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Deep rivers

 | 
Kannan M.
, 
Jennifer Clare

Classical Tamil

Agastya's shift from North to South: the weight of the South in Indian studies

Texte intégral

I - The truth behind a myth

1Sanskrit is a sovereign language that overleaps India and its boundaries. Yet when it comes to modern or medieval studies and their linguistic thresholds, neither history, anthropology, nor philology can disregard their own regionalism, landscapes or idioms. Researchers cannot escape the choice between the lure of the Subcontinent's North and the magnetic pull of its South.

2The North is blessed with more advantages: the prestige of a capital that has arisen from its ashes time and again, the aura of a majestic river and the traditional pilgrimage to its source, and the allure for an ethnocentric European culture of Alexander’s itinerary, Greco-Buddhist art, Central Asia and the fascinating presence of the Himalayas. No tourist or scholar can resist those mountain slopes nor the border region of Nepal, antechamber to Tibet. The ample store of archaeological and linguistic data and of historical findings garnered beyond India's northwestern border now gives rise to a thorough reinvestigation of the appearance of Aryans and Dravidians on the scene, their widespread influence and its lasting consequences. The North has in short tended to monopolize French attention on both sides of that border.

3Entire generations of French Indologists felt the magnetism of the South to be due to trivial historical reasons and Pondicherry remains a symbol of that view, one that elicits an attitude from northerners and others that may be either patronizing or of the outdated and nostalgic sort. Both attitudes are superficial, however, for they address recent history alone and ignore more ancient layers and the roots of those layers.

  • 1 Latest evaluation in Animesh Rai, The Legacy of French Rule in India (1674-1952): An investigation (...)

4Should the French colonial epoch of Dupleix and the story of our trading posts with their trials and tribulations be grounds for letting the Franco-Indian dialogue degenerate into a debate over turf?1 That would mean equating the treasure-trove of spiritual and intellectual wealth that India has given to France with the laborious toils of our overseas administrators and the various dreams of glory described in colonial fiction. The fact that the southern legacy can hold its own against the lure of the North is a reflection of Indian reality as a whole, beautifully expressed in the treatment of weight and counterweights found in one of the legends of Agastya.

5So many gods had assembled for the nuptials of Shiva and Parvati in their Himalayan abode that the earth had begun to tilt precariously to the North. Agastya, the eighth of the Seven Sages, was dispatched to the Peninsula's southern tip to redress the balance single-handed. He did so, and on the way he cut the Vindhya mountains down to size, for they had begun to reach so high up into the heavens that the stars had difficulty passing them. Ever since then, Agastya has been a paradoxical figure who, although of northern origin, champions southern speech and values; as a fair reward for undergoing banishment, he is the favourite guest at the myriad nuptials celebrated in the South's great sanctuaries anywhere from Tiruttani to Madurai, when Himalayan gods or their offspring marry the daughters of the southern hills.

6This tale is told in detail in medieval texts, but the Ramayana had already mentioned Agastyas's two abodes, one north of Nasik and the southern one atop Mount Poti in the Pāṇṭiya region, the furthermost peak of the Western Ghats. We also notice Agastya’s presence at the source of the river Kaviri or in Kanchipuram. The myth's motifs, the lowering of the initially insuperable divide formed by the Vindhya mountain, the South's counterweight to the North's ascendancy, and the number of matrimonial bonds that make for integration, all of these run like a leitmotiv throughout the country's history: in its culture and its languages, its politics and trade, resemblances and differences come and go, inviting North and South to maintain a balance, each preserving its own identity.

  • 2 For an overview, R. Salomon, Indian Epigraphy. A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in the Indo-Ar (...)

7The first material evidence that the myth of Agastya is the leitmotiv of history and a true symbol of threshold and integration is apparent when we look at epigraphy and palaeography.2 If the advance of the empire of Ashoka towards the South stops short at the Vindhya, (the barrier), the Brāhmī script in which his Edicts were written crosses that barrier, invades the far South and Ceylon and, before the beginning of the common era, incorporates the adjustments necessary for it to meet the requirements of the Tamil phonetic system. Later, in that same southern area, the Grantha script, through the prakrit inscriptions of the Satavahana and of the Pallava, also establishes itself; it may be used in the South even today to print Sanskrit texts, and it is the script in which almost all the Sanskrit manuscripts originating in the South are written. It differs from the Nāgarī script used in the North to such a degree that the first European researchers, confusing language and script, sometimes pondered over the true identity of these “grandonic” texts, before accepting that word as a synonym for Sanskrit. So, the would-be irreducible Southerners start to be historically attested to by their most ancient written documents only once the culture from the North, symbolised by the ashokan Brāhmī, was already settled there: when the barrier had been crossed and the levelling was at work. In contrast, the re-differentiation of the scripts throughout later history was to create real communication problems, encouraging the impulse towards autonomy that India has recently witnessed. Our metaphors now shift from the weight to the scales: in comparison with other areas of India, differences in the South are either toned down to the point of complete integration, or mount up to that of insurmountability or even of open antagonism.

8Unfortunately, the true significance of the weight of the South is sometime blurred by partisan or unscientific approaches which, for the purely geographical and linguistic definition of the words “Dravidian” or “Aryan”, substitute racial or socio-political myths in favour of regionalism and other particularities. Moreover, studies in cultural anthropology must always remain on guard: a population which expresses itself through its Dravidian language or literature expresses not only its own topic identity but Indian culture in its entirety as well, and is genuinely free from chauvinism.

9Seen in that light the focus of French Indology on South India, Dravidian studies included, is due not to any sort of preference but simply to Indian reality as a whole, although some of our classical commentators abroad may sometimes have given a different impression: René Grousset spoke of southern India as of a tropical Greece, and Pierre Meile saw the Tamils as India's Athenians, while British counterparts thought they detected Latin rhythms of speech in Telugu poetry. Meanwhile Krishna's flute has been playing the same tunes on the banks of the Yamuna as on those of the Vaikai, the river of the Mathura of the South, Madurai.

II - India at the crossing of the routes

  • 3 See J.-M. Lafont, “Les Indo-Grecs. Recherches Archéologiques Françaises dans le Royaume Sikh du Pe (...)
  • 4 Sumati Ramasamy, Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories, The lost Land of Lemuria, Permanent (...)

10A panorama of French oriental studies overall suggests that they most often cultivate a rather all encompassing attitude. On the northern side the prestige of the “inland road” has often been privileged by our cultural ethnocentrism: Alexander’s itinerary, Indo-Persian kingdoms, Greeks from the Bactrian land, Greco-Buddhist art, gold artefacts of the Scyths and ivories from Begram, are the familiar subjects scholars such as Foucher, Hackin or Ph. Stern illustrated in the past. This brilliant tradition had an early start3 and continued with the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA), then with French missions in Pakistan and to a much lesser extent in India itself. Central Asia remains a favourite area for historical research and encounters, and Tashkent stands as a good interdisciplinary centre for scholarly exchanges. Jean-Marie Cazal, like Sir Mortimer Wheeler, was practising archaeology on Harappan sites for a long time before excavating the Tamil site of Arikkamēṭu. The team of Jean-François Jarrige worked in Pakistan investigating archaeological Harappan sites close to the north-west of India, while a French Archaeological Mission branched out in India for some time. Attention has, since, been concentrated on the Oxus civilisation alias BMAC, Bactro-Margian Archaeological Complex, which involved Henri-Paul Francfort. Meanwhile, Gérard Fussman, who first attempted, from his linguistic studies on the “Parlers dardes et kafirs”, to extrapolate, from ethnographic observations of Kafir society, on Aryan beliefs at the time when the Aryans had branched off from the Iranians and were on their way to settle in Punjab, has since devoted much time to questioning the true identity of Harappan culture and the modalities of the Indo-Aryan presence in India. No conclusion has been reached on the undivided Indo-Iranian speaking peoples, Iranian, Kafiri and (Vedic) Indo-Aryan, due to the fact that the BMAC and the mature phase of the Harappan civilisation in India seem to have been quite contemporary. Aside from the scientific efforts of archaeologists, speculation on the exact nature of Mohenjo Daro and Harappan cultures is unstoppable, as are attempts to decipher the Indus “script”. Considering the endless confrontation of Indo-Aryan and Dravidian partisans, will it be regarded as provocative to remark that the Tamil mythology of Lemuria4 could very well be interpreted as a southern retort to some of the Westerners’ theories on the north-western origins of the Dravidians and of their migrations as a descent from north to south?

  • 5 The bibliography is enormous. A good example of the methodological approach, and a clear evidence (...)
  • 6 Pline l’Ancien, Histoire Naturelle Livre VI, 2ème partie, édité par J. André & J. Filliozat, (révi (...)
  • 7 For long, his several publications on Ancient India as described in Classical Literature were the (...)

