Brian Hodgson, the Maverick Scholar

Brian Hodgson was a maverick of a gentleman. In 1819, while still a teenager, he was posted as a Post Master and Assistant to the Resident in Kathmandu, Nepal. He had had only four years of formal education upon which he had added a year of training at the East India Company College at Herfordshire, learning the basic trade of a writer. With that background he had set sail for the shores of India.

Once in Kathmandu, Hodgson began in earnest his pursuit of knowledge and very soon by dint of his sincerity and hard-working ethics he was able to earn friendship of Nepalese intelligentsia. Not only did he gain their confidence, he was able to befriend Amritananda Bandya, the greatest Buddhist scholar of his time in Nepal. For the first time, Hodgson discovered in Nepal, that Siddartha Gaut’m, who became the Buddha was in real life a Nepalese prince. Until then, the Western scholars had believed the Buddha to have African origin basing their observation on the single piece of evidence, the Buddha’s curly locks.

As Hodgson gained their confidence, he obtained from them several hundred volumes of Buddhist literature written in chaste Sanskrit which he clandestinely forwarded to the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Paris. And, this is the mystery of Hodgson: he knew his tutors in Kathmandu were all not only Buddhists, they were all ethnic Mongolians, but he never wrote a word about it.

During Hodgson’s days, Calcutta used to be the capital city of British India and Hodgson had spent his first few months there at Fort William learning rudiments of Indian life and culture. There he was taught in strict confidence that Sanskrit was in the private domain of brahmins alone in India and that it was the language of Hindu gods. In Nepal however, the Kirati-Mongolians were just as much proficient in Sanskrit and he learnt firsthand that Sanskrit certainly could not have been the exclusive language of Hindu gods Yet he stubbornly stuck to what he was taught by the pundits of Calcutta and he carried to the grave his secret why he avoided mentioning that he knew several Kirati Mongolian Buddhist priests of Nepal were great Sanskrit scholars. And, thus by default, he allowed the myth to continue which survives till today.

As far as Nepal is concerned Hodgson was therefore, the wrong man at the right place and the right time. Hodgson alone could have brought to light the indisputable fact that Sanskrit was also the language of the Kirati Mongolian scholars of Nepal and that he had discovered in Nepal Sanskrit was prevalent even before the arrival of the brahmins. Unknown to him though, there are in Chinese archives several volumes of pre-brahminic Sanskrit manuscripts collected by Chinese Pilgrims from Nepal which are written bi-lingually in Sankrit and Newari. This additional information, that since the Brahmins do not read Newari, those manuscripts in Chinese Archives could not have been written but by the pre-brahminic Kirati-Mongolian scholars before the arrival of Brahmins in Nepal.

Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia.

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