Re: Professor Koelver´s demise

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Fri Nov 30 04:39:44 UTC 2001

The sudden passing of my old friend of 30 years, Bernhard Kölver, has left
all his friends shocked and speechless. We knew he had been seriously ill,
on and off, for years, but his sudden disappearance is deeply saddening.
This continues to be a really bad year for Nepal and all things Nepalese.

I think it is right to share some personal thoughts.

Bernhard has worked on many aspects of Indology, but when it comes to
Nepal, he certainly was the right man present at the right moment. When he
began with the very first phase of our decades long manuscript project
(NGMPP) in Jan. 1970,  Nepal was, and continued to be throughout the
Seventies if not the Eighties,  a "museum" of medieval  South Asia. This,
combined with the enchanting nature of the country and the genuine
friendliness and honesty of the Nepalese people, made it a pleasure to work
there. And so we all did, following his trail, - a whole generation of
(German) Indologists.

Bernhard, however,  experiencing the living reality of traditional Nepal,
especially Bhaktapur, created  something new, something going much beyond
our book learning.  He combined  his own 'traditional' Indological
background  with that of  the architects then working in the Valley
(Pujarimath, Bhaktapur restoration) and enlarged it by  close collaboration
with many local scholars, both Buddhist and Hindu.

His interest soon turned to understanding the rituals, festivals and their
close interaction with the layout and structure of the towns of the
Kathmandu Valley, their organization by deities, neighborhoods  and castes.
Beginning a close cooperation with the architect Niels Gutschow, a first
result was their joint work on Bhaktapur published in 1975, followed by
many others, either by him alone or in collaboration with Nepalese and
foreign scholars, all leading to a much better understanding of traditional
Hinduism and Buddhism, not just for the Kathmandu Valley, but for much of
S. Asia beyond.

Here, he  led the way for many of us, and I am very  glad  to have followed
his first steps, when we both  overlapped on his many visits to Nepal
during my NGMPP stay  '72-'77.  I remember  fondly our many talks and
discussions -- over so many Johnny Walkers.

Well, leaving all of this apart (Axel Michaels has promised to write on his
work in detail), I must mention his genuinely friendly nature, his talent
in working together with very different people, and in organizing and
keeping together  large groups of scholars, -- as was possible after our
agreement with the Nepalese Govt. in August 1977, which allowed us to study
all aspects of Nepal, from Sanskrit to geology and anthropology, in all
parts of the Kingdom. He created and then organized for 10 years  the
large, well financed German Research Association (DFG) project that brought
together, each year,  some 30 specialists from various humanities and
sciences,  from Nepal and the German speaking countries as well as from
other parts of Europe. I have never again seen such a genuinely cooperative
undertaking, with that amount of friendly interaction and actual mutual
help between members, -- much of it still lasting today--   all of it and
all of us benevolently 'presided' over by Bernhard.

Perhaps I remember  best the one week of endless talks and discussions that
we had  in the summer of  1985 when we both decided to stay together in his
house in Kalikasthan, at a time when we both were on one of our extended
DFG research stays in Nepal. How many ideas did we hatch then...

All who have worked with him in these projects and elsewhere and all those
who  have known him personally are deeply sorry that he has left us so
prematurely, at 62. His many works on Nepal, including his projects,  --
and our fond reminiscences --  will be his lasting memorial.


Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138, USA

ph. 1- 617-496 2990 (also messages)
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