Indo-Hungarian Cultural & Educational Relations Historical Perspective
Hungary’s interest in the Orient assumed particular importance at the end of the 18th century – early century 19th when Hungary and the Hungarian people, entering into an epoch of national renewal, sought to explore their ancient history and origin through scholarly means. In Hungary, where the awareness of oriental origin never fell into oblivion, questions regarding the history of the people and the language focused the attention of scholars toward Asia as a matter of course. Indo-Hungarian scholarly and cultural contacts look back on a long past, in fact to the 15th and 16th centuries. Several centuries of Indian philosophy, religion and literature have enriched Hungarian intellectual life.
The first Hungarian known to have visited India, Gyorgy Huszti, was not motivated by academic ambitions. He reached the western coast of the sub-continent in 1538 as a slave in the army of the Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. Huszti was however a learned man and wrote an account of his experiences, which unfortunately is still unpublished. Hungarians had their first contacts with Indian culture through intermediaries. The first verifiable influences date back to the 15th century when a Latin work by a Franciscan monk Pelbart Temesvari makes mention of an Indian mythology book called the Kilil which in all probability was a reference to the story of Kalila and Dimna in Panchatantra.
Role of Alexander Csoma Korosi
The life-work of legendary and world-famous Hungarian orientalist Alexander Csoma Korosi (1784-1842) is still a landmark in the history of Indology in Hungary. Determined to identify and explore the ancient homeland of the nomadic peoples, who eventually came to be known as the Hungarians, he mastered the Turkish, Arabic, Persian and Bengali languages. Travelling as a poor student from 1819 onwards, he reached India through Iran and Afghanistan and, largely avoiding the company of the English colonisers, tried to adapt himself to the way of life of the inhabitants.
After a decade of work at Asiatic Society of Bengal in Kolkata, Csoma Korosi again set off toward Tibet in 1842 in quest of the predecessors and relatives of Hungarians. However, he was never to attain his goal, falling ill from malaria during his travels. He died in Darjeeling, his original quest still unfulfilled; his tomb there is now a place of pilgrimage for all Hungarian visitors. Csoma Korosi was sharply distinguished from other European oriental scholars of the age in that oriental research to him served national studies, and that he approached the people he studied as friends, stressing common human values. Without any doubt it can be said that Alexander Csoma Korosi is a great founding father of Tibetan and Buddhist studies as well.
Sir Aurel Stein
Next to Alexander Csoma Korosi, the best known Hungarian researcher of India was Sir Aurel Stein (1862 -1943) who in 1898 was professor of Sanskrit language and literature at the Punjab University in Lahore. His most important philological work was his critical-text edition of Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. He dedicated several books to the religions and cultural conditions of Indian history and Indo-Scythian rule as well as Indo-Iranian ancient geography, and organised three memorable expeditions to Central Asia (Eastern Turkestan, Afghanistan and Iran) between 1900 and 1916.
He was among the first to note the significance of Gandhara art. He wrote a book about the educational system of the Punjab and the Urdu language. He was one of the founders of the Punjab University. Gabor Balint Szentkatolnai (1844-1913) arrived in India with the expedition of Count Bela Szechenyi before leaving the team and spending a longer time in South India. He studied the Tamil language and grammar and edited a dictionary.
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s Hungarian connection
Also in the early 20th century, Hungarian interest in India was fuelled by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Hungarian translators and the general public were quick in reacting to the Nobel prize the Bengali poet was awarded in 1913, with some of his poems being published in the famous Hungarian literary journal Nyugat, in translation by Mihaly Babits, in the very same year. More than 20 of his works were soon published in Hungarian translation and several went through several editions. Gurudev visited and stayed at Balatonfured in 1926 for heart treatment at the world renowned cardiac hospital.
He left a lasting impression in the minds of the people in Balatonfured. In order to immortalize his stay and out of their love and regard for him, they erected a statue and also named a long waterfront promenade along the Balaton lake after his name. This area is a great attraction for tourists and other visitors to this place. All the important dignitaries from India visit Balatonfured to pay respect to Gurudev and plant saplings around the statue in the garden. The cardiac hospital maintains the room used by Gurudev in its original condition.
Ferenc Hopp Museum
Yet another centre of Indian research in Hungary was established in 1919, with the setting up of the Ferenc Hopp Museum of East Asia Art. The first director of the collection, art historian Zoltan Felvinczi-Takats (1900-1964) did much to enrich the Indian collection at the museum. His book entitled ‘The Art of the Orient’ is the first Hungarian language summary of the Indian arts.
