more than twenty years in India in the traditional Hindu world," wrote Shiv
Sharan--known in Europe as Alain Daniélou of Paris, France--in Shiva and
Dionysus. "I was as far removed from the modern world as though I had been
miraculously transported back to the Egypt of the Pharaohs." "On
returning to Europe," Sharan went on with characteristic bluntness, "I
was amazed at the childishness of theological concepts, and of the barrenness of
what ness of what is called religion. I found a rudderless humanity, clutching
the dying tree of Christianity, without even understanding why it was
dying." He was an author, artist, musician and philosopher and perhaps the
first European to boldly proclaim his Hinduness. This son of French aristocracy
turned Benaras pundit had a wide effect upon Europe's understanding of Hinduism,
though upon his passing in 1994, at the age of 87, only a few circles of
scholars and musicians really appreciated the extent of his influence.
In 1987 famed
sitarist Ravi Shankar, whom Sharan introduced to Europe in 1958, wrote of him,
"Having covered the entire length and breadth of our great heritage during
his long span, so deep were his feelings for the Motherland that he embraced
Hinduism and took the name of 'Shiv Sharan.' Thus began the incessant flow of
his glorious writings on Indian culture especially covering music, philosophy
and religion. To this day his continuous contribution to the promotion of
India's cultural heritage abroad through his works has no parallel in modern
history. His unflinching devotion to our culture and, above all, love for Mother
India, defy all expression."
At the request
of Hinduism Today, I visited his simple villa home, the "Solstice of
Labyrinth," 30 km away from Rome, set among the vineyards of the village of
Zagarolo. This ancient pre-Roman Etruscan settlement is one of those places
where the spirit breathes and peace prevails. Here Sharan spent his latter years
with Jacques Cloarec, his assistant and disciple. He wrote incessantly on
Hinduism. His presence can be felt all the time in the Solstice of Labyrinth.
Cloarec makes sure that all visitors to this villa continue the dialogue, which
Sharan poignantly started decades ago on the subjects of Indian music, Hinduism
and especially Saivism.
he left India in the early sixties never to return, remained a Hindu throughout
his life. He wrote in The Way to the Labyrinth, "I have never gone back to
India. I know that the world I lived in will always exist but has simply
retreated into its shell, waiting for the storms of the modern age to clear
away. In order to find it again, I should have to go through the new
Europeanized India that is so alien to me. It would take me a long while to
readjust to its customs and rites, to that way of life, eating, and dressing,
without which there is no possible access to the traditional world. There would
be nothing new for me to find, nothing I did not already know in the former
existence I was granted by the Gods in that kingdom beyond time and space--the
wondrous and eternal land of India."
Jacques Cloarec and I spend several evenings discussing Sharan's life and work.
He was born as Alain Daniélou, Jacques related, in Paris on October 4th, 1907.
His mother, an ardent Catholic, founded a religious order, as well as the famous
"Sainte Marie" teaching establishments. His father was a Breton
politician. Sharan spent most of his childhood in the country, with tutors, a
library and a piano. Later he studied painting, singing and classical dancing. A
great sportsman, Daniélou was a canoeing champion and an expert driver of
quite an agitator," Jacques confided. "He refused all limitations on
his personal liberties and on his thought. He was very much
anti-establishment--most of the time--although he came forth out of very
conservative elements. He broke away from his family at a very tender age and
became quite a wild person in the artistic milieu. Then he discovered India by
chance one day as he was traveling to Afghanistan, and that is when his life
With the Sadhus
together with the Swiss photographer, Raymond Burnier, this adventurous youth
departed for the East, finally arriving in India in 1935. Initially he was
associated with Rabindranath Tagore, as director of the school of music at
Tagore's Shantiniketan academy.
never cope with the Anglicized Indians who were ruling the country on Western
concepts. He intensely disliked Gandhi and, to some extent, Tagore. "I soon
discovered," he wrote, "that I had nothing to learn from
English-speaking Indians--not even from such well-known philosophers as
Vivekananda, Radhakrishnan, Aurobindo or Bhagwan Das."
for the India tailored out of English cloth fortuitously propelled Sharan into
the depths of Hindu thought. He and Burnier moved to Benaras. There Sharan found
a traditional world of writers, scholars, brahmins and monks who were completely
indifferent to modern trends of thought. They preserved the traditional ideas,
sciences, rites and philosophic systems of ancient India. He realized that these
two worlds had practically no contact. They spoke different languages.
guidance of Shivendra Nath Basu, Sharan studied classical Indian music and
became an accomplished vina player. He became fluent in both written and spoken
Hindi. A famous sannyasi of Benaras, Swami Karpatri, guided his study of
Sanskrit and philosophy, and his association with sadhus and gurus.
It was Karpatri
who initiated Daniélou into Saivite Hinduism, and gave him the name of Siva
Sharan ("protected by Siva"). Burnier was also initiated. Both lived
as Hindus, including daily baths in the Ganges, a strict vegetarian diet and
other observances, many of which Sharan continued the rest of his life.
