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