Friday, February 25, 2011

Max Muller a Sanskrit scholar?

Friedrich Max Müller is regarded a great scholar of Sanskrit. Indeed he is revered among scholars in Indology. But if one traces his scholarship and life one cannot help but wonder what made him such an exalted scholar? A brief history of his will tell you he came from a humble background in Germany, raised by his mother who put him in school hoping for better future of her son. He trained in Europe in various oriental languages, sources of this training were often dubious, ones who never set foot in the lands of languages they claimed to be experts in. In fact none of the scholars had ever been to India or had any training in Sanskrit, a language that was no longer spoken in India and was mostly limited to Bramhan scholars. They worked off poor, half baked hand written copies brought to Europe by colonizing Englishmen, attempted to create a dictionary on their own and set to translate these hand copied Sanskrit texts.

The extent of Max Muller's Sanskrit scholarship is betrayed in his own words in this passage from his "Auld Lang Syne" -

So this "scholar of Sanskrit" could not follow Sanskrit when a native Indian came to him speaking in the language.


froginthewell said...

If you study a language only from writings and never bother about pronunciation it is only natural that you will not be able to follow it. That doesn't negate his scholarship at all. How many traditional maamis can understand the dialogues in a Hollywood movie? Doesn't mean they don't know English at all. Again, I can read math in French, but can't follow anything that people speak.

That aside, Mueller actually loved India, and for all his limitations did not try to snidely sneak in statements that actually imply that India is full of idiots. Read his statements in praise of Sanskrit grammar (they are not vague words like "beautiful", but concrete points of superiority of Sanskrit). The people we should actually go after are not intellectually rather honest folks like Max Mueller who at least tried to start studying Indology, but the modern American historians who propagate eurocentric/imperialist and worse, Freudian-conspiracy-theoretic narrative with a deceptive and sinister progressive mask.

Dosabandit said...

Max Muller's cluelessness with Sanskrit was much deeper than that. The fact is, he was hired by Thomas Macaulay for East India Company to write about Sanskrit. Indology sold at that time and anyone who was looking to make some money took this route. None of the scholars had the honesty to admit their lack of expertise. However that did not stop them from positioning themselves as scholars and reaping all benefits that accrued from it. Intellectual honesty is the least of their traits. As for his purported love of India and Sanskrit, that is not his own. It comes from the manuscripts he was working off from the early British colonizers like William Jones, Robert Clive and others, who I might add were as clueless as one can be.