In his 30 years
with Daniélou, Cloarec never heard him speak of this initiation, nor for that
matter, of any other kinds of mystical inner experiences. "He was extremely
discrete," he told me, "He would never speak about himself. He did say
that just after his initiation he felt things had changed and he was now
completely included in the Hindu world. He did puja nearly every day, but
refused to allow anyone to watch."
Sharan adopted was that of the Saiva Agamas. This was really a crucial event,
for nearly all modern exponents of Hinduism to the West belonged to the Smarta
Sampradaya [tradition] of Adi Sankara. There are numerous differences between
the philosophy of the ancient Agamas--which are the primary source and authority
for Hindu ritual, yoga and temple construction--and the largely philosophic
system propounded by Sankara in the 7th century ce.
As one example,
the Agamic tradition does not regard the physical and spiritual worlds as mere
maya or illusion, but rather considers them sacred creation, the visible form of
the Supreme God. Hindu temple worship based upon this belief is a most important
manifestation of the Agamic tradition. Smartas consider temple worship a lesser
form of spiritual practice. The brilliance and uniqueness of Sharan's books,
such as the encyclopedic Hindu Polytheism, was in his knowledgeable articulation
of the Agamic mysticism which embraces the vast majority of Hindus.
In 1949, Sharan
was appointed professor at the Hindu University of Benaras and director of the
College of Indian Music. He corresponded with René Guénon about the
philosophic and religious approaches of Saivite Hinduism. Greatly interested in
the symbolism of Hindu architecture and sculpture, of which he made a thorough
study, he made long trips together with Burnier to Khajuraho, Bhuvaneshvar and
Konarak, as well as to many lesser-known sites in Central India and Rajputana.
In 1954, he
left Benaras to take up the post of director of the Adyar Library of Sanskrit
manuscripts and editions at Madras. In 1956, he was made a member of the
Institut Française d'Indologie at Pondicherry, and subsequently of the Ecole
Française d'Extrême Orient.
believed that the foreign occupations of India, first by the Muslims then by the
British--created deep rifts in Indian society. Those who were forced to
collaborate with the invaders, learn their language and attend their schools and
universities still believed themselves to be Hindus, but in fact, had only very
vague notions of Indian science, philosophy and cosmology.
Most of the
Indians running the administration of India during these occupations, Sharan
believed, had to accept so many infractions to the rules of their society, so
many moral and dietary compromises and absorb so many points of view foreign to
their hybrid culture that they completely cut themselves off from any real
knowledge of their traditions.
that all the Hindus who ever occupied official functions and university and
administrative posts were English-speaking and British educated, not only under
British rule, but in the Indian administrative services that followed after
Independence. "Men like Nehru and Tagore knew nothing about Hindu culture
except through British authors," he observed. "Tagore was very much
opposed to the rigors of the traditional society."
A close friend
of the Nehru family, and in particular of Mrs. Pandit, Nehru's sister, his
sympathies lay with the Independence Movement. But after the independence of
India when the new government attacked orthodoxy, it was suggested that his role
would be more useful in the West in presenting the true face of Hinduism.
On Mission to
began to appear in Europe again from time to time after World War II,"
relates Cloarec, "and was somewhat of an eccentric because he had kept the
kondu [hair tuft] of a good orthodox Hindu, which made of him a 'hippie' before
the fact. But this eccentric person affirmed in a superb manner his knowledge of
India from 1960 onward through his great work, Hindu Polytheism, which was
printed by the prestigious Bollingen Series of Princeton University Press."
Once in Europe,
he wrote prolifically. Among his most popular books were Hindu Polytheism;
Virtue, Success, Pleasure and Liberation, The Four Aims of Life; The Ragas of
Northern Indian Music; Music and the Power of Sound, plus books on sculpture,
architecture, tales, history and yoga. He completed the first full translation
of the Kama Sutra just before his death.
culture, which was by no means artificial, gave Sharan an outsider's vision of
the Western world. In two of his works, Shiva and Dionysus and While the Gods
Play--Saiva Oracles and Predictions on the Cycle of History and the Destiny of
Mankind, he deals with the problems of a Western culture gone astray, having
lost its own traditions and taken man away from nature and the divine. He
demonstrates that the rites and beliefs of the ancient Western world before the
onslaught of Christianity are very close to Saivism and clearly explains it with
the aid of the texts and rites that have been preserved in India.
translation work and my attempt to elucidate Hindu conceptions presented many
difficulties," Sharan once acknowledged, "because no words in any
Western language can express the very subtle notions of Hindu metaphysics or
cosmology. I had to express one way of thinking through the bric-a-brac of the
vocabulary of another. Everything had to be rethought, no word could ever be
translated directly by another."
have been published in twelve countries, in English, French, German, Italian,
Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese and more.
the World's Music
For many in
Europe, however, Sharan is best known for his promotion of the classical music
of India and other countries. In 1958 he was the first to produce an anthology
of Indian music, which included the Dagar brothers, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan
and Pattamal, among others. He arranged, against all advice, an international
tour for the Dagar brothers in the concert halls of Europe where heretofore only
European classical music was played. Similarly he advocated "equal
status" for the classical traditions of all cultures. Famed violinist
Yehudi Menuhin said in 1981, "It was Daniélou who, more than anyone else,
thanks to his gifts of enthusiasm, ardor and communication skills, has furnished
many elements of mutual comprehension which brought us closer to one another.
