All in the family

Releasing today at the India International Centre in New Delhi is Permanent Black's Dharmanand Kosambi: The Essential Writings that has been edited and translated by Meera Kosambi, his granddaughter.


As indicated in recent articles in the Hindustan Times and in the Times Higher Education Supplement by the Delhi University historian, Nayanjot Lahiri, D Kosambi is not as well known as his son D D Kosambi in part because he wrote mainly in Marathi.

He was, however, a remarkable man, as is brought out by this translation of his works. "The life and writings of Dharmanand Kosambi (1876–1947), pioneering scholar of Pali and Buddhist Studies, comprise the substance of this book.

Born in rural Goa, Dharmanand came under the spell of the Buddha’s teachings during his adolescence. As described in his long autobiographical memoir (included here), at an early age he set off on an incredible journey of austere self-training across the length and breadth of Britain’s Indian Empire, halting to educate himself at places connected with Buddhism. His sojourns included living in Sri Lanka to master Pali as a novitiate-scholar, in a Burmese cave as a bhikshu, and in some viharas of North India—begging for monastic sustenance—as well as in Nepal and Sikkim which he reached after arduous, sometimes barefoot, treks. Over these itinerant years Dharmanand acquired such mastery of the Buddhist canon that he was variously appointed to teach and research at Calcutta, Baroda, Harvard, and Leningrad.

As a thinker Dharmanand blended Buddhist ethics, Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of truth and non-violence, 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. Arguably, no Indian scholar’s life has been as exemplary as Dharmanand’s, or has approximated as closely to the nobility and saintliness of the Mahatma’s.

Despite his mastery of several languages, Dharmanand chose to write in Marathi because of his strong region-specific commitment. Consequently, very few today are familiar with his copious output in Buddhist Studies, and fewer still with his contribution to social and political thought.

By translating and marshalling his most significant writings, Meera Kosambi shows the manifold dimensions of Dharmanand’s personality, and the profoundly moral character of his intellectual journeys. Her Introduction also contextualizes the life, career, and achievement of one of modern India’s greatest scholar-savants."

In hardcover, 430 pages, Rs 695. ISBN: 9788178243030

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