The autobiography of Dharmanand
Kosambi (1876-1947), pioneering scholar
of Pali and Buddhist Studies, is one of
the most moving and spellbinding life
stories ever written.
Born in rural Goa, Dharmanand came
under the spell of the Buddha's teachings
during his adolescence. At an early
age he set off on a remarkable journey
of austere self-education across the
length and breadth of Britain's Indian
Empire, halting at places connected
with Buddhism. He went to Sri Lanka
to master Pali, lived in a Burmese cave
as a bhikshu, and even reached Nepal and Sikkim after arduous, sometimes
barefoot, treks. Over these itinerant years Dharmanand acquired such mastery
of the Buddhist canon that he taught and researched at Calcutta, Baroda,
Harvard, and Leningrad.
Dharmanand blended Buddhist ethics, Gandhi's philosophy, and the ideals
of socialism. He exchanged letters with the Mahatma, worked for his causes,
and died in the approved Buddhist/Jain manner by voluntary starvation
at Sevagram ashram. No Indian scholar's life seems as exemplary as
Dharmanand's, or has approximated as closely to the nobility and saintliness
of the Mahatma's.
Meera Kosambi's annotations and introduction contextualize the life, career,
and achievement of one of modern India's greatest scholar-savants.
Meera Kosambi's books include Dharmanand Kosambi: The Essential Writings
(edited, 201 0), Crossing Thresholds: Feminist Essays in Social History (2007), and
Feminist Vision or 'Treason against Men'? Kashibai Kanitkar and the Engendering
of Marathi Literature (2008).
I did not know my grandfather, Dharmanand Kosambi. A shocking
statement, but true. My childhood image of him, formed during
his visit to us in Pune, as an elderly man with a beard may be based
less on actual memory and more on his photograph on our drawing-
room wall. He passed away-voluntarily, by giving up all sustenance-
shortly afterwards, at Gandhiji's ashram in Vardha. My father, ever
reticent about personal matters, did not talk about his relationship
with his parents or siblings. Thus my relationship with Grandfather is
not anchored in affective involvement, but is a vain effort (in both
senses of the term) to claim him as an intellectual ancestor. The pre-
sumption is obvious. I am the type of scholar who complains bitterly
about a few entire days spent in libraries and dusty archives with only
a meagre snack for lunch and not a single energizing cup of tea (which
I consume by the mugful at home). Grandfather on the other hand
had in his Buddhist quest, trudged barefoot up steep mountains
through occasional now to Nepal, and lived in sylvan solitude in different parts of India, Sri Lanka, and Burma, on the edge of physical
Another reason on for diffidence is the need to translate into English
the Marathi autobiography of a scholar who wrote excellent English
, His introduction to Visuddhi-magga, which he critically
Edited for the Harvard Oriental Series, and his very few other English
writing that I have been able to trace, show his thorough mastery over
English as well as Pali (and textual criticism), Additionally, he had studied Sanskrit with the best teachers, knew Hindi and Gujarati well,
had taken a course in Russian at Harvard, and probably had a smattering of Burmese and Sinhalese. Yet he wrote mainly in Marathi, his
objective being to disseminate the benefits of Buddhism to as wide an
audience as possible in Maharashtra.
The present book tries to present to English-speaking readers
Dharmanand, the man and the scholar, as he comes across in his auto-
biography, Nivedan.. The Introduction presents his life trajectory in
brief and situates the text.
I have referred to Grandfather as 'Dharmanand' here and in the
Introduction. This is in keeping with the Marathi convention of using
the first name, along with the plural pronoun denoting the honorific-
a distinction that unfortunately cannot be made in English. His name
is spelt 'Dharrnananda' on the title page of Visuddhi-magga, but my
father wrote his own name as 'Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi' and
I have retained the latter transliteration.
The present book draws from my edited book of translations,
Dharmanand Kosambi: The Essential Writings (Permanent Black, 2010).
That book's first section, Nivedan, is a self-contained autobiographical
memoir. Paperbacking Nivedan by itself was suggested by Rukun
Advani-a most worthwhile suggestion for which I thank him.
In translating the Sanskrit (and occasional Pali) quotations in the
original text, I have received generous help from Dr M.G. Dhadphale, former Professor of Sanskrit and Pali at Fergusson College.
Dr Madhavi Kolhatkar of the Deccan College of Post-graduate
Studies (Deemed University) helped with translations of old Marathi
verses of saint poets.
An absolutely indispensable resource centre for this exercise was the
R.N. Dandekar Library of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
at Pune (established in the name of R.G. Bhandarkar, a scholar whom
Grandfather knew well and greatly admired). The librarian, Shri Satish
Sangle, provided willing and unstinting help. In Pune I also consulted
the library of the Kesari-Mahratta Trust, the Bai Jerbai Wadia Library
of Fergusson College, and the library of the Academy of Political and
Social Science; in Mumbai I consulted the Mumbai Marathi Grantha-Sangrahalaya, Gandhi Memorial Museum and Library (Mani Bhavan),
and the Jawaharlal Nehru Library of the University of Mumbai. Shri
Ashim Mukhopadhyay, Library Information Assistant at the National
Library, Calcutta, kindly provided the correct nineteenth-century
spellings of most of the Bengali personal and place names mentioned
The photos reproduced here have been taken mostly from Nivedan.
