Tasks and Targets

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The Goethe-Institut in India - About Max Mueller

“If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant, I should point to India.’’- Max Mueller

The German indologist and Sanskrit scholar Max Mueller was a pioneer, who in his spiritual, romantic and philosophical quest traced the common roots of Indo-European civilizations to the ancient vedic culture of India.

Max Mueller was born on 6th December in the year 1823 in Dessau, a small town in eastern Germany. Max Mueller entered the Leipzig university at the age of 18 and went on to complete his doctoral thesis on Spinoza’s ethics in 1843. During his university years he had also developed an aptitude for learning the classical languages of Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. Soon after this initial engagement at the Leipzig university he proceeded to Berlin, where he, under the influence of philosopher Schelling, translated the Upanishads for him. Motivated by the French scholar Eugene Burnouff, he later translated the Vedas, using the available manuscripts in the library of the British East India Company in Britain.

After 1860, he set about working on the translation of the Rigvedas. He prepared simultaneously notes and commentaries on themes in comparative philosophy and mythology with an interest in spreading this esoteric knowledge among the public. Throughout the last thirty years of his life Indology remained the central focus of his research in Comparative Theology and Philology. In 1868, Mueller was the first one to occupy the chair of Comparative Philology at the University of Oxford. This was followed by the publication of Introduction to the Science of Religion in 1873. He continued to lecture on the same theme at the Royal Institute and Westminister Abbey and inaugurated the Hibbert lecture series in 1878 at the Westminister Abbey.

His pioneering intervention in the vedic studies also coincided with an emerging trend among the western scholars, in which the processes of language and culture were not seen as parallel courses, but rather as stemming from the same field of factors. Mueller in a way furthered the endeavour of the Indo-European language group in tracing the ancestry of these civilisations to the ancient vedic culture of India. After publishing The Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy in 1899, Max Mueller passed away at his home in Oxford the following year.

The Goethe-Institutes in India, founded in 1957, were named after this founder of Indology in honour of the inter-cultural sympathies and understanding he had nurtured through his saintly quest for a common Indo-European brotherhood. In a globalised world, where the need for understanding between cultures gains increasing significance, nothing conveys this message in the history of Indo-German relations better than the life and works of Friedrich Max Mueller.

The list of scholarly works of Max Mueller includes: The Sacred Books of the East (1878-1894, 50 vols.), Rig Veda (1849-1873, 6 vols.), A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature So Far As It Illustrates the Primitive Religion of the Brahmans (1859), Lectures on the Science of Language (1864, 2 vols.), Chips from a German Workshop (1867-75, 4 vols.), Introduction to the Science of Religion (1873), India, What can it Teach Us? (1883), Biographical Essays (1884), The Science of Thought (1887), Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy (1899), four volumes of Gifford Lectures (Collected Works, vols. 1-4): Natural Religion (1889), Physical Religion (1891), Anthropological Religion (1892), and Theosophy, or Psychological Religion (1893), his two volumes of biographical reflections Auld Lang Syne (1898), My Autobiography: A Fragment (1901) and The Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Friedrich Max Mueller (1902, 2 vols.)