Born On: April 9, 1893
Born In: Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh (British India)
Died On: April 14, 1963
Career: Writer, Scholar, Nationalist, Traveler, Polymath, Polyglot
Kedarnath Pandey, who later changed his name to Rahul Sankrityayan, after Gautam Buddha’s son, Rahul and Sankrityayan, meaning Assimilator; did perfect justice in giving himself this new name, for he went on to become a renowned Buddhist scholar. Popularly recalled as the Father of Hindi Travel Literature, his collection of knowledge had begun at an early age of nine, when he ran away from home in order to explore the unexplored. His journey took him to many parts of India and abroad. Even though he had a limited formal education, Sankrityayan learnt many languages all by himself and wrote around 150 books. His writings included an array of subjects. He traveled all around, participated in the Indian Freedom Movement and got jailed thrice for creating anti-British writings and speeches. Sankrityayan became a Buddhist monk and eventually, took up Marxist Socialism. He is often referred to as a Mahapandit (greatest scholar), polymath and polyglot.
Rahul Sankrityayan aka Kedarnath Pandey was born on 9th April, 1893 in Azamgarh District of Uttar Pradesh, India to an orthodox Brahmin family. His father, Govardhan Pandey was a farmer by profession, while his mother, Kulawanti stayed with her parents. Sankrityayan received formal education only up to 8th grade in Urdu medium. However, this didn’t deter him from educating himself as he went on to master many languages by reading and frequently traveling across India and abroad. After the death of both his parents, mother at the age of twenty eight and father at the age of forty five, he was brought up by his grandmother. It was when Rahul was nine that he first ran away from home to explore the world. He visited many pilgrim centers of India and mainly survived on alms. In 1919, the Jallianwala Holocaust impacted him to such a level that he turned into a nationalist, participated actively in Indian freedom for independence, and even went to jail three times in his life.
A writer, a scholar, a socialist, a nationalist, a traveler, a polymath, and a polyglot - with a career as broad as that, it’s highly unlikely that India or any other country for that matter will come across such a figure in a very long time. Even though Sankrityayan’s formal education had ended by 8th grade, he climbed the mountain of paramount knowledge that many educated people across the world failed to. It was as much as theoretical education as it was practical: involving a lot a travel that took him to many parts of India including Ladakh, Kashmir, Kinnaur etc and countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tibet, China, Iran, and Soviet Union. It was Sankrityayan’s urge to learn and search for prestigious artifacts including manuscripts of Pali and Sanskrit, paintings, and even books. Such was his glory that the Patna Museum in Patna, Bihar has dedicated a special section to a number of items brought back by Rahul.
Rahul Sankrityayan’s writing and scholarly career had begun when he was in his twenties. Over the years, he had written around 150 books covering a variety of subjects such as sociology, history, philosophy, Buddhism, science, drama, folklore, politics, tibetology, lexicography, biographies, autobiography, essays, and pamphlets in as many as five languages: Hindi, Sanskrit, Bhojpuri, Pali, and Tibetan. His book “Volga se Ganga” translating to “A journey from Volga to Ganga”, a 7500-years of historical accounts woven with fiction and then published, is one of his major accomplishments. The book begins in 6000 BC and ends in 1942 AD and presents a fictional account of migration of Aryans from the steppes of the Eurasia to regions around the Volga river; then their movements across the Hindukush and the Himalayas and the sub-Himalayan regions; and their spread to the Indo-Gangetic plains of the subcontinent of India. The book got translated in Tamil, Telegu, and Malayalam and remains hugely popular among youth intellectuals in Kerala till date. His book “Madhya Asia ka Itihaas” even won him the Sahitya Academy Award in 1958 and a Padmabhushan Award in 1963. If this wasn’t all, Sankrityayan was made the professor of Indology by the University of Leningrad, twice.
Since Sankrityayan got married at a very young age, he never came to know who his child-wife was. It was on his second visit to Soviet Union where he went to teach about Buddhism in the University of Leningrad, when he met Ellena Narvertovna Kozerovskaya aka Lola, a Mongolian scholar. The two got married and had a son named Igor. However, both mother and child were not allowed to travel to India when Rahul went back after completing his teaching assignment. It is said that later in his life he married a Nepali lady and had a daughter named Jaya and a son named Jeta.
During his teaching stint at the Sri Lankan University, a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, a stroke had left Sankrtiyayan seriously ill. It was in Darjeeling that he breathed his last breath and passed away on 14th April, 1963.
Awards in His Honor
Rahul Sankrityayan National Award - Awarded to those who have contributed to Hindi travel Literature (also called Travel Litterateur's Honour) by the Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Government of India
Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan Paryatan Puraskar - Awarded for contributing significantly in the field of travelogue and Discovery and Research in Hindi, for books written originally in Hindi on Tourism related subjects by the Ministry Of Tourism, Government of India
1893: Rahul Sankrityayan was born.
1937-38: Was appointed as the Professor of Indology by the University of Leningrad.
1947-48: Was appointed as the Professor of Indology by the University of Leningrad, for the second time.
1958: Received Sahitya Academy Award for his book Madhya Asia ka Itihas.
1963: Received a Padmabhushan Award.
1963: Died at the age of 70.