11The weight of the South draws us, however, irresistibly towards the “maritime road” on which Southern India has always been considered as a privileged landmark between Mediterranean cultures and those of Oriental Asia. This perspective clearly departs from the “Indo-Greek” perspective of the “inland road”, and, more than to Greece, emphasis is here given to Rome, whole ambition of which being, at the beginning of the CE was to rule the entire Mediterranean world. However, many Roman sources available to us often reflect original Greek testimonies. This is attested to by the reading of Ptolemy and Pliny, by the crucial text always to be found at the centre of controversies, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, by the few pages by Saint Hyppolytus on the Brahmins or by Palladios’ treatise on the Brahmin customs: “De moribus brachmanorum” etc.5 The most striking and profusely quoted evidence that Tamil India was known to the Classical West from the 4th c. BCE is the reference in Arrian’s Indikè (8, 7f.) to an anecdote whom Megasthenes heard of when he came as ambassador to Candragupta Maurya, about an Indian Heraklès whom he located in the far South, both father and ultimately husband of one Pandaia, queen of a southern territory that stretched as far as the sea where there are pearl fisheries. The details of her identification, through medieval Tamil sources, with the Taṭātakai of one episode of the Tiruviḷaiyāṭal purāṇam is further complicated by a confusion of Siva with Krishna and northern Mathura, but the synchronism stands firm to attest to the existence of some Pāṇṭiya­ territory at such an early date.6 From J. W. McCrindle onwards7 fragmentary evidence has been collected into a rather impressive network of facts of which we can retain, for example, that the commercial links were very brisk in their operations: 120 ships every year sent to India from Myos Hormos by merchants from Alexandria, according to Aelius Gallus a prefect posted in Egypt in 24 BCE. From that time on starts the discussion on the proper identification of the goods, such as odoriferous barks, cassia which remains ambiguous, cinnamon which could be the true one, a product from Taprobane, that is Ceylon, though data on austral Cinnamomophore may extend up to Sumatra. Modern ecology is invited to solve such historical enigmas.

  • 8 See K. Rajan, Koṭumaṇal akaḻāyvu, ōr aṟimukam, Tanjavur, 1994 and Archaeological Gazetteer of Tami (...)

12Archaeological evidence is not lacking, starting with the emblematic site of Arikkamēṭu studied in succession by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Jean-Marie Cazal and Vimala Begley. The Indian contribution itself amounts to an enormous amount of data collected from numerous coastal sites, Korkai, Kaviripattinam, Vasavasamudram (near the mouth of Palar river), Vayalur, Mamallapuram, etc., not to speak of more recently explored inland sites such as Karur, or Kotumanal near Coimbatore,8 which tends to suggest inland east-west roads in addition to maritime traffic. However several questions remain open because about a millennium of megalithic culture has yet to be explored in detail, while the typology which is the base of the chronology is not completely consistent and the exact articulation between a late Iron Age and the very beginning of history is unclear. The chapter on the prehistory and proto-history in an Historical Atlas of the southern part of the Indian Peninsula still partly depends upon the agreement of the regional participants on a uniform terminology.

13The maritime road between the Middle East and South-East Asia, however, makes the southern part of India a port of call between Oriental Africa, Madagascar and the Persian Gulf on the one hand, and the Malay Archipelago and Indochina on the other. French scholarship has played a very important role in the study of the cultural and historical relations between India and her Asian neighbours. Inscriptions, most often but not exclusively in Sanskrit, are the landmarks. We may recall, in random order, the buffalo sacrifice in Borneo or Laos, Sanskrit rituals and literature in Bali, the huge corpus of Hinduised Khmer epigraphs to which the name of George Coedès is still attached, and the architectural structures of the religious monuments in Cambodia, Campa or Java. Comparisons have been made between Saiva Bhakti texts of Tamil Nadu and some Thai manuscripts, between Sanskrit texts from Bali and the Saiva agama preserved in South India as well as in Kashmir. In contemporary Indonesian the word agama simply means “religion”. The inscription of Vo Canh of the 3rd c. CE in Indochina quotes an official title of a Pāṇṭiya king from Tamil Nadu, Srimara. Tamil inscriptions are found sparingly in Vietnam and up to China, as Marco Polo already knew, and some of them were collected in a Chinese publication in 1957. However, the ‘Greater India temptation’ is certainly not a South-Indian speciality; at one time it was very much alive in Bengal and a festival celebrated in Orissa and called Bali jatra, which is probably a homage to the dead, has also been interpreted as a pilgrimage to Bali. What is crucial today, however, is no longer the dispute on the proper identification of Sri Vijaya or Kedaram but rather a more and more minute study of archaeological sites (harbours or hinterland) in South East Asia, which are likely to promote interesting comparisons with their fairly ancient South Indian counterpart, prior to the Cōḻa period in Tamil Nadu.

  • 9 We quote from the edition of Lionel Casson, Princeton Univ. Press, 1989, which is now the most aut (...)

14In fact, the development of research on marine archaeology, on navigation technology, on various types of boats, etc., shows that maritime commercial activities were more earlier and more important already than they have been supposed to have been. Studies of wrecks have confirmed the existence of the famous bo of the kun-lun, those ships of an unidentified South-Asian people on which Chinese texts give impressive details: 50 meters long, 500 to 1000 passengers on board, tonnage between 250 up to 1000 tons, four masts, several layers of planking, in short a description very close to that of the beautiful Chinese junks which the Portuguese were astonished to discover in the China Sea in the 16th c. Such information recalls the hypothesis of R. Stein in 1947, taken up again by Christie ten years later (BSOAS 19, 1957) that the unexplained mysterious words in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, “the very big kolandio phonta”, that sail across to Chrysê and the Gangès region”9 could in fact refer to such boats operating between India and Chryseia. This is only one example of the fantastic perspectives for future historical research a philologist might consider, if only that philologist would consent to look beyond the manuscript he is attempting to read before giving it a date and imagining its context.

  • 10 O. Bopearachchi, “Archaeological Evidence on Cultural and Commercial Relationships between Ancient (...)
  • 11 Y. Subbarayalu “The Tamil Merchant-Guild Inscription at Barus, Sumatra, Indonesia, A Rediscovery”.

15One more remark, but an essential one, before dealing with South-Indian history: there is no such history without permanent reference to Ceylonese history, or archaeology, as O. Bopearachchi, K. Indrapala or N. Karashima, clearly demonstrate,10 each in his own field (numismatics, general archaeology, palaeography, Chinese ceramics), to mention a few recent contributions of importance. A Tamil inscription recently found in Barus concerns the trade guilds which were essential to the structuring of these medieval commercial activities11 and are the object of many recent investigations.

  • 12 See his ‘Portrait of a Medieval Indian Trader’, posthumous article in BSOAS 1987, or consult his c (...)
  • 13 On Portugueses and India, consult the major works of C. Boxer or of L. F. R. Thomaz and two French (...)

16Turning towards the West, mention must also be made of the Jewish archives of the Geniza in Cairo, revealed by S. D. Goitein in the nineteen-fifties,12 in which fragmentary commercial transactions give evidence of regular trade by a Jewish community with harbours on the Malabar or Coromandel coast during the 12th c. Later Portuguese sources also reveal some Tamil written documents on Tamil merchants from the early colonial period.13

17We have dealt with the material culture, but there is also a pan-Indian cultural patrimony carried in Prakrit, Pali or in vernaculars, which is the expression of Buddhism or Jainism rather than of Hinduism, and which also had to travel immensely. No holistic approach to India can ignore these heresies which came from the North where they left their most prestigious relics, but which nevertheless succeeded in settling in the South as well. It is attested first by the great Buddhist and Jain narratives which followed the Caṅkam literature and then, during the next period, by the contrary, and hostile attitude of the Tamil Saiva who wrote their Tēvāram hymns assailing those two condemned faiths.

  • 14 For example, Le roman classique lao, Paris 1988, and several local editions with translations in F (...)

18We know however that the cultural contribution of the Jains to the vernacular literature of the South is, in fact, very important and that, in Karnataka, archaeological monuments, as well as some libraries storing old manuscript treasures attest to the wide extent of a Jaina implantation which never relented. The linguistic vehicles of Buddhists and Jains, that is Pali, Prakrit and Ardhamaghadi, before the return to a more or less hybrid Sanskrit, facilitated the connivance: a widely shared audience and a large common fund of folklore and popular tales would see to the rest and, consequently, the medieval development of versified long stories, moral and edifying tales, with unlimited number of episodes blossomed, around 10th to 12th centuries into southern vernaculars, continuing the anthology of Hāla and the Bṛhatkathā up to the Tamil version of the latter, Peruṅkatai, all of them finding their later counterpart in the classical fund of narrative literature, in prose as well as versified, all over South-East Asia, for example in Laos where after L. Finot, E. Denis and other French scholars, A. Peltier devotes his research to such genres.14

  • 15 Ph. Ed. Foucaux, «Le Bouddha Sakya-Mouni», Mémoires de l’Athénée Oriental, vol. 1, Paris, 1871.
  • 16 Reference to Buddhist texts etc., Nilakanta Sastri South Indian Influence in the Far-East reprinte (...)

