Dharmanand Kosambi

Ganesh UmakantThite

 (Bhandarkar Institute, Pune)

Dharmanand Kosambi occupies an important place in the history of Indology in India, mainly because he was one of the founders of the studies on Pali and Buddhism in India. In this essay, it is intended to give an outline of his biography and his contributions to this field of Indology. Incidentally, it may be pointed out that Dharmanand Kosambi has written his own biography which will be very much useful to know about his life in a trustworthy way (Nivedan, DharmanadKosambi, Manoranjak Granthaprasarak Mandali, Mumbai, 1924).

            Dharmanad Kosambi was born on 9th October 1876 in Sakhawal in Goa. His mother was named Anandibai and his father Damodar. His father had seven children out of which there were two sons and five daughters. Dharmanad was the youngest of all the children. His primary education was completed in Belgaon. And he got married in 1891 at the age of fifteen. While in Goa he wanted to learn the subjects like Sanskrit but could not get any opportunity to learn it. From the very young age, he realized that, the custom of Child-marriage and the caste-system were causing calamities to the Hindu people. In 1891, Dharmanand Kosambi came to Pune and met Dr. R. G. Bhandarkar. Dr. Bhandarkar made some arrangements, so that Dharmanad Kosambi could learn Sanskrit. During the studies of Sanskrit, attention of Kosambi was drawn to the Buddhist Studies also. Then he left Pune, and went to Kashi via Indore, Ujjain and Gwalior. He learnt some Sanskrit there also.  From Kashi, he further went to Nepal, from there to Bodhgaya with the hope that he would be able to learn Pali and Buddhism there.  Finally, he decided to go to Ceylon, where he would be able to study Pali and Buddhism. It is remarkable to note that, he travelled to all these places without having sufficient money with him. He, many times had to beg for money. To some extent he was lucky enough to find someone who would give him some money, some shelter and some food. In Ceylon, he learnt some Pali texts and then went to Burma. In the meanwhile he had accepted the Buddhist religion and became monk. From Burma he came again to India. In India, he travelled from Calcutta to Nagpur, Amravati, Mumbai, Ujjain, Devas, Indore, Kashi, Sarnath etc. He used to suffer from some diseases like Diarrhea. Once he even thought of committing suicide by drinking Poison (Pg. 161). In spite of all these difficulties, he survived and carried out his studies on Pali and Buddhism. He left his monkhood and became a teacher of Pali in the National College, Calcutta (1906). Later on, he also started teaching Pali in Calcutta University. Maharaj Sayajirao of Baroda, offered him some money and work. So, he came first to Mumbai and then to Pune. Here he carried out the work of editing the ‘Visuddhimagga’ in Devanagari–Script. Marathi translation of Bodhicaryāvatāra and publication of lectures delivered by him on Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha in Marathi. In 1910, he got an offer from Dr. Woods to help Mr. Warren in the work on Visuddhimagga in Harvard University. In the meanwhile, he could introduce Pali studies in the curriculum of Mumbai University with the help of Dr. R. G. Bhandarkar. He went to Boston, and worked there on Visuddhimagga along with Prof. Lanmann.

            In the later part of his life after coming back to India, Dharmanad Kosambi carried out his work mainly in two fields. Thus he carried out the work of teaching and propagation of Pali and Buddhism, on the one hand and wrote mainly in Marathi on these subjects, on the other. He worked in Fergusson College in Pune for the sake of teaching and he also carried out the work of writing numerous books. Let us introduce some of his writings and get ourselves acquainted with his academic side of the work. Meera Kosambi (Grand Daughter of Dharmanad Kosambi) in her work, Dharmanand Kosambi- the essential Writtings(Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2010),has given a detailed list of his writings (p. 414-417). He wrote mainly in Marathi and English. Some of his writings were later on translated in other Indian languages also. He knew Gujarathi and Russian in addition to Pali, Sanskrit, Hidi, English and Marathi. He revised the edition of Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosācariya, which was originally edited by H. C. Warren. This edition was published in the Harvard Oriental Series, Cambridge (Mass.),1950. Among his Marathi books Buddha, Dharma āṇi Saṅgha, Nirnaysagar Press, Mumbai, 1910, is a very important. In this book he has given a systematic description of the life of Buddha, his main doctrines of Buddhism and the main features of his organization called Saṅgha. In Buddhalīlāsaṅgraha he has given some of his stories of the lord Buddha (Kā. Ra. Mitra, Mumbai, 1914). The book named Nivedan (Manoranjak Granthprasarak Mandali, Mumbai, 1924), is partly his autobiography upto 1923 and partly a description of travels he had undertaken upto that time. From the points of view of both this genre of this book is unique in Marathi. It is one of the great books in Marathi but rather neglected by the Marathi critics. Bauddhasaṅghācā Paricaya (Mangesh Narayan Kulkarni, Mumbai, 1926), contains an introduction to Buddhist organization. Bhagawān Buddha (Part I and Part II) (Suvichar Prakashan, Nagpur, Pune, 1940, 1941) deals with the life-story of the lord Buddha. Suttanipāta (Dharmanad Smarak Trust, 1955) contains Marathi translation of the original Pali text Suttanipāta. Bodhisattva (Dharmanand Smarak Trust, Mumbai, 1949) is a Marathi drama dealing with the life-story of the lord Buddha. In this Drama, Dharmanand Kosambi tries to maintain that the traditional explanation of the renunciation of Siddhārtha based upon the first vision of Old Age, Death etc. is not correct. He had these thoughts from the very beginning. He concentrated his mind on the social sorrow rather than the individual sorrow. His renunciation was also based upon the political conditions at that time. For this way of thinking, Dharmanand Kosambi chose drama as a medium of writing which is very extraordinary.

            In addition to these books, he wrote many articles in English and Marathi and they were published in several journals.

            An important aspect of the personality of Dharmanand Kosmbi was his socialistic way of thinking. He was acquainted with Karl Marx and had also thought over the problems of workers in India of his time. Meera Kosambi has rightly pointed out that this aspect of his personality has remained comparatively less known among the scholars on modern Indian History.

            It is significant to note that, Dharmanand Kosambi accepted voluntary death by observing fast up to death. He passed away on 24th July 1947.

            While studying the life and contribution of Dharmanad Kosambi, we notice following points- : He did not receive any formal education but, his keen interest in studying Pali and Buddhism is an exceptional feature. Even though there were no teachers available to him for his studies, he travelled from places to places. He travelled even though he had no money. He lived life of a married man as well as of a monk quite successfully. Without having formal degrees of any university, he was appointed as a teacher in many colleges and universities. He could master the subject of his choice and could produce literature which only a philologically trained Research-Scholar could have produced, while he was inclined towards teaching and research he wrote, an autobiography and a drama also. He had an independent way of thinking. His life is full of apparently contrasting currents, but basically he was a serious scholar and propagator of Buddhism in modern sense. And that makes him an exceptional man in the cultural history of Maharashtra.

 Ganesh UmakantThite,



-Retired Professor and head of the department of Sanskrit and Prakrit languages, University of Pune, Pune.

-Currently working in Bhandarkar Institute as Editor of Mahābhārata: Cultural Index.