Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 17-18 (June 1989) p. 43.

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Friedrich Max Mueller:

Appropriation of the Vedic Past

[^Vasudha Dalmia-Luderitz

The German romantic attachment to India's ancient past, being exempted from possible colonial interests, has been widely accepted as self evident. In this paper I shall seek to demonstrate that this interest was part of a cultural politics seeking to establish a new basis for the German national tradition—a complex, often contradictory process, coherent primarily in the framework of an internal European dialogue. Three figures stand out as conceptually significant for the scholarly activity which was to unfold during the course of the nineteenth century: Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829) and finally Friedrich Max Mueller (1823-1900), who occupies a remarkable position between a scholar and a poet and whose works provide, as it were, a climax of concern for India's ancient heritage.1 These three demonstrate also the shift in perspective during the course of the century.

I shall confine myself to an analysis of an early influential work of each author in some detail: the three works under discussion having been conditioned by the quality and quantity of the source material available to each author. A discussion of the respective personal relationship to India, which as in the case of Schlegel underwent many stages, would be outside the scope of the present paper.


In the seventies of the eighteenth century a variety of travel literature on the Orient had become available, written by missionaries, tradesmen and the civil servants of the East India Company. There was evidently an eager readership of these works, for immediately upon publication, they were translated into other European languages. Primary textual material was scarce and consisted of preliminary translations of maxims, Puranic legends, moral-philosophic dialogues of dubious origin.2 In spite of this paucity of first-hand knowledge, Voltaire had not hesitated to locate the place of the origin of the human race on the banks of the Ganges, expressly against the bibilical tradition. Voltaire's readiness to use any supportive evidence for his thesis had in fact been used by the Jesuits, who in 1760 had allowed a manuscript of the Ezourvedam to fall into his hands. A mixture of Puranic and

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