“All-round study of ancient and modern India is one of the pressing necessities.”
– Ivan P.Minayev –
Ivan P.Minayev (1840-1890) is considered to be the founder of the Russian School of Indology who holds a unique ‘pride of place in the history of Russian Oriental studies. He devoted his entire life to the study of the East.
Mentored in Chinese and Tibetan studies by the outstanding Buddhist scholar cum Sinologist Vasily Vasilyev, Minayev went on to learn Sanskrit and Pali. In fact, Minayev’s mentor in Indological studies was the famous Sanskrit scholar Professor K Kossovich. He developed into an independent scholar in the milieu of reactionary environs of indoctrination of orthodox ideas of tsarism.
He left St. Petersburg to Europe and had continued his Indological studies through resourceful interactions with prominent scholars in Germany, England and France. He was already equipped in the languages of Sanskrit and Pali by the time he reached Europe where he had interacted with A Weber, T Benfey and F Bopp. It was in Paris, he set out to catalog for the first time the valuable Pali manuscripts in the National Library.
Minayev was a trailblazer in introducing the teaching of Prakrits in Russia for the first time. He studied Vedic literature and the edicts of Asoka even as he worked on Jaina texts and did the ground work for a publication on the Pali grammar. “Maintaining chronological order in my studies of Indian history, I was obliged to dwell on the most ancient relic. Besides, my choice was justified by its enormous importance in Indian life and science, as the first historical source, and, finally, I chose it for a deliberate evaluation of the works of European scholars on the first period of Indian history, at the same time expecting answers from the Rigveda to many questions that are occupying me at the present time,” he wrote in diary notes for 1862.
Studying Indian culture, Minayev could be seen more as an historian who gave maximum importance to the historical method toward understanding the Indic culture which also became a salient characteristic of all his research works. Later when he was deeply involved in Buddhist research, Minayev did not forget or forsake his passion for the religions of ancient India. “In portraying the destiny of a religion we must discover the laws determining its development…” for he was of the conviction that “the essence of any spiritual divelopment reveals itself to us in the entirety of its historical development and can be understood onlywhen this process is traced back to the beginning and in this way its sources are revealed.”
“The historical principle which guided Minayev in his study of the spiritual life of India had a noticeable effect on his pupils and became characteristic of all the best works of Russian Indologists,” point out Indologists G.Bongard-Levin and A Vigasin in their historical recapturing ‘The Study of Ancient Indian Civilisation in the USSR‘ and also calling for the need for historiographic surveys on Indological studies.
Quiet rightly, as Bongard-Levin and Vigasin pointed out in 1984, “unfortunately, the history of Indology in Russia is still not sufficiently well known and many valuable works by Russian Indologists are not always accessible to scholars in Europe and India as a result of language difficulties, although, for example, some of Minayev’s works have been published in French, those of (Fyodor) Shcherbatskoy and his pupils in English , and some 19th-century Indologists wrote in German.” Though Ernst Windisch’s historigraphic masterpiece A History of the Studies of Sanskrit and Ancient India accommodated many national schools of Indology, ” the works of Russian Indologists are given little space; and the book is very much out of date, “ conclude Bongard-Levin and Vigasin.
In blogpieces to come, I shall be dwelling more on Indologists of the erstwhile USSR.