What India Taught Max Muller

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Although some of his works might lead us to conclude that Max Müller thought little of India in general and Vedic literature, in particular, his anthology India: What Can it Teach Us? conveys his genuine love for India in the twilight of his life and career: Swarajya

F. Max Mueller / Foto um 1895  Mueller, Friedrich Max Indologe u. Historiker, Dessau 6.12.1823 - Oxford 28.10.1900. Portraetaufnahme, um 1895.

F. Max Mueller / Foto um 1895 Mueller, Friedrich Max Indologe u. Historiker, Dessau 6.12.1823 – Oxford 28.10.1900. Portraetaufnahme, um 1895.

In my two earlier pieces, I had promised to review Friedrich Max Müller’s anthology of lectures titled India: What Can it Teach Us? which may be accessed for free on Project Gutenberg’s portal. Before I review the anthology, I wish to set out a few preliminary thoughts. Those interested in decolonising the Indian mind and purging Indian history textbooks of colonial and Marxist biases must appreciate that views held by scholars and historians are not immutable. They are susceptible to change over time, and this can be attributed to several reasons, Max Müller’s views on India, Hinduism and the Vedas being a classic case in point.

While some of his views elsewhere could lead one to conclude that he thought little of Indians in general and Vedic literature in particular, his lectures and his autobiography (which too is available for free) convey the distinct impression that Müller genuinely loved India at least in the twilight of his life and career. In fact, the strong impression that a layperson with an interest in history could come away with is that Müller was convinced that not only must every student of world history necessarily undertake the study of Indian history through Sanskrit and Vedic literature, but also that there was much of value that India still had to offer to the world. Therefore, the temptation to present a monolithic picture of an individual’s body of work and his ideological proclivities is perhaps best resisted.

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Author: Zafar Anjum

I am a writer based in Singapore.

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