19If the Tamil land still boasts of Jaina monuments, of modern Jaina foundations, and even of an impressive Jaina directory, commercial but also cultural, it is generally accepted that, during the same time span, Buddhism was eliminated from the territory and only Andhra Pradesh kept a number of its most beautiful vestiges. But this is not true: the Buddhist vihāra in Nagappattinam as well as a large number of stray images, some used as illustrations for a classical French account of Buddhism,15 testify to the presence of Buddhism during medieval and pre-modern times. This is corroborated by some rather neglected minor epics in Tamil, as well as by a late apologetical literature, a fact which helps in understanding the attempts at a revival of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu from the beginning of the 20th c.. It should come as no surprise, therefore, to see Chinese travellers coming to India from the 4th to the 9th century to learn more about Buddhism, visiting South India or even referring to it by hearsay in their writings. This has been well known, from the time of Pelliot and Sylvain Lévi and was popularised in India by Nilakanta Sastri.16

  • 17 Eight books published at EFEO by François Bizot between 1976 and 1996.

20However the adjunction of Ceylon to an evocation of Buddhism in South India for the sake of enhancing the picture may only raise more problems. Ideologies did not travel from North to South only through the Deccan, and, from a very early date, the access to the island bye-passed the bottom of the Peninsula as maritime exchanges back and forth must have been continuous, resulting in a confused mixed-up history which in its beginnings often appears to be more northern than southern, while medieval and modern history have generated composite situations. In any case, popular forms of “non reformed” Buddhism observed at the junction of Thailand, Cambodia and Burma are certainly close to the vernacular traditions of Indian Buddhism in Ceylon and South India. François Bizot and some German scholars of Buddhism continue to document these questions.17

21Thus a case might still be made that French Indologists did start out with a soft spot for India's southern reaches, and my observations might well be taken as an apologia for the so-called “southern Indo-French connection”. The fact is, however, that the rare scholar who takes the trouble to check our sources will be struck by the discovery that these have always been remarkably well balanced.

III - France discovers India: texts, images, testimony

  • 18 See the critical review of A. Dhamotharan, Tamil Dictionaries: A Bibliography, in BEFEO LXVII, 198 (...)

22As for French pioneers, they never did favour the South over the North. Anquetil-Duperron's Indian voyage covered not only the whole triangle of the Peninsula, with the South at its summit but two northern centres of equal importance as well, Surat and Chandernagore. When he dreamed of a nation-wide network of interpreters and informants to promote more authenticity in “India's relationship with Europe”, he did so with a mind open to India's languages equally and to all its texts. The work on Sanskrit syntax, Father Coeurdoux subsequently sent him from Pondicherry was written in Telugu, and was definitely southern in its French transcription. In the National Library in Paris it is bound together with a Telinga (Telugu) grammar by Father de La Lane and with a grammar of literary Tamil by Father Beschi. But the Hindustani dictionary Anquetil borrowed for study purposes from the Vatican's Propagatio Fidei, deposited with the Vatican authorities as early as 1704, was compiled by a French Capuchin monk, François-Marie de Tours of the Chandernagore “Tibet mission”. Around that time, too, Father Noel Natal de Bourzes was writing his Tamil-French, French-Tamil dictionaries (we have fixed the date of the second between 1724, date of the article “an” quoted as the ‘running’ year, and 1735, date of author’s death).18 Like so many other texts, they remained unpublished but were later incorporated into various missionary publications; these were ground-breaking French studies, on a par with those of Beschi, another source tapped by the 19th century “Pères des Missions étrangères” (Foreign Missionary Fathers) for dictionaries and grammars that are still being printed today, (originally from Pondicherry, giving a little push in favour of the South). The Italian Jesuit Beschi is sometimes considered as the “Father” of modern Tamil prose; he was, without doubt, a good grammarian and lexicographer, on a par with the Jesuit of the Madurai Mission, Roberto de Nobili, who in the long-term dispute on the Malabar rites championed them, thus anticipating the movement of “inculturation” in the Indian Church today, but also embarrassing the modern Dalit approach to Christianity with his personal and calculatedly pro-Brahmin attitudes.

23There were many more such diptychs. Wilkins' translation of the Bhagavad-Gītā came out in 1785 and was hailed the following year by Anquetil-Duperron; in 1787 Parraud translated it from English into French. In 1788, Maridas Pillai's French text of the Tamil Bhāgavadam was published, thanks to Foucher d'Obsonville, who had mentioned the Tamil Kuṟaḷ as early as 1783. But, prior to that, M. de la Flotte had already quoted a few distichs in his Essais historiques sur l’Inde (Paris, 1763). Roth's Sanskrit alphabet, published by Kircher and included in the French edition of the 1671 Chine illustrée, had as a counterpart the Dutch compiler Baldaeus' Tamil alphabet (1672), which also comprised a Tamil grammar, of only three pages but the first nevertheless to be published in Europe, over a century ahead of the first Sanskrit grammar, printed in Rome in 1790. Meanwhile, Father Pons produced a basic text that was never published.

  • 19 After Bishop Diehl and G. Duverdier’s articles, Will Sweetman gives the most complete bibliography (...)

24However, several memoirs and documents that waited one or two centuries to be printed, or are even now lying ignored in archives, had in fact a wider audience than we might imagine. Such was the tremendous work of Ziegenbalg19 and his colleagues, founders of the Danish Mission in Tranquebar. His Genealogy of Malabar gods was printed in Madras only in 1867, but his reports to European headquarters in Halle, known as Halle Berichte, were sent from 1706 till his death in 1719, and were then continued by his successors, specially Benjamin Schultze, whose Telugu work is significant. They helped La Croze, Librarian of the Prussian king, to document his History of Christianity in India (The Hague, 1724), a work immediately translated into French and perused by Diderot for his Encyclopaedia article on India. Letters from the Danish Mission from 1706 to 1736 form four inquarto volumes of about 1000 pages each, but an abridged edition was compiled in Latin by Jean-Lucas Niecamp and translated into French as early as 1745 (Geneva, 3 vols.) So, a huge amount of information was already available about a century before the same great intellectual tradition of Protestant missionaries would offer more published scholarly material, such as the Bibliotheca Tamulica of Graul in Germany.

  • 20 Much maligned Monsters, History of the European Reactions to Indian Art, Oxford, 1977. See also Do (...)

25The wealth of iconography accumulated in the South may also have given the wrong impression: as Partha Mitter20 has written, “it is striking that all the information about Hinduism in Paris was derived from the South”. A casual glance at Bibliothèque nationale listings seems to confirm this observation. Besides the popular albums referred to by Geringer and Chabrelie in their publication (see below), the Bibliothèque possesses two volumes attributed to someone named Sami (1784), and an album which belonged to Manucci representing the “gods of the Indians painted in oils by the missionaries” etc.

  • 21 See pp. 13-33 “India and the Enlightenment, 1610-1849” and pp. 34-40 “The French in the service of (...)

26There are others European sources too: the short atlas which accompanies the translation of the Voyage aux Indes Orientales by Father Paulin de Saint Barthélemy (1808) contains images all originating from the Borgia Museum in the Vatican (Velletri). One last example deserves a mention: it is the lovely set of six small volumes in-12 published in Paris by M. P [annelier] in 1816, with 104 engravings taken from originals in an album commissioned by M. Léger, the last colonial “Préfet” in Pondicherry, a set that had as its title Hindouisme ou religion, moeurs, usages, arts et métier des Hindous. It seems to have been the last in a long line (apparently no very successful despite an 1822 English edition, since another French publisher reissued the remainders with a different cover in 1835). Here too, however, we know less than we think we do, and Jean-Marie Lafont had spoken, in Passeurs d’Orient,21 of the rich northern iconography and its dearth of records before he published some of the documents taken from rare collections.

  • 22 Everyone knows of the famous Lettres édifiantes, the Jesuit letters, covering the period 1542-1773 (...)