The frontispiece is from the D.D. Kosambi collection (and was taken
by himself); Dharmanand's photo dated c. 1909 has been taken from
Manoranjan, Diwali Issue, 1909.
I owe a deep debt of gratitude to all these individuals and institutions
for their contribution to this book.
Finally, a note on the translation. An attempt has been made to retain the flavour of early- twentieth-century Marathi, avoiding current-
and identifiably 'modern'-usage. In accordance with the accepted
convention, round brackets denote matter in the original; square
brackets indicate my additions. The original footnotes have been
retained intact, and added in parentheses to the body of the text, where
feasible. Quotations from Sanskrit, Pali, and old Marathi sources have
been put in a very visibly different font, partly because they appear in
bold letters in the originals.
The title 'Bhagavan' as applied to the Buddha has been translated
as 'Lord'; 'the Buddha's religion or Dharma' as 'the Dhamma' (for easy
identification, as suggested by Dr Meena Talim); and 'the sangha of
monks (bhikkhus)' as 'the Sangha. Old Marathi place names (which
are still in use) have been retained as in the original (e.g. Pune, Mumbai), except when these occur in old institutional names (e.g. the
Bombay Presidency)-as far as Maharashtra is concerned. In other
cases, old English names have been used to facilitate name recognition
(e.g, Baroda instead of the Marathi Badode). The names 'Ceylon' and
'Sinhala-dvipa' have been retained in translation as in the original,
although I have referred to the country as Sri Lanka in the Introduction.
'Brahmadesh' has been changed to Burma (though it is now Myanmar),
again for easy name recognition.
As for transliteration, I have hyphenated long words, names, and
book tides for ease of pronunciation and understanding (while respecting the Sanskrit/Pali/Marathi rules for compounds), although this
is not an accepted practice. I personally find inordinately long Sanskrit, Pali, or Marathi words in the Roman script-even with diacritical
marks-forbidding. For the same reason I have occasionally transposed certain personal names: for example, Shrisumangalacharya is some-
times changed to Acharya Shri Sumangala, and Shantidev-acharya to
Acharya Shantidev. It was decided, on the publisher's advice, not to
use diacritical marks, because this book-like all of Dharmanand's
Marathi writings-is meant for the average reader and not the Indologist. However, an attempt has been made to indicate the correct
pronunciation-in the absence of diacritical marks-with 'aa' whenever strictly necessary. This has not been done for other vowels (except
in rare cases), in order to avoid unwieldiness.
In conclusion all I can say is that this book has been, more than a
labour of love, a partial repayment of my debt of gratitude to Grand-
father, to whom I owe my physical as well as intellectual existence.
Despite the rationalism instilled into me since childhood by my father,
I cherish the irrational belief that Grandfather has somehow helped
this effort along so that the translation was made in record time. My
earnest hope is that it would have passed muster with him.
Dharmanand Kosambi's life (1876-1947) was largely devoted to
a single cherished goal: popularizing the Buddha's message
among his fellow Maharashtrians. This humanist mission
coexisted with his intellectual career as a Buddhist scholar within
academia-in India as well as in countries like the USA and Russia. As
a thinker he also attempted to disseminate the ideas of egalitarianism
and world peace across national boundaries, blending the ideology of
socialism with the ethics of Buddhism and both with Mahatma
Gandhi's philosophy of truth and non-violence. By seeking to anchor
his social and political concerns in spirituality and moral uprightness,
Dharmanand occupies a distinct, albeit relatively solitary, niche in
Gandhiji's struggle for Independence.
To Dharmanand goes the credit for reviving Buddhism as a living
religion in twentieth-century India, long after it had disappeared from
the country, leaving behind only magnificent ruins as a mute testimony
to its glorious existence. In reviving Buddhism, he not only reintroduced
the doctrine and practice of the religion but also established its relevance
to contemporary social and political ideologies, thus creating a
new, cohesive worldview. The story of how and why this happened is
unfolded through his autobiographical narrative (Atma-nivedan) in
Marathi, known by its abbreviated title Nivedan (A Narrative).
Despite his mastery of several languages, Dharmanand chose to :
write his autobiography as well as other books in Marathi because of
his strong region-specific commitment-though few general readers
are familiar today with his copious Marathi output in the field of Buddhist Studies, and fewer still are aware of his contribution as a social
and political thinker.
This book seeks to reveal, through a translation of Nivedan, the
manifold dimensions of Dharmanand's personality and of his intellectual and ideological journey.
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