a r t i c l e s    o n    h i n d u i s m

Frenchman who made India a passion in West


Indian and French scholars are working to revive the memory of Alain Danielou, who singlehandedly popularised Indian music, culture and religion in his native France and large parts of the Western world.

A fresh flurry of activity is focusing on the works of the Breton, who translated the Indian love text, the Kamasutra, helped promote the poems and novels of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and made Indian classical music universally popular at a time when it was unknown elsewhere.

Born into a patrician family in 1907, Danielou's circle of close friends in his bohemian youth included poets Jean Cocteau and Max Jacob, the famed actor Jean Marais and composers like Stravinsky. But his life was to change in 1935 when he and his companion Raymond Burnier, a scion of the family that owned the Swiss chocolate and dairy products empire Nestle, decided to travel to India from France by car.

It heralded for Danielou the start of a lifelong love affair with India, a country he described in his last interview before his death in 1994 as "my real homeland."

Upon his wishes, Danielou, who spent 15 years in the holy town of Benares studying Hinduism and Sanskrit and took the name of Shiva Saran (the protege of the Hindu god Shiva), was cremated in Hindu fashion.

Dilip Padgaonkar, editor of The Times of India newspaper, told AFP he was in talks with Danielou's heir Jacques Cloarec for an exhibition of photographs taken by Danielou of ancient Indian sculptures.

"The time and the circumstance for Danielou to re-emerge is extraordinarily opportune and comes amid a renewal of interest in India among young French people," Padgaonkar said.

"Danielou has done more than anybody else to promote India in France with the possible exception of Andre Malraux," he said, referring to the acclaimed writer and former French culture minister. "He straddled the eastern and western worlds with equal ease."

Samuel Berthet, a French scholar in Shantiniketan, the university town set up by Tagore in eastern India, said Danielou's volumes on India were being translated into three Indian languages -- Hindi, Bengali and Tamil.

"We are also planning to exhibit a musical instrument, called the 'semantic musical', developed by Danielou along on the lines of classical instruments of ancient India and Greece, in India by the end of this year," he said. "It is somewhat like an organ."

Danielou was one of the first Westerners to visit India's famed erotic temples in the village of Khajuraho. His stunning photographs of the ancient temple complex launched the site internationally. "The first-ever photo exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum were those of Khajuraho taken by Danielou," Berthet said.

Danielou took some 7,000 photographs of ancient and medieval Hindu temples from obscure places in central and eastern India and the desert state of Rajasthan, in the first such exercise of its kind. In the 1950s, he made recordings for UNESCO of classical Indian singers such as the Dagar brothers, paving the way for this musical genre's popularity the world over, and published several volumes on India.

Renowned Indologist Romila Thapar said Danielou had helped secure the future international success of Indian musicians such as sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. "He set the tone for the Beatles' discovery of Ravi Shankar," she said. "He was a cultural go-between who managed to evoke a lot of interest in Indian culture in the West at a popular level."

Padgaonkar said there was a political reason for the revival of interest in Danielou in India, which is currently ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party-dominated National Democratic Alliance.

Danielou had been sharply critical of the Congress which led the country to Independence from British rule in 1947. Padgaonkar said although Danielou enjoyed a warm friendship with India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, he was extremely critical of the Western-educated Congress leadership.

"This anti-Congress tirade is music for them," Padgaonkar said, referring to the ruling Hindu nationalists.



Copyright 2001 - All Rights Reserved.

a r t i c l e s    o n    h i n d u i s m