A transgression? (Indian Studies in the USSR)

Yaroslav V. Vassilkov yavass at YAVASS.USR.PU.RU
Sun Feb 1 11:00:19 UTC 1998

I would like to thank all participants, particularly George Thopmson,
John R. Gardner and Joseph Baltuch for their interest in and high
evaluation of the tradition of Indian studies in Russia. I have no
objection against my opinion being cited (as J.R.Gardner is going
to do), but please don't cite too literally: I hope you will kindly
correct in the process my English style and obvious mistakes.

On Jan 31 J.Baltuch wrote:

<I wanted to ask the following when I saw your first posting and your
<next posting on this topic only encouraged me: during the 70s and
<early 80s (and before) India and the USSR were close allies. One would
<have thought that could have softened the crackdown on Indology both
<on the ground that the Soviet leadership might want to retain a reservoir
<of expertise on a close strategic ally and that India could use its
<influence as a close ally to prevent the complete demise of Indology in
<the Soviet Union during that period.

<Now, are you aware of any instance where the Indian authorities were
<aware of what was going on with Indology in the Soviet Union during
<that period and tried to use their influence in the same way the
<ambassador of Ceylon did?

        1) Soviet leadership surely wanted to have "a reservoir of
expertise on a close strategic ally": it had an army of "advisers" and
"forcasters" dealing with Indian problems and encouraged studies in
modern Indian economics, politics, to a lesser extent - in modern
languages and culture. But the idea that one cannot study Modern
India without knowing its foundations - classical culture, religion,
philosophy - was beyond their understanding. They did not want
to spend money on things which had, from their point of view, no
practical importance. Moreover, they were always haunted with fear
that the academic study of traditional cultures of Asia may turn
one day into "religious propaganda" among the Soviet people.
        2) Diplomats of any country - politically friendly or not -
had no influence on the inner cultural policy of Soviet leadership.
Malalasekera was an exeption, because he was a personal friend of
Nikita Khrushchev (and, by the way, George Roerich returned to
Russia at Khrushchev's personal invitation). Most of Indologists
had no contacts with Indial diplomats (except several lucky and
politically "clean" Moscow residents) and never seen the country they
studied (until the last Soviet years, i.e. Gorbachev's time). In the
end of the 1960-ies the Indian Embassy donated to the Leningrad
Branch of the Institute of Oriental studies the complete Critical
edition of the MahAbhArata - in order to help the work on the
translation of the epic which was being done in the Institute. But
it did not prevent the translation of the Vanaparvan (Mbh, book III),
prepared by Professor Svetlana Neveleva and myself, from waiting for
its publication for almost 20 years (printed in Moscow in 1987).
        All the best
                                        Yaroslav Vassilkov

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