27The same optical illusion holds for travel accounts, due perhaps to the notoriety of the narrations of Bernier or Tavernier. French travellers are supposed to have been held in thrall by the Mogul Empire alone, at its zenith and in its decadence, while for the later splendors of the Vijayanagar kingdom we are told to consult the Portuguese chronicles of Paes (1520), Nuniz (1525), or Barbosa (1516-1518, who excels on Kerala ethnography). Yet the fact is that Jesuit literature, both in its essays and Edifying Letters, was far more even-handed than that. It left its imprint in the North at the Court of Akbar and later, but it is true, as well, that the French Dominican, Father Jordan, in his Mirabilia descripta was the first to describe some of the customs of the south of the Peninsula, which he called India Major, and that the Madurai Jesuit Mission survived for a long time and was responsible for some late texts on the decline and fall of the Vijayanagar empire,22 a textbook case as regards the history of decadence, that would have thrilled the French historian Pierre Chaunu who specialised on the diagnosis of such types of vicissitude. Not surprisingly, in the face of Hindu disarray before the waves of Barbarian and Heathen hordes sweeping in quick succession from North and West, it was indeed this southern empire of Vijayanagara which proved to be the most effective stronghold of resistance, as well as a symbol of renaissance (though its grand architectural monuments have very little originality compared with the contemporaneous Italian Quatrocento). Hampi, its capital shone forth first with its dazzling monuments, but was always fragile because of its location on the frontier of the empire and because, following models inherited partly from the Moguls, it exerted tremendous economic pressure on its hinterland so as to finance its armies and its various paraphernalia; the empire quickly dwindled under its military chiefs or local vassals, the Nayak, who took the real power into their own hands, to bow in the end solely to the British, the emperor having by then become a powerless symbol.

IV - The romantic treason

  • 23 Bibliography for French sources in R. Schwab, La Renaissance orientale, Paris, Payot, 1950; Jean B (...)

28Before scholarly research sank to the level of mere picturesque or conventional detail in the second half of the 19th century two factors contributed to a change in the once so lively and eclectic image of our primary sources. One of these was a key phenomenon, the other a mere happenstance. The first was the way Europe's early 19th century intelligentsia went about its return to Orientalism.23 Europeans turned to learning Sanskrit, but more for reasons of their own than for anything having to do with India: their search for Indo-European roots and a widening metaphysical horizon retained a distinctly European perspective, and their infatuation with the Vedas and with Sanskrit philology tended to relegate medieval and regional sources to the background, whether this was done consciously or not. The happenstance is the loss of erudition measured by a comparison between the 1739 catalogue of Oriental manuscripts in the French Bibliothèque royale and the one signed in 1807 by Langlès and Hamilton. The first was highly eclectic, the second listed original texts only in Devanagari and Bengali! Who, among the European Sanskrit scholars of yesteryear, would still read the Grantha script that once occupied entire libraries? But beyond this retrograde, new form of illiteracy, a western philological prejudice has persistently kept European indologists away from the cultural diversity of the South. Even Jan Gonda who was well aware of the importance of the “Dravidian” component in Indian culture failed to integrate it fully in documenting his history of the religions of India.

  • 24 Similarly, twelve out of the twenty plates illustrating L’Inde pittoresque by Louis Énault (Paris, (...)

29Interestingly, even the plates in various albums on India which started to flourish along with the higher artistic quality of romantic engravings and the technical progress of lithographic production, were, from then on, borrowed to a large extent from original English publications, as in the case of Tableaux pittoresques de l’Inde, (Paris, 1834-1836), three volumes translated by P. J. Auguste Urbain from The Oriental Annual with 68 engravings (25+ 21+ 22) from the original drawings of W. Daniell.24

  • 25 The complete title of the book is Collection de dessins lithographiques représentant les divinités (...)
  • 26 Le Mahabharat et le Bhagavat du colonel de Polier, membre de la Société Asiatique de Calcutta, Par (...)
  • 27 Un manuscrit français du XVIIIe siècle: Recherche de la vérité sur l’État civil, politique et reli (...)
  • 28 L’Inde philosophique entre Bossuet et Voltaire – 1Moeurs et coutumes des indiens (1777) un inédit (...)

30When, thanks to philologists, the name of India became synonymous with Sanskrit, the colourful and many sided 18th century image of the country gave way to one both more structured and more in line with prevailing concepts. In contrast, the first texts written by the early missionaries had for the most part been unvarnished accounts that owed their authenticity to the inclusion of minor vernaculars and works. The view the missionaries held of Hinduism was oriented less towards philosophical speculation as expressed in the higher literature than as reported orally by their informants and therefore reflecting quotidian “manners and customs” and popular mythology. Perhaps the best example is the Livro da Seita dos Indias Orientales written by the Portuguese Father Fenicio in the territory of the Calicut Zamorin in 1609, which was used as an unacknowledged source by several compilers (Faria y Sausa, c. 1666-1675, or the famous Ph. Baldaeus in 1672) before it was published at last, three centuries later at Uppsala, in Sweden by J. Charpentier in 1933. Witness also for instance the Traité de la religion des Malabars (circa 1709), by Jean-Jacques Teissier de Quéralay, the “procureur” (curator) of the Paris Foreign Missions in Pondicherry from 1699 to 1720, or the 1741 Paganisme des indiens nommés Tamouls en leur langue et Malabars par les Portugais dans leur venue dans l’Inde, author unknown, perhaps a Capuchin from Madras but his identification (Thomas de Poitiers, according to G. Dharampal) is unwarranted. These two documents remained unpublished but were later incorporated into the works of established chroniclers. The first was drawn on by Eugène Jacquet in his essay published as an appendix to Géringer and Chabrelie's L'lnde française (1833-1835).25 The second is an actual compendium allegedly of Telugu sources, including a Tamil alphabet, a lexicon of Tamil and Telugu names, and a collection of images of Hindu gods (the original of which was unfortunately stolen from the author himself). Several copies exist (1761, 1767, 1770…); the work circulated widely and is referred to in important publications such as the Histoire des Indes orientales by the Abbé Guyon and the Yverdon edition of the Ezour Vedam (1778). The informative manuscripts of Colonel de Polier have come down to us only as posthumous writings, badly “edited” by his niece, Canoness de Polier. But Georges Dumézil himself thought it meaningful to reprint his version of the Mahabharata.26 Now, to be perhaps pedantic: the compilation of Maissin, (1720-1803) revised till the last decade of his life, was published in 1975 only;27 it contains about two dozen citations collected during his stay in India from various works on Tamil ethics. I have identified them at the manuscript editor’s request: Mūturai (7 citations), Nītiveṇpā (10 citations) Kuṟaḷ (3 citations only), Nalvaḻi, Aṟaneṟicāram, Paḷamoḷi-nāṉūṟu, Nālaṭiyār (one citation each). The less popular of those anthologies are often considered as having a Jain connotation. Precisely, a last citation had remained obscure for me till V. M. Subhramanya Aiyar identified it as a stray stanza cited in the Commentary to the introductory verses of Nīlakēci (p. 9 in A. Chakravarti ed., s. l., 1936) whose author is definitely a Jain, probably living in 10th c.; the commentator, Vamana Munivar, identified with the Jain erudite author of the Mērumantara purāṇam, belonged to the last quarter of the 14th c. This French work, therefore, attests, without even being aware of it, to the permanence of a living Jain tradition in Tamil Nadu, often put forward by various authors and confirmed by the Tamil Jain community today. Last, as regards Father Coeurdoux, a most erudite informant for French scholars interested in India, such as Anquetil Duperron himself, Sylvia Murr28 has pointed out that his essay served as a basis for the work of Devaulx (1745-1823) which in its turn was the main source of the famous handbook by the Abbé Dubois, Hindu religious Manners and Customs, originally published in French as Moeurs, Institutions et cérémonies des peuples de l’Inde, (Paris, 1825, Imprimerie royale, 2 vol.) but better known through the English translation of Beauchamp, published at the expense of the East India Company for the perusal of its British employees, and which, although overrated, remains a bestseller.

V - Back to reality

  • 29 Nothing has been said so far on Dupleix and the French “Comptoirs”. For the sake of a few acres, t (...)
  • 30 In Variétés orientales..., Paris, 1868, pp. 177-224. (Note on the legacy of Ariel at the Société A (...)

31It was a good idea, in other words, to return to primary sources. Obviously, the accident which confined the French “colonial” presence to the South has from then on given more weight to that area as regards French history in India, even though distinct evidence of the northern connection pleads in favour of keeping the scales balanced.29 Be that as it may, it was at Pondicherry, towards the end of 1844, that Edouard Ariel landed to take up a career in the local bureaucracy. He had been initiated into Sanskrit by Burnouf in 1843 but his real passion was Tamil, land and language. For a few years he feverishly collected books, manuscripts, innumerable bundles of private papers, rough translations and outlines of historical and philological studies as well as copies of original texts. He fell ill, refused to be sent home and died at his Pondicherry home in the rue d'Orléans in 1854, leaving his collections to Burnouf, who never received them. They went to the Asiatic Society and the French Bibliothèque nationale while, thanks to Burnouf, the Journal asiatique had published his outstanding translation of parts of Tiruvalluvar's Tirukkuṟaḷ. There could be no more moving tribute from a Frenchman to Tamil culture than this legacy which, sad to say, remains virtually unknown despite a posthumous accolade from Léon de Rosny.30

  • 31 Both knew only of the copy in the Vatican Library, which is a mutilated version, unfortunately pri (...)

