Saturday, 15 August 2015

Sir William Jones who made the ancient language Sanskrit known world over - British India

Sir William Jones,Indian languages are beautiful and sophisticated.The
 Sir William Jones (28 September,1746 – 27 April, 1794) was an Anglo-Welsh philologist,  Orientalist, and jurist. While serving as a judge on the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, Calcutta (Kolkata) in W.Bengal, India, he became a student  of ancient India, He, along with Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathaniel Halhed, was instrumental in founding  the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784, and started a journal called Asiatick Researches.

Sir William Jones(1746 – 1794),Poet,Lawyer, and
Born in London, Westminster, son of  William  Nix Jones,a mathematician, William Jones developed a flair for languages and, no doubt, he was a  linguistic prodigy at too an early age.  At Harrow School he distinguished himself in classical scholarship eventually, Jones would know 28 languages and was self-taught in several.  A chance translation in1770 of a Persian manuscript about the life of Nadir Shah (Persian ruler who plundered Delhi and took away the golden peacock throne and Kohinoor diamond) into French -   Histoire de Nader Chah  as requested by Danish king Christian VII of Denmark, while he was doing post graduate,  secured Jones' reputation as a major translator and language scholar.  It was further confirmed by his publication of  'A Grammar of the Persian Language' in 1771. He became a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1773  was elected to Dr. Samuel Johnson's renowned literary group, indeed a  rare great honor in those days.  For financial reasons, he studied law at  London's Middle Temple  and  was admitted to the bar in 1774. He made a modest living as a barrister, an attorney, and an Oxford fellow. He also worked with Benjamin Franklin,(who became a famous US president)  in Paris, trying to help resolve issues involving the American Revolution.
The tomb of Sir William Jones.Kolkata, W.Bengal. India.
He was a good friend of America as well as India. Throughout his legal career, Jones demonstrated an unshakable passion for social justice and pro-American sympathies. He was  absolutely against dictatorial governmental polices  and expressed his  disdain for anti people government regulations. He strongly believed such useless policies would undercut the fundamental rights of the people and would lead to political instability. Because his  writings revealed a republican slant, he was not held in high regard by the reigning British Tory administration. His pro American policies and the strong criticism of the British polices caused  heartburns  to the administration, so eventually he was relocated to Calcutta, W. Bengal where he became a Judge of the Supreme Court. On April 8, he married  Shipley, and he and his wife would live in India from 1783 until 1794, the year Jones died.

His long sojourn in India was a blessing in disguise in his entire career and it was here he gained world-wide attention for his excellent research on matters related to India, Indian languages, culture, etc. A research subject called Indology was coined during his period. Jones spent 11long years in Calcutta which happened to be his most productive and useful  period to quench his intellectual appetite and pursuits. As for his his judicial pronouncements, never had  he gone against the  democratic principles and tried to preserve the rights of Indian citizens to trial by jury, as he considered Indians to be equal under the law with Europeans.

Among his immense accomplishments, the most significant one was the establishment of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, in January of 1784 along with other Orientalists. Jone's love for India, its people, culture, intellectual works in literature, etc had no limits.  He, at the same time, expressed his resentment  for oppression and imperialism that marked the British administration. It was Jones who made the oriental studies attractive to the western society, and made the western scholars realize the existence of ancient languages and culture dating back to centuries, far older and richer  than western culture. He himself felt compelled to learn Sanskrit, the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, a philosophical language in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, so that he could better prepare himself to understand Hindu and Muslim laws. He studied the Vedas with Rāmalocana, a Pandit teaching at the Nadiya Hindu, university, becoming  proficient  in Sanskrit When he was deeply studying Sanskrit, it's advanced grammar, syntax, etc Jones developed the revolutionary idea of a common source for languages, a research work not undertaken before. In 1786 he wrote down his observation on the Sanskrit language and stated  that Sanskrit had a strong resemblance to Greek and Latin,  and suggested that the three languages not only had a common root but they were related to the Gothic, Celtic, and Persian languages. His famous discovery, to the linguists world over,
was considered as important in the area of evolution of languages as the scientific discoveries of  men like Galileo, Copernicus and Charles Darwin. Jones' keen interest in Sanskrit had a serious impact on the Indians and it renewed interest in their study of Sanskrit and its literary heritage. He also wrote on the local laws - both Indian and Mohammadan, music, literature, botany, and geography, and made the first English translations of several important works of Indian literature. In 1789 he completed his translation of Sakuntala (written by Kalidasa), a famous drama, and the Hitopadesa, a collection of fables. In 1792 he translated the Ritusamhara into the original Sanskrit.

The harsh Indian climate did not suit him and his wife. In November of 1793, Anna Jones was forced to return to England on health grounds. However, Jones felt compelled to stay back in India to complete  his unfinished tasks - completion of his translation of Hindu and Muslim laws so that the Indian people would be able to govern themselves under their own laws. He was alive to see the publication of Institutes of Hindu Law, or  the Ordinances of Menu.

His vast literary works in oriental studies influenced such famous literary giants like Matthew Arnold, Rudyard Kipling, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Goethe,T.S. Eliot, et al.
William Jones passed away on on April 27, 1794. In Jones India lost a great human being, who was always preoccupied with  India, its people, heritage laws, etc till the last breath of his life.

Cannon, Garland, "Sir William Jones," Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 109: Eighteenth-Century British Poets , Second Series, edited by John Sitter, Gale Group, 1991.

"Biography of Sir William Jones," Kamat's Potpourri—The History, Mystery and Diversity of India , (December 7, 2006).

Sir William Jones," 1911 Encyclopedia, (December 7, 2006).