The fact that music is today recognized as an essential value of all cultures
and a universal discipline is to a large degree thanks to Daniélou." Mrs.
Gobeil, director of Arts and Cultural Life at UNESCO, observes, "Daniélou
was conscious of the value of traditional cultures 50 years before we
In 1963 he
created the International Institute for Comparative Music Studies in Berlin and
Venice with the help of the Ford Foundation of America. By organizing concerts
for the great musicians of Asia and the publication of recorded collections of
traditional music under the aegis of UNESCO, he played an important part in the
rediscovery of Asian art and music in the West. Because of his efforts, Indian
music's influence can be seen on various established Western artists such as
Xenakis, Nadia Boulanger and his friend, Maurice Béjart.
numerous awards during his lifetime. President Charles de Gaulle presented him
with the Légion d'Honneur, the highest award in France. In 1981, he received
the UNESCO/CIM prize for music, and in 1987 the City of Paris honored his 80th
died January 27th, 1994. In accordance with his wish, he was cremated at
Lausanne, Switzerland, without rites or ceremony.
published under the name Alain Daniélou, are available in English translation
from Inner Traditions, 1 Park Street, Rochester, Vermont, 05767, USA. Jacques
Cloarec may be contacted at Via Colle Labirinto, 36, 00039, Zagarolo (Rome),
Sidebar: Shiv Sharan on Hinduism
From Hindu Polytheism (1964):
"Hindu," used for convenience, can be misleading, for it may convey
the idea that Hinduism belongs to a country, to a particular human group, to a
particular time. Hinduism, according to Hindu tradition and belief, is the
remnant of a universal store of knowledge which, at one time, was accessible to
the whole of mankind. It claims to represent the sum of all that has come to be
known to man through his own effort or through revelation from the earliest age
of his existence. The development of the mutually exclusive creeds which now
claim membership of the greater number of human beings seems to be, in the Hindu
view, a comparatively recent phenomenon, which appeared only during the Kali
Yuga. Whatever value we attribute to more recent religions, we should not
attempt to equate Hinduism with them. Hinduism cannot be opposed to any creed,
to any prophet, to any incarnation, to any way of realization, since one of its
fundamental principles is to acknowledge them all and many more to come.
approach to Hinduism tends to present us with a clear picture of original
systems which become confused and mixed in the mass of Hindu thought, while the
Hindu approach wants us to see a coherent, all-inclusive, ever-evolving
knowledge with its roots in ancient systems which tried to express, more or less
successfully, the complex structure of the cosmos, a structure which came to be
better and better analyzed in the elaborate mythology of the later ages.
From Shiva and Dionysus (1979):
Life is one.
There is no boundary between the vegetable, animal and human worlds. They are
interdependent, and their common survival depends on respect of their harmony,
whereby none assumes the role of predator, or the right to alter the balance of
nature. The Gods and subtle energies are present everywhere in the world and
within ourselves. A return to Saivite wisdom would appear to be the only way to
ensure a respite to a human race which is running towards destruction at an
Sidebar: Some Personal Reminiscences
By Jacques Cloarec
met Sharan in 1962, he had definitely left India and looked totally European,
dressed Western-style and smoked abundantly. There was nothing to make him stand
out particularly. Yet, I noticed very quickly that there was a certain bearing
in him, a certain inner process going on, a certain way of thinking, that was
totally different from those you would find in Europe. He had kept his Indian
habits, that is to say ways of doing things, and especially a way of
reflecting--the constant questioning of all established concepts. He had a sense
of values of good and evil that made him different from anyone else around him.
though he was director of a famous music institute, and making a good salary, he
lived simply at that time in a small room. He refused even to give his laundry
out to be done, and I found him washing it personally. He cared little about
money, but his needs were always amply met, first through the support of Raymond
Burnier, then from his well-paying job as director of the music institute. Only
in the last few years has any substantial income come from his book royalties.
years later, in the 1960s, he got in the habit of wearing a rudraksha mala, a
very Saivite thing, and what surprised everyone most was a little golden Linga
that he would wear in a very obvious way over his Scottish neckties.
adopted Indian thinking in a very deep way and without any reservations. He felt
that its philosophy and religion had no rival anywhere in the world as to its
profundity and its logic. He regarded all other systems as completely wrong.
was a secretive person, humble, transparent. For years and years that I lived
with him, I never saw him reading or writing Hindi or Sanskrit. So I had some
doubts whether he could read them at all. Then when he decided to do the Kama
Sutra, he couldn't find any pundits who could help him do that, because the
language was so tough. So he really surprised everyone when he started to
translate it all on his own. And he worked extremely hard for four years to do a
very difficult translation from the very archaic Sanskrit of Vatsyayana. The
second commentary in Hindi was a little easier for him. After he completed Kama
Sutra, at 85, he began translating the Artha Shastra which he would never be
able to finish."
was Sharan's personal assistant for 30 years.