32That continued to be the situation despite the immense efforts made by Julien Vinson (1843-1926), who grew up in Pondicherry and Karikal and, upon his arrival in France at the age of twenty, proved to be extraordinarily effective in promoting Tamil studies. He succeeded Garcin de Tassy at the École des Langues Orientales in Paris and not only taught Hindustani and Tamil but was equally passionate about the Basque language which he discovered at Bayonne while serving there as Commissioner of Forests after attending the Nancy Forestry School. As a professor of Tamil, the first one in Paris, he also undertook a wide range of activities in the social and political domain. He produced the most thorough bibliographical studies and posited the boldest linguistic hypotheses. He published, for example, the Bahur copper-plates related to a Pallava scholarly Sanskrit foundation, and unearthed the first ever printed Tamil-Portuguese dictionary, Vocabulario Tamulico by Antam de Proença, printed at Ambalacatta in 1679, more than fifty years before Father Thani Nayagam undertook its publication in Kuala Lumpur in 196631. When it came to at the Dravidian India, Vinson was at all events no amateur: he knew all there was to know about its epigraphy and ethnography, about Tamil Islam, traditional jewellery as well as literary embellishments, and it was from his often stylish and faithful translations that French readers came to know such texts as the Buddhist and Jaina epics (Légendes bouddhistes et djainas, Paris, 1900), the Diary of Anandaranga Pillai (Les Français dans l’Inde, Paris, 1894) and Kapilar's Agaval, which was a plea against the caste system. In faithful continuation of what his predecessor Garcin de Tassy had so dutifully accomplished over years he used to provide in his yearly inaugural lessons, as well as numerous bibliographical notices, the richest possible information on the on-going publications in all the fields related to his research. The result is an amazing collection of rare and primary data which has everlasting historical value. His manuals for Tamil and Hindustani may be outdated, but his bibliography extends over ten pages; it lists a wide range of titles and publishers, many of them now out of reach, and a diligent editor is awaited to compile an anthology worthy of his name.

  • 32 Texts translated in Tamil by R. Dessigane Pillai, Varalāṟṟil putuvai, Pondicherry, 1975.

33Another equally unorthodox and passionate figure was Gabriel Jouveau-Dubreuil (1885-1945), who during the first half of the 20th c. combined a fairly uneventful career as a physics teacher at Pondicherry's French Lycée with a systematic search for archaeological vestiges in southern India; his work in the domain of chronology and typology was sufficiently solid for S. R. Balasubrahmanyan to base his many writings on Cōḻa art entirely on its conclusions. The diversity of his secondary writings reflects both his eclecticism and his somewhat parochial chauvinism as an adoptive son of Pondicherry,32 which he hoped to turn into a haven of wisdom and knowledge, thereby justifying its Sanskrit name, Vedapuri.

  • 33 J. B. P. Moré La civilisation indienne et les fables hindoues du Panchatantra de Maridas Poullé, A (...)
  • 34 See in this volume the text on French translations from Tamil literature.
  • 35 Cf David Anoussamy, Le droit indien en marche, Société de législation comparée, Paris 2001.
  • 36 Histoire de l’Inde ancienne et moderne..., 2 vol. Paris, 1814, ending with 75 pages of original so (...)
  • 37 For a critical evaluation of Sonnerat see Madeleine Ly-Tio-Fane Pierre Sonnerat, 1748-1814, An Acc (...)
  • 38 All published by the IFP between 1971 and 1990.
  • 39 Jean-Claude Bonnan Jugements du tribunal de la Chauderie de Pondicherry, vol. 1, 1766-1791, vol. 2 (...)

34Known from the 18th century as an obliging informant and translator, Maridas Pillai has yet to receive the treatment he deserves as a versatile scholar and astronomer.33 The courts in Pondicherry were a privileged meeting place for French lawyers and Tamil litigants, where judges (J. B. Adams), advocates, (Léon Saint-Jean, Gnanou Diagou) and interpreters (R. Dessigane Pillai) probably discovered their vocation as translators.34 A tradition of research and erudition existed in Pondicherry among magistrates,35 their Tamil interpreters, physicians and other civil servants, not forgetting the travellers who passed through the territory and whose contribution has already been referred to. Several wrote on Indian History (for example, Colin de Bar,36 or Sonnerat’s Voyage aux Indes orientales et à la Chine (1782) and his unpublished compilation of mixed up data, now forthcoming as an EFEO publication at the request of P. S. Filliozat37) or on Hindu law or society; the Essai sur les castes de l’Inde by Esquer remains quite informative and the “Historical and Statistical” accounts minutely compiled by the French administrators of Karikal, Pondicherry and Chandernagore circa 1825 at the request of the French Government constitute an important source of primary information on natural resources and social and economic life, valuable beyond the narrow boundaries of the French enclaves as well.38 Notwithstanding good intentions and repeated promises at the opening ceremony of the yearly judicial session of the Pondicherry court, the local customary law used by the “tribunaux de chauderie” (choultry courts) has never been compiled into a formal work on a par with the Tēcavaḷamai the Dutch compiled for Ceylon as early as 1706. We had to wait until 1999 to see a French magistrate study and edit some of these records, with the help of the few local interpreters surviving from the era of French law in Pondicherry.39 Finally, the amazing collection of data on traditional Hindu medicine which Dr. Paramanda Mariadassou put together and published himself in many volumes is a far better reference tool than the set of popular lectures it appears to be, and it contains in fact more information and experience than do some of the hasty surveys by today’s amateurs of indigenous medicine.

  • 40 B.S.E.I., Nouvelle Série, t. XXIV, 4, 1951, p. 469.

35Could this be the reason why, in recognition of the genuine spirit of cooperation that has characterized several generations of scholars, jurists and physicians, from both cultures, Pondicherry became the location for the Institut français at the time the retrocession agreement was concluded? Three years earlier, Louis Renou was still lamenting: “Les séjours prolongés dans l’Inde, le travail auprès des pandits, qui a fécondé les premières oeuvres de l’indianisme européen, sont chose malaisée et privilège rare”40 (Prolonged stays in India, and working sessions with the pandits, such as fertilised the first works of European indology, are tricky to obtain and a rare privilege). At Pondicherry the privilege has been a daily routine since 1954, and the French Institute has steadfastly pursued its collective task of conducting a systematic study of India's original cultures, a task that was first undertaken over two centuries ago. The Institute's founder, indologist Jean Filliozat, another man of burning curiosity who visited every possible ancient site, had the same independent turn of mind as his predecessors but was more adept at gaining official recognition. With his well known versatility, he was familiar with the requirements of the interdisciplinary approach and his activities at the École française d'Extrême-Orient, together with other responsibilities of his, in both India and France, naturally involved an approach to Indian studies that, in the style of French Indology, transcended India’s borders.

36One essential principle of the structure Jean Filliozat and his collaborators created was to give, from the very beginning, a prominent role to those in the field of Indian studies who were already carrying the weight of Indian knowledge, that is, local Indian scholars themselves, who were quick to share responsibilities with their French colleagues, being aware of their dual vocation as men from the South and as interpreters of India in its entirety for the international world of scholars. So the task was clear: both in the Humanities and in the study of the natural environment, the priority was to explore and systematically to exploit new, first-hand indigenous data, leaving aside the ephemeral pleasure of brilliant extrapolations. Fundamental inventories of data on Asia are far from being complete and the watchword that was often repeated five decades ago remains valid: after the exploratory phase of the first explorers, our efforts should aim at making a shift from gathering to planned agriculture.

  • 41 L’étui de nacre, ‘Sainte Euphrosine’, Calmann-Lévy, 1923, pp. 75-76.
  • 42 See above n. 39.

37This humble aim of sticking to facts may have been kept in abeyance, leaving new syntheses to dazzle for a time, but philology is nowadays vindicated once more in its new garb, as “the discipline of making sense of texts”, as Sheldon Pollock puts it. However the claim is sometimes so blatantly overreaching that it is our duty to temper it with the de-mystifying smile of Anatole France, who at the turn of the 20th c., consoled himself on the poor condition of transmission of our ancient classics with the idea that “Il est constant que le texte le plus inintelligible a toujours un sens pour celui qui le traduit. Sans cela l’érudition n’aurait pas de raison d’être.”41 (The most unintelligible text never fails to have a meaning for its translator. Otherwise erudition would have no justification for existing.) George Coedès appreciated this conceit. But the greatest modern French Sanskrit and Vedic scholar Louis Renou was quite serious when, in 1951, he asked: “Que ne demandera-t-on à l’apprenti indianiste s’il veut voir clair un jour dans l’immense discipline? La maîtrise du sanskrit, toujours aussi nécessaire, ne suffit déjà plus.”42 (“What will not be demanded of a novice in indology if he is expected one day to have a clear vision of that boundless discipline? The mastering of Sanskrit, which always remains a must, is no longer adequate.”)

