thought. He has called Bharatvarsha ‘the Cradle of Humanity. ..,13

“Land of ancient India! Cradle of Humanity, hail! Hail, revered motherland whom centuries of brutal invasions have not yet buried under the dust of oblivion. Hail, Fatherland of faith, of love, of poetry and of science, may we hail a revival of thy past in our Western future.”

This book cut Max Muller to the quick and he said while reviewing it that the author seems to have been taken in by the Brahmins in India.”


Personal letters give a true picture of the writer’s inner mind. A person expresses his inmost feelings in the letters which he writes to his intimate relations and friends. Such letters are very helpful in estimating his real nature and character. Fortunately, a collection called the “Life and Letters of Frederick Max Muller” has been published in two volumes. A few extracts from those letters would suffice to expose the mind of the man who is held in great esteem in the West for his Sanskrit learning and impartial judgment.

(a) In a letter of 1866 CE (V.S. 1923) he writes to his wife :

“This edition of mine and the translation of the Veda will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India, …… it is the root of their religion and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last three thousand years.”

(b) In another letter he writes to his son :

“Would you say that any one sacred book is superior to all others in the world…… I say the New Testament. After that, I should place the Koran,14 which in its moral teachings, is hardly more than a later edition of the New Testament. Then would follow …. .the Old Testament, the Southern Buddhist Tripitika, …. .The Veda and the Avesta.”

(c) On 16th December 1868 CE (V.S 1925) he writes to Duke of Argyl, the Minister for India:

“The ancient religion of India is doomed and if Christianity does not step in, whose fault will it be?”

(d) On 29th January 1882 (V.S 1939), he wrote to Sri Bairamji Malabari :

“I wanted to tell… .. what the true historical value of this ancient religion is, as looked upon, not from an exclusively European or Christian, but from a historical point of view. But discover in it ‘steam engines and electricity and European philosophy and morality, and you deprive it of its true character.”

Herein Max Muller claims to know ‘the true historical value’ of Vedic religion, but our history is going to expose the hollowness of the learning and scholarship which he and his colleagues boast of possessing.


  1.  “Sanskrit-English Dictionary” by Sir M. Monier-Williams, Preface, p. IX. 1899.
  2. “Eminent Orientalists,” Madras, p. 72.
  3. English translation published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1847.
  4. A treatise on etymology and semantics.
  5. It would be interesting here to point out that in the introduction of his edition of Nirukta, Roth has given a wrong
    Interpretation of a passage of Aitareya Brahmana which has invited a derisive comment from Goldstucker (cf.
    Panini, p. 198).
  6. American Or. Soc. Proc., Oct. 1867.
  7. Life and Letters of Max Muller. Longmans Green & Co., 1902, quoted in C.H.I., Vol. VI (1932), p.
  8. History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature, p. 32, 1860.
  9. “Chips from a German Workshop”, second edition, 1866, p. 27.
  10. “India, what can it teach us”, Lecture IV, p. 118, 1882.
  11. “Chips from a German Workshop”, Genesis and the Zend Avesta, p. 147.
  12. Ibid. The Modern Parsis, p. 180. To write about an unconscious approach of an anterior religion to the doctrines of
    a posterior faith can only become a person of ‘scientific’ mind like that of Max Muller. How repugnant to a biased
    Christian mind is the idea of Christianity borrowing anything from another ancient religion even when the
    similarity is so striking! And these very so called unbiased pedagogues have not hesitated to attribute to Bharatiya
    literature a Greek borrowing on the flimsiest excuse, i.e. where the similarity is not at all obvious but is strained.
  13. Cf quotation from Winternitz on p.2 above. Probably Winternitz refers to Jacolliot.
  14. A clear indication of Anglo-Muslim alliance worked out by the English bureaucrats and later evident in a work like
    the Cambridge History of India and a hoard of other works.
    It is also evident in the works of the French author Garcin De Tassy: Les Anteurs Hindoustanis et leurs ouvrages 2nd
    ed. Paris, 1868 and Histoire de la Literature Hindouie et Hindoustanie, 3 vols, 2nd ed. Paris, 1870-7.

(to be continued)

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