[INDOLOGY] Sukumari Bhattacharji

Rosane Rocher rrocher at sas.upenn.edu
Sun May 25 19:07:40 UTC 2014

Dear Colleague,

Thank you for sharing this sad news and for your sketch of the life of 
Sukumari Bhattacharji.  She reached out to us when we were on a 
nine-month research stay in Calcutta in 1969--1970 and she was full of 
the impending publication of her /Indian Theogony/.  We visited with her 
on subsequent stays in Kolkata, one of which times caused us to ride the 
Metro for the first time.  In addition to being a dedicated scholar, she 
was a strong woman and a lady.

Rosane and Ludo Rocher

On 5/25/14 11:00 AM, Dipak Bhattacharya wrote:
> <indology at list.indology.info <mailto:indology at list.indology.info>>
> 25 5 14
> Dear Friends,
> I sadly announce the death of Professor Sukumari Bhattacharji on 24 
> May afternoon at the age of 93 at her residence in Kolkata. One of the 
> brightest students of the Calcutta University she worked for her 
> doctorate at Cambridge and was awarded the degree. The work appeared 
> as /The Indian theogony /in 1970. Coming from a Protestant Christain 
> family of Central Bengal Sukumari could never adjust herself to 
> situations that she regarded as not in conformity with her principles. 
> She faced many adverse situations but never succumbed to 
> circumstances. She took her MA in English language and literature and 
> married a Hindu Brahmin, Dr.Amal Bhattacharya who taught at the 
> Presidency College. Sukumari again got herself admitted to the 
> Sanskrit MA course at the University of Calcutta. A ya-jñika Vedic 
> scholar is said to have objected to her - a woman and Christaian - 
> attending Veda classes. This was ridiculed down by the authorities 
> that saved her from humiliation. She attended the classes and was 
> declared first at the final examination. She became a Marxist by 
> principle but avoided active politics. Till the early sixties she 
> taught in one of the most prestigious Women's College in Calcutta, 
> namely the Bethune College. She was admired for her scholarship and 
> spirited non-conformism by many contemporary philologists of Calcutta 
> that included S.K.Chatterji, Durgamohan Bhattacharyya and Ramaranjan 
> Mukherjee. I later came to know that Durgamohan and Ramaranjan had 
> been instrumental in getting her selected as Reader in Sanskrit 
> (Associate Professor) at the Jadavpur University. Later she became 
> Professor.
> When a hot debate was raging over her depiction of women's life in 
> ancient India, she asked in a letter to a newspaper why she would not 
> have the choice to declare that she did not believe in any religion. 
> The rightists in Calcutta used abusive language against her and 
> falsely accused her of plagiarism on Zimmer. Others showed that it was 
> not so. A famous historian is said to have remarked that she got a 
> prestigious prize only because of her remark that only prostitutes had 
> been free women in ancient India
> Her siding with the leftists too did not last. From 2005 to the end 
> Sukumari was shunned by all -- the right and the left. The sole grace 
> was that publishers did not shun her. Sukumari was not sorry.
> Her non-conformist character placed Sukumari in opposition to a number 
> of Indologists including Professor Gonda. Perhaps Burrow had remained 
> fond of her.
> Dipak Bhattacharya
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