38For the time being, of course, the study of maritime transportation still makes it easier to establish contact with South India and other South Asian Hindu cultures, and the same is true for research in the domain of nautical technology and underwater archaeology. Yet Srivijaya is by no means the last word on the subject: French research in north-western India or in South-eastern Asia and Indonesia, and recent Indian excavations, at Pattanam in Kerala, near Kotunkalur, the presumed site of the Muziris of Ptolemy and the Periplus, are opening up some excellent routes towards the west also.

39Once again, French indologists, in or out of India, have no choice but to be impartial, but nevertheless need to make their studies more global. If more Sanskrit than Tamil texts are published in Pondicherry, a programme on contemporary Tamil culture invites Indian and foreign scholars and students to pool their efforts to make the links between past and present for a more holistic approach to the past and a more substantial appreciation of modern creative writing and thinking. In Sanskrit, Panini is still read because he is still proved relevant to Sanskrit scholarship: his grammatical system is analysed with all its indigenous components and mechanisms at work in the examples in a series of outstanding volumes published in co-operation with the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha in Tirupati, and such a corpus has rightly attracted the attention of general historians of sciences, while new investigations are being conducted into the grammarian tradition which endeavoured to bring its material up to date. As for the Saivagamas, they continued to be suspected of sectarian parochialism as long as no effort was made to check the inventory of sources listed in libraries in North India; this lacuna has since then been filled and perspectives enlarged.

  • 43 With a possible, though unlikely, extension to Chandernagore, notwithstanding the vicinity of Sera (...)

40The fact is that North India continues to increase in importance in Franco-Indian relations, and Pune, Varanasi or Kolkata,43 not to speak of Delhi, may share with us their own European programs. It seems only fair, therefore, that after giving descriptions of some Frenchmen who were active in the South, we also mention at least two other outstanding figures: Garcin de Tassy (1794-1878) and Jules Bloch (1880-1953).

  • 44 PIFI no 22, Sayida Surriya Hussain, Garcin de Tassy Biographie et étude critique de ses œuvres. Th (...)

41The former served Urdu and Hindoustani literature and culture by laying the groundwork for the study of the language by publishing pioneering grammars, anthologies and translations, and for the literature by compiling throughout his life a monumental history of Hindustani literature supplemented every year from 1850 to 1877 with a bibliography especially amazing for the tremendous amount of references he reviewed there in detail without ever leaving Paris: these were all taken from journals and publications from the Indian subcontinent which are now untraceable in India and in Pakistan too. The most fitting homage paid to him in French is the publication by the French Institute of Indology in 1962 of a very informative and too often ignored study of his work, in which we read: “By an irony of fate, we are compelled, in order to know the development of our language to call in a Frenchman who was dealing with it 85 years ago... His work is so important that it will remain alive for ever in our language.”44

  • 45 A. Minard, ‘Jules Bloch’, in Annuaire de l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section des Sciences (...)

42Jules Bloch (1880-1953) was himself the very incarnation of impartiality when it came to the rivalry between North and South: he wrote separate linguistic descriptions of both Dravidian and modern Indo-Aryan languages. His thesis on the history of the Marathi language remains fundamental and has been translated into English. As a linguist specialised in comparative studies he not only succeeded in providing a survey of 35 centuries of Indo-Aryan, but in bringing together Dravidian and Aryan linguistic worlds into a more comprehensive comparative pattern, allying history (continuity and genealogy) and geography (contact and affinities). Thanks to his refreshingly broad linguistic vision “we are invited to wonder if such syntactical or stylistic features which are essential to classical Sanskrit (chains of absolutive, endless compound-words...) do not belong to mental habits of which Dravidian provides the grammatical patterns.”45

  • 46 Passeurs d’Orient, pp. 150-157.

43The task of paying tribute to these men fell to a pupil of Jules Bloch, Madame C. Vaudeville, whose self-portrait in Passeurs d’Orient46 includes the story of her own discovery of the three great North Indian poets, Tulsi Das, Kabir and Surdas; she spent a lifetime serving North India's languages and literatures, from the Ramaïte tradition to popular Rajasthani ballads, from Bhakti to sufi currents of spirituality, and, finally on a par with her Anglo-American and German colleagues, she added her original contribution to an international comprehensive vision of modern Hinduism. By bringing this literature to French and English readers, she initiated a new French school of medieval and modern Indo-Aryan studies. Françoise Mallison took up this tradition from her, and it continues now with additional new openings on Persian musical and artistic literary production (not to mention painting and architecture) which also flourished in India under the Moguls; parallel investigations may thus be developed, on patronage, court poetry and the links between the poets and the world of music, including a much needed chapter on the development of dramatic art and its audience.

44The most recent developments in our ongoing discovery of India forces us to ask, very briefly, a last question. Is our “return to reality” likely to fall into the trap of an anecdotal and ephemeral vision of the present? In fact, the continuity is amazing: today, when all’s said and done, foreign social scientists still chronicle contemporary India just as western travellers have done for three centuries; technicians and engineers advised by commercial experts bring in new gadgets just as traders used to do through merchant guilds or other agents; ‘textualists’ and philologists still record the content of the literature they deal with from translations suggested by their local informants.

  • 47 Interestingly, this conference was the academic offspring of an International Association for Tami (...)

45Of course, the emergence of new forms of communication and the perennial quest for power have replaced the old system of court or official patronage. But, when the first sketch of this essay was presented in Paris, the Madras cultural world had just mobilised to celebrate the centenary of Subrahmanya Bharati (1882-1921), the great nationalist poet of modern Tamil literature. Today, twenty-five years on, the same circles are busy exploiting the recent decision of the Central Government that made Tamil the second “classical language of India”, next to Sanskrit. The Tamils’ enthusiasm for and commitment to their language and culture, modern as well as ancient, has thus never subsided. Similarly, in 1966 the Tamils were the first in India to hold an international conference exclusively devoted to a regional culture.47 Telugu followed suit, then Hindi, then Malayalam also of the South, and finally Sanskrit, in October 1981. Some of the participants in that last conference, held in Varanasi, were surprised to hear “nationalist” accents, as if the same emotion had not been present in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the first 1966 Tamil Conference was celebrated, or later in Madras in 1968, and to an even greater extent in Madurai in 1981 and in Tancavur in 1995.

46The overwhelming presence of the media around the academic venue of these conferences, and the enthusiasm of the local population, encouraged obviously by the support of political leaders, some of whom belong to the world of Indian cinema, may certainly surprise oriental scholars coming from the West. They must however acknowledge the omnipresence of the cinema in the popular culture of the same period, which was made plain by the importance of figures from the film studios, raised from stage to political platforms: in Tamil Nadu from M. G. Ramachandran to Jayalalitha, in Andhra Pradesh from N. T. Rama Rao to Chiranjeevi. Modern historians of India must nowadays face the impact of such intrusions upon their own studies, just as higher literary studies have integrated the existence of the so-called para-literature, orality, or folk-lore.

47All this only goes to demonstrate how artificial it would be to separate “pure” academic research on Indology from the life of the people whose language and world of the imagination never cease to sustain and inspire the ongoing development of their culture and literature. From North to South, trends of history and streams of language flow continuously, strangely intertwined; the present keeps on interfering with our reading of the past and, in modern Indian studies, the moot point naturally remains: how to anticipate the passing of time in order to make out where journalism ends and research starts, or the reverse.

This general overview of the historical and institutional part played by the South in French indology sums up, and eventually updates, three occasional papers, - an English booklet on “A French approach to Tamil Studies” circulated during the Fifth World Tamil Conference in Madurai in 1981, - the French text “Le poids du Sud dans les études indiennes”, read at l’Académie des Sciences d’Outre-Mer in Paris on 4th June 1982 and published in Mondes et Cultures, tome XLII-3, 1982, - “Agastya’s shift from north to south” a bilingual version of a text in Passeurs d’Orient, a collection of essays edited by F. Gros on the occasion of the ‘Year of India’ in France in 1983 (Publication du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, 1983).

Notes

1 Latest evaluation in Animesh Rai, The Legacy of French Rule in India (1674-1952): An investigation of a process of Creolization, Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2008.

2 For an overview, R. Salomon, Indian Epigraphy. A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in the Indo-Aryan Languages. New York, OUP, 1998, may still be relied upon. For Tamil Brāhmī, the essential reference book is I. Mahadevan, Early Tamil Epigraphy: From the Earliest Time to Sixth Century CE. Chennai: Cre-A, Harvard University, 2003, updated by Airāvati, Felicitation volume in honour of Iravatham Mahadevan, Chennai, 2008, which contains an important critical study by Y. Subbarayalu, Pottery Inscriptions of Tamil Nadu, to be completed by his Report submitted in 2008 to the CIIL Centre of Excellence for Classical Tamil, Mysore, which edits and examines the most important collection of data so far available.

3 See J.-M. Lafont, “Les Indo-Grecs. Recherches Archéologiques Françaises dans le Royaume Sikh du Penjab, 1822-1843 in Topoi 4/1, 1994, pp. 9-68, and references quoted.

