Judge William Jones made Sanskrit popular among European scholars - colonial India

William Jones ((1746-1794)..uni-due.de

William Jones ((28 September,1746 - 27 April 1794), Lawyer by profession, came to work in India for the British East India company as a judge. He was a polyglot, quite proficient in many European languages as well as Arabic and Persian. Hence many people considered him hyper polyglot. His flair for languages drew the attention of the most ancient  language of the world and native to the Indian subcontinent - Sanskrit. He developed a keen interest in the study of Indian culture and civilization. During his stay in India for 11 years from 1783, realizing the potential, antiquity and advance grammar and structural pattern  of the Sanskrit language, not only did he learn it with the help from learned Pandits but also  introduced it to Europe the ancient culture, heritage and and merits of Indian literature, languages, and history. Just like him, there were other British officers such as Harry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathaniel Halhed who also wanted the western world to know about India, and its history, culture, etc. He,with support from his like-minded  friends Colebrooke and Halhed,  founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta,in 1784 started a journal called ''Asiatick Researches'' to publish scholarly articles on Indian subjects  to get the attention of European scholars who were not aware of the richness of Indian languages, in particular Sanskrit. 

Jones, a radical political thinker and a friend of American independence, produced a flood of works on India and his prolific works covering a variety of subjects in 13 volumes were published in Europe in 1807. His major works included  translation of the Manu Smriti, of Kalidasa, the Gita Govinda of Jaideva, the Indian Classical Music, Geography, Botany, ancient Indian sciences, etc. He clearly showed the close link between Sanskrit and European languages in several aspects such as syntax, verb patterns  and declensions, well refined advanced grammar, etc and impressed on the European scholars that Sanskrit was a fully developed advanced language rich in literature and various other intellectual works  and had a close affinity with Greek and Latin. 

In the 19th century the concept of Proto Indo European language, simply PIE was introduced suggesting the evolution of various world languages from a distinctive common source.His emphatic argument took the linguistic world by surprise leading to a lot of debates and discussions.A consesus was arrived at only later. Previously it was believed Hebrew was the common source of many world languages. Now at many major European and American universities Sanskrit is being taught and researched by scholars. It was Jones who first laid the foundation of the  study of comparative linguistics and Indo-European studies.


Sir Willium Jones tomb, Kolkata,South Park Street Cemetery.en.wikipedia.org

Through Jones and others' dedicated efforts a Madrasa was founded in 1781 to promote the study of Arabic, Persian and Islamic law in Calcutta. A Hindu College was established in 1791 in  Benaras, Uttar Pradesh to promote the study of ancient Sanskrit texts that could be useful for better administration of the country and preservation of valuable works of  various ancient scholars and  religious practices and places of worship. Both were  the first institutions ever founded by the British scholar on the Indian soil to unearth India's vast treasure trove of knowledge. The British scholars were well supported by Warren Hastings who evinced keen interest in Indology.   

There were other company officials who argued that the British ought to promote Indian rather than Western learning. They felt that institutions should be set up to encourage the study of ancient Indian texts and teach Sanskrit and Persian literature and poetry; officials also thought that Hindus and Muslims ought to be taught what they were already familiar with, and what they valued and treasured and not subjects that were alien to them. These  dedicated British officials, unmindful of criticism, worked with courage of conviction  towards their goal and encouraged both Indians and the British to study Indology. Jones died in Calcutta on 27 April, 1794 at the age of 47 and is buried in South Park Street Cemetery.

Sir William Jones,judge,British East India Co. en.wikipedia.org/

In south India people speak what are called Dravidian languages consisting of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. All these languages come under the ''Dravidian group of languages.'' Just like Sanskrit, Tamil, the mother of other south Indian languages, is a classical ancient language, well developed and very rich in literature, poetry and drama. It is also one of the oldest, well refined and developed languages in the world. British scholars like G.U.Pope made valuable contribution and made it familiar among western scholars. So was Constanzo Beschi, an Italian Jesuit priest, Missionary in South India who made immense contribution in Tamil.Tamil is an official language of  Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia.

Starting of Indian universities in 1857:  Not withstanding the fact the British were in the middle of the Sepoy Revolt  going on in Meerut, Delhi and elsewhere in Northern India, universities were being established in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay to impart English education. Attempts were also made to bring about changes within the system of school education in tune with higher education. The English education system later worked positively and kept the people of non Hindi-Urdu speaking people united.

Gandhiji's aversion to British education in India: Though studied Law in England, Mahatma Gandhi was of the view that colonial education would create a sense of inferiority in the minds of Indians and  destroy the pride in own culture. Instead, we might look upon the western civilization as superior and valuable. There was poison in this education, said Mahatma Gandhi, it was sinful, it enslaved Indians, it cast an evil spell on them and they would be Charmed by the West.It does not mean Gandhiji despised higher education of western countries and he simply pointed out the perils in such foreign education and it is our responsibility to grasp only the good and discard the bad.