During his visit to India – described in his travelogue On Buddha’s Trail in the Far East – he established contact with local Hungarians, encouraging them to give donations for the museum. Thanks to Felvinczi-Takats, Hungarian art dealer Imre Schwaiger (1864-1940) who lived in India donated a number of sculptures and small scale statuary.The present Director of the Museum is Dr Györgyi Fajcsák, Sinologist.
Study of Indology In Hungary
Apart from the varied contacts and linkages with India described above, there were many Hungarians who delved deep into various aspects of Indian culture.Sanskrit was formally included as a regular subject of study in the university in 1873 with the establishment of the Indo-European Linguistics Institute in the Faculty of Philosophy of Budapest’s Peter Pazmany University (today’s Department of Indo-European Studies at ELTE university).
Indology has always formed a major part of the work of the Department of Indo-European Studies at ELTE University, whose first professor was Aurel Mayr (1846-1915) who taught in the Department until 1905. His special field was the history of Ancient Indian Law, and his published works in this field (in German) are still of scientific value.
The lectures of his successor, Jozsef Schmidt (1868-1933) on comparative linguistics were renowned for their erudition and for the lively presentation of his own researchers. Besides Sanskritology, Schmidt’s other research fields were Iranian Studies and Indo-European Comparative Linguistics. His popular works, published during the 1920’s include: “Life and Works of Kalidasa”, “The Light of Asia: the Life and Doctrines of the Buddha”, “Old Indian Epic Poetry”, “The History of Sanskrit Literature”, and “Indian Philosophy”.
Tagore Research Fellowship
In order to strengthen the Indo-European Studies Department, India has established a Tagore Research Fellowship on Indology and Indian Studies at Department of Indo-European Studies, ELTE University, Budapest with effect from the academic year beginning in 2007. The Fellowship is financed by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), India. In this regard, a Memorandum of Understanding between the ICCR and the ELTE University, Budapest was signed on February 16, 2007 at ELTE University, Budapest.
Scholarship to learn Hindi in India
Under the scheme of “Propagation of Hindi Abroad”, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India awards two scholarship slots every year to Hungarian nationals to learn Hindi for one academic year at the Central Institute of Hindi, Agra.
Scholarship to study Indology/Indian Studies
Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), India has allotted two scholarship slots for Hungarian Nationals for pursuing Ph.D. Degrees in Indology/Indian Studies at Indian Universities with effect from the academic session 2007-08.
A Memoradum of Understanding between ELTE University, Budapest and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi was signed in November 2006 to promote better understanding between the faculty and students of both the Universities.
Indo-Hungarian Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP)
A Indo-Hungarian Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) valid for the years 2007-10 was signed in October 2006 during the official visit of Mrs. Ambilka Soni, Minister of Tourism & Culture of India to Hungary. Under the CEP, there are regular exchanges of cultural troupes; participation in Book Fairs; exchange of handicrafts exhibitions; exchanges of experts in Music, Theatre, Fine Arts, Dance, etc. Film Festivals in each other’s country are also organized under the CEP. Department of Culture (GOI) and ICCR play a prominent role in the implementation of the provisions of CEP.
Indo-Hungarian Educational Exchange Programme (EEP)
The Indo-Hungarian Educational Exchange Programme (EEP) valid for the years 2003-08 was signed in November 2003 during the official visit of the then Prime Minister Dr Peter Medgyessy to India. Under the EEP, there are regular exchanges of scholars/researchers and students by both sides. Under the EEP the following activities are envisaged under the EEP:
i) exchange of research materials, publications, educational literature, teaching aids, demonstration material and information;
ii) organization of joint conferences, exhibitions and seminars;
iii) organization of joint research programmes and publications;
iv) organization of training programmes for educational administrators and teachers;
v) exchange of academic and other administrative staff;
vi) exchange of scholars, teachers, experts and students;
vii) twinning arrangements between institutions of higher learning;
viii) setting up of educational/training institutions and to further develop bilateral programmes between institutions of educational excellence in technical, vocational and higher education;
ix) examine the possibility of mutual recognition of educational qualifications;
x) setting up of chairs on contemporary studies;
xi) providing scholarships for further education in recognized institutions of higher learning;
xii) providing mutual assistance in the fields of Information Technology, Computer Science, mathematics & science;
xiii) any other activity as agreed by both Parties.