4 Sumati Ramasamy, Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories, The lost Land of Lemuria, Permanent black, New Delhi, 2005, and Passions of the Tongue, Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891-1970, (Univ of California 1997) first Indian edition, New Delhi, 1998 both with a bibliography on Dravidian myth and its reception in Tamil Nadu.
Speculation on Dravidian versus Indo-Aryan on purely linguistic ground should subside in front of the very scholarly argumentation of M. Witzel on “Substrate Language in Old Indo-Aryan”, Electronic journal of Vedic Studies, 5, 1 (Sept. 1999) also in IJDL XXX No 2 or of Xavier. Tremblay’s contribution to Arya, Aryens et Iraniens en Asie Centrale by Gérard Fussman et al., Collège de France, Publications de l’ICI, fascicule 72, 2005: “Comparative grammar, historical grammar; which are the real facts, and which ones can be reconstructed by comparative grammar?”(in French), which every archaeologist or historian should read. See also, for an easier introduction to the present state of art, Frits Staal, Discovering the Vedas, Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights, Penguin, 2008, specially Part I: “Origins and Backgrounds”.

5 The bibliography is enormous. A good example of the methodological approach, and a clear evidence of the necessity for a permanent interdisciplinary updating is offered by the academic journal Topoi, published at Lyon University by a research team, trained in the practice of classical archaeology of the Mediterranean world, which had worked before the first Iraqi war on the maritime landmarks in the Persian Gulf (Failaka) and Middle East and later developed an excavation programme on the site of Mastan in Bangladesh. It was published in 1993 an issue (Vol. 3/2) on “Inde, Arabie, et Méditerranée orientale”, later available in English as Athens, Aden, Arikkamēṭu, Essays on the interrelations between India, Arabia and the Eastern Mediterranean, ed. by Marie-Françoise Boussac & Jean-François Salles, Manohar, New Delhi, 1995 and ‘updated’ in the same year, 1995 by ‘Grecs, Romains et Orient’, (pp. 307-439 of Vol. 5/2). then in 1997 (Vol. 7) ‘Monarchies hellénistiques, Arabie et Inde’. See also Tradition and Archaeology, Early Maritime Contacts in the Indian Ocean, ed. by Himanshu Prabha Ray & Jean-François Salles, New Delhi, Lyon, 1996 (Proceedings of the International Seminar Techno-Archaeological Perspectives of Sea-faring in the Indian Ocean 4th c. B.C.-15th c. A.D., New Delhi, Feb. 28-March 4, 1994) or Crossings, Early Mediterranean Contacts with India ed. by F. De Romanis & A. Tchernia, New Delhi, Manohar 1997, etc.

6 Pline l’Ancien, Histoire Naturelle Livre VI, 2ème partie, édité par J. André & J. Filliozat, (réviseur F. Gros) Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1980, Appendice, pp. 156-158; this edition is the best documented on Indian realia.

7 For long, his several publications on Ancient India as described in Classical Literature were the tool of reference. Now, see K. Karttunen, India in Early Greek Literature, Helsinki, 1989; the best collection of Latin texts on India is in French, by Jacques André & Jean Filliozat, L’Inde vue de Rome, Textes latins de l’Antiquité relatifs à l’Inde, Paris 1986.

8 See K. Rajan, Koṭumaṇal akaḻāyvu, ōr aṟimukam, Tanjavur, 1994 and Archaeological Gazetteer of Tamil Nadu, Tanjavur, 1997 (Kodumanal, pp. 75-90). More recent general survey in Himanshu Prabha Roy “Inscribed Pots, Emerging Identities, The Social Milieu of Trade”, in Between the Empires, Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE, edited by Patrick Olivelle, OUP, 2006, and an important “Note on the date of Kodumanal” in Subbarayalu’s Report quoted in n. 2 above.

9 We quote from the edition of Lionel Casson, Princeton Univ. Press, 1989, which is now the most authoritative and puts back the date of the Periplus to “between AD 40 and 70”. Casson follows Christie, notwithstanding other tentative explanations (his edition, p. 230).

10 O. Bopearachchi, “Archaeological Evidence on Cultural and Commercial Relationships between Ancient Sri Lanka and South India” in Honouring Martin Quéré, ed. G. Robuchon, Viator Publications, Negombo, Sri Lanka, 2002, and “New Archaeological evidence on cultural and commercial relationship between ancient Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu” in South-Indian Horizons, Pondicherry, 2004.
K. Indrapala, The Evolution of an Ethnic Identity, The Tamils in Sri Lanka, c. 300BCE to C. 1200CE, Sydney 2006 (Tamil version Colombo-Madras, 2006), is a very balanced contribution on a controversial subject and is more objective than the recent publications of Peter Schalk and Veluppillai, whose solid erudition is unfortunately slightly biased.
Latest contribution of N. Karashima to the Conference on Early Indian Influences in Southeast Asia, 21-23 November 2007 on Medieval Commercial Activities in the Indian Ocean as Revealed from Chinese Ceramic-sherds and South Indian and Sri Lanka Inscriptions gives the bibliography of his prior publications on the subject. The proceedings are eagerly awaited and update the bibliography of authors such as: Arasaratnam, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Claude Guillot, Y. Subbarayalu, and of course P.-Y. Manguin, Kenneth Hall and others.

11 Y. Subbarayalu “The Tamil Merchant-Guild Inscription at Barus, Sumatra, Indonesia, A Rediscovery”.

12 See his ‘Portrait of a Medieval Indian Trader’, posthumous article in BSOAS 1987, or consult his collection of essays A Mediterranean Society, 5 vols., 1967-1985.

13 On Portugueses and India, consult the major works of C. Boxer or of L. F. R. Thomaz and two French specialists, Pierre-Yves Manguin and Geneviève Bouchon, (for example, her Inde découverte, Inde retrouvée (1498-1630) Etudes d’histoire indo-portugaise, Centre Cluturel Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbonne-Paris, 1999).

14 For example, Le roman classique lao, Paris 1988, and several local editions with translations in French and English, between 1999 and 2006.

15 Ph. Ed. Foucaux, «Le Bouddha Sakya-Mouni», Mémoires de l’Athénée Oriental, vol. 1, Paris, 1871.

16 Reference to Buddhist texts etc., Nilakanta Sastri South Indian Influence in the Far-East reprinted by R. Nagaswamy, Tamil Arts Academy, Chennai 2005. See also K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, South India and South-East Asia, Studies in their History and Culture, Geetha Book House, Mysore, 1978, a (posthumous) collection of 28 articles on the subject. See Peter Schalk et al., Buddhism Among Tamils in Pre-Colonial Tamilakam and Ilam, 1-Prologue The Pre-Pallava and the Pallava Period, 2-The Period of the Imperial Colar, 2 vols. 2002.

17 Eight books published at EFEO by François Bizot between 1976 and 1996.

18 See the critical review of A. Dhamotharan, Tamil Dictionaries: A Bibliography, in BEFEO LXVII, 1980, pp. 353-354.

19 After Bishop Diehl and G. Duverdier’s articles, Will Sweetman gives the most complete bibliography in his articles such as “The Prehistory of Orientalism; Colonialism and the textual Basis for Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg’s Account of Hinduism” in New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 6, 2, (Dec. 2004) or his article on B. Z.’s Akkiyānam (1713) in Halle and the Beginning of Protestant Christianity in India, 3 vols. Halle, 2006.

20 Much maligned Monsters, History of the European Reactions to Indian Art, Oxford, 1977. See also Donald F. Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe, Univ. of Chicago Press, 2 vols. in 2 + 3 parts, 1965-1977 (reprint 1994).

21 See pp. 13-33 “India and the Enlightenment, 1610-1849” and pp. 34-40 “The French in the service of the princely States” and J. M. Lafont ed., Reminiscences, The French in India, INTACH, New Delhi, 1997, with bibliography; Indika: Essays in Indo-French Relations, 1630-1976, Manohar, New Delhi, 2000; Chitra. Cities and Monuments of Eighteenth Century India from French Archives, Manohar, New Delhi, 2001; Les Français/The French & Lahore, Lahore, 2007. Etc.

22 Everyone knows of the famous Lettres édifiantes, the Jesuit letters, covering the period 1542-1773 (cf. John Correia-Afonso, Jesuit letters and Indian History, OUP, 2nd ed. 1969). What has been published is only a sample: we number more than 6000 letters between 1538 and 1552, concerning the figure of Saint Francis Xavier. Neither the Sidelights on South Indian History from the letters and records of contemporary Jesuit missionaries 1542-1756, published by the French Jesuit J. Castets in St. Joseph’s College Magazine, Trichinopoly, 1929-1933, nor the sparse data collected by R. Sathianathaier in Tamilaham in the 17th century (Univ. of Madras, 1956) from the French compilation of Father J. Bertrand La Mission du Maduré (Paris-Lyon, 1847-1854, 4 vol.) do justice to the wealth of the original documents. Father Bertrand later published two additional volumes of Lettres édifiantes et curieuses de la nouvelle mission du Maduré (Paris-Lyon, 1865) covering the period 1830-1860; however there are mostly a revised selection of four lithographed volumes issued in Lyon from 1834 to 1854, a sketchy and often faulty compilation, as the editor himself admits. And we must not forget that other religious congregations were no less prolific. An enquiry into the archives of the Carmelites of Verapoly Mission in Kerala has unearthed 15 grammars and 16 dictionaries for Malayalam alone.

23 Bibliography for French sources in R. Schwab, La Renaissance orientale, Paris, Payot, 1950; Jean Biès, Littérature française et pensée hindoue des origines à 1950, Paris, Klicksieck, 1974; Roger-Pol Droit, L’oubli de l’Inde, Une amnésie philosophique, P.U.F., 1989 and Le culte du néant, Les philosophes et le Bouddha, Le Seuil 1997; enlarged to Europe: Wilhelm Halbfass India and Europe, New York, 1988 (original German ed. 1981); enlarged to the world, see Edward Saïd’s work and the controversies around it; and for an epilogue: Brockenridge, Carol A. & Peter van der Veer, Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicaments. Perspectives on South Asia, Phildelphia, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1993, Rabault-Feuerhahn, Pascale, L'archive des origines, Sanskrit, philologie, anthropologie dans l'Allemagne du XIXe siècle, Paris, 2008.
R. Schwab, acknowledging that the pioneers used Dravidian sources, lamented “the losses due to the passage of the Vedic texts through their Tamil versions.” But he spoke on the basis of flimsy references. Better informed Max Muller praised abbé Dubois not, of course, as a Sanskrit scholar but as knowledgeable on Tamil, which, he wrote, “was too much neglected by the students of literature, philosophy or religion of India.”

24 Similarly, twelve out of the twenty plates illustrating L’Inde pittoresque by Louis Énault (Paris, 1861) appeared almost simultaneously in the first volume of the compilation of E. H. Nolan, The History of the British Empire in India and the East (2 vol. London, 1860-1861).

25 The complete title of the book is Collection de dessins lithographiques représentant les divinités, temples, costumes, meubles, etc., des peuples hindous qui habitent les possessions françaises de l’Inde, etc., publiée par M. M. Geringer et Chabrelie, 2 vol. in-folio. The appendix, Recherches sur la religion des Malabares, ouvrage extrait d’un manuscrit inédit de la Bibliothèque royale et publié par M. E. Jacquet, contains 118 pages. Incidentally, a remarkable insight on the oriental scholarship in Europe in the middle of the 19th c. can be found in Félix Nève, Mémoire sur la vie d’Eugène Jacquet de Bruxelles, et sur ses travaux relatifs à l’histoire et aux langues de l’Orient, Bruxelles, 1856.
See also Gita Dharampal, La religion des Malabars, Tessier de Quéralay et la contribution des missionnaires européens à la naissance de l’indianisme, Nouvelle Revue de science missionnaire, Supplementa vol. XXIX, 1982; informative but unfortunately not exactly an edition of the text itself! On Le paganisme des Indiens…, see Balagourou Diagarassin’s unpublished DEA Mémoire Paris III Univ., 1982.

26 Le Mahabharat et le Bhagavat du colonel de Polier, membre de la Société Asiatique de Calcutta, Paris, Gallimard, 1986.

27 Un manuscrit français du XVIIIe siècle: Recherche de la vérité sur l’État civil, politique et religieux des Hindous par Jacques Maissin, publié par Rita H. Régnier, Pub. EFEO XCVI, 1975 see pp. 82-83, where the information we had collected and our comment are quoted verbatim.

28 L’Inde philosophique entre Bossuet et Voltaire – 1Moeurs et coutumes des indiens (1777) un inédit du Père Cœurdoux, texte établi et annoté par Sylvia Murr; 2 L’indologie du Père Cœurdoux, par Sylvia Murr, PEFEO CXLVI, 1987.

29 Nothing has been said so far on Dupleix and the French “Comptoirs”. For the sake of a few acres, the relationship between France and India has been put under unnecessary strain, while what was in question was rather the rivalry between French and British primacy than any cultural approach to India itself. One echo of such a preoccupation is still found in a remark by a French diplomat and occasional novelist, Michel Larneuil. Evoking, in Le roman de la Begum Sombre, the expeditionary military corps under General Decaen sent by Napoleon Bonaparte, then Premier Consul, from Ile de France (Mauritius) not to West, Broach and Sindhia, Marathas and Hindustan, but, as Perron laments, to the South and Pondicherry, he concludes: “The Pondicherry action ended in utter failure. Like Louis XV, like Louis XVI, Bonaparte missed the opportunity. Obsessed by Pondicherry, his advisers had misled him into a dead end. Let us come back to Hindustan.”
It should be noted, however, that individual adventurers during 18th and early 19th c. established themselves as military advisers to Indian princes in Northern India, sometimes quite successfully. The best example may be Major Martin, the founder of La Martinière Colleges in Lucknow, Kolkata, and Lyon, his home town. See Rosie Llewellyn Jones, A very ingenious man, Claude Martin in Early Colonial India, O.U.P. 1992, and J.-M. Lafont in n. 19 above. The bilingual, and official, edition of The Last Will and Testament of the Major general Cl. [Claude] Martin, Lyon, An XI 1803, is a remarkable typographic curiosity.

30 In Variétés orientales..., Paris, 1868, pp. 177-224. (Note on the legacy of Ariel at the Société Asiatique de Paris.)

31 Both knew only of the copy in the Vatican Library, which is a mutilated version, unfortunately printed in that state. In fact, the complete preface to the work gives the full scope of the book, including the reproduction of the Arte Tamulica, a grammar by Baltazar de Costa, grammatical rules for conjugation, rules for writing Tamil, and all the details of its transliteration and of efforts to use diacritical marks, a much needed aid to understanding the alphabetical order in the book. This information is available in a very complete manuscript we consulted at the National Library in Goa (ref. Ms. 37, dated 1670). We have referred to it in our review of A. Dhamotharan, Tamil Dictionaries: A Bibliography, in the BEFEO LXVII, Paris 1980, pp. 346-358 (see pp. 352-353).

32 Texts translated in Tamil by R. Dessigane Pillai, Varalāṟṟil putuvai, Pondicherry, 1975.

33 J. B. P. Moré La civilisation indienne et les fables hindoues du Panchatantra de Maridas Poullé, Adaptation et Présentation, IRISH, Kannur, 2004.

34 See in this volume the text on French translations from Tamil literature.

35 Cf David Anoussamy, Le droit indien en marche, Société de législation comparée, Paris 2001.

36 Histoire de l’Inde ancienne et moderne..., 2 vol. Paris, 1814, ending with 75 pages of original sources.

37 For a critical evaluation of Sonnerat see Madeleine Ly-Tio-Fane Pierre Sonnerat, 1748-1814, An Account of His Life and Work, Mauritius, Imprimerie et Papeterie Commerciale, 1976. Cf. the review by Denys Lombard in BEFEO LXVII (1980) pp. 344-346.

38 All published by the IFP between 1971 and 1990.

39 Jean-Claude Bonnan Jugements du tribunal de la Chauderie de Pondicherry, vol. 1, 1766-1791, vol. 2, 1792-1817, Institut Français de Pondichéry, PIFI 88, 1 & 2.

40 B.S.E.I., Nouvelle Série, t. XXIV, 4, 1951, p. 469.

41 L’étui de nacre, ‘Sainte Euphrosine’, Calmann-Lévy, 1923, pp. 75-76.

42 See above n. 39.

43 With a possible, though unlikely, extension to Chandernagore, notwithstanding the vicinity of Serampore, which retains, because of its old library where early imprints from 16th to 18th c. have been preserved, the memory, at least, of the splendid intellectual achievements of the Danish Mission (see Katharine S. Diehl, The Carrey Library Pamphlets (Secular Series) A Catalogue, Serampore, 1968).

44 PIFI no 22, Sayida Surriya Hussain, Garcin de Tassy Biographie et étude critique de ses œuvres. The citation is from the great Urdu scholar Abdul Haq who prefaced the Urdu translation of the complete set of those reviews, published in India (3 vol., 1935-1943). In French, the History of ‘hindouie’ & ‘hindoustanie’ literature had two editions, in 1839-1847 in two volumes printed under the auspices of the “Oriental Tanslation Committee of Great Britain and Ireland” and in 1870-1871 in three vol. (624, 608, 603 pages).

45 A. Minard, ‘Jules Bloch’, in Annuaire de l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section des Sciences Historiques et Philologiques, 1954-1055, a vibrant homage to the man as well as to the scholar.

46 Passeurs d’Orient, pp. 150-157.

47 Interestingly, this conference was the academic offspring of an International Association for Tamil Research, founded in New Delhi in January 1964, during the International Congress of Orientalists which was taking place there.

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