The history of Hungarian Indology

The first Hungarian known to have visited India, György Huszti, was not motivated by academic ambitions. He reached the western coast of the sub-continent in 1538 as a slave in the army of the Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. Huszti was however a learned man and wrote an account of his experiences, which unfortunately is still unpublished.

Indian literature had been published in translation in Hungary even before Indology was a field of academic study. The first such work was translated by Dávid Rozsnyai in the 17th century. His Horologium Turcicum contains the first Hungarian version of the Pañcatantra; however, the translation was not directly from Sanskrit but from a version in Turkish. Several other 18th-century Hungarian translations are likewise not directly from the Sanskrit.

Sanskrit itself has been studied in Hungary since the 18th century. In about 1750 István Vályi, a Hungarian studying in Leiden, met some Indian students there; his paper commenting on the relationship between Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages preceded better-known work by other scholars such as Coeurdoux and William Jones.

Sándor Kőrösi Csoma The life-work of Sándor Kőrösi Csoma (1784-1842) is still a landmark in the history of Hungarian Indology. His avowed purpose was to find the original homeland of the Hungarians in Asia; he approached the Indians and Tibetans as friends and relatives of his nation. He arrived in India as a poor student and, largely avoiding the company of the English colonisers, tried to adapt himself to the way of life of the inhabitants. He spent more than ten years in Ladakh and discovered many ancient texts of fundamental importance concerning Indian history, literature, philosophy, religion and medical science. He was the first scholar to publish and comment on the Sanskrit-Tibetan dictionary, the Mahāvyutpatti. In 1834 he published his Tibetan-English dictionary and also the first grammar of the Tibetan language. He died in Darjeeling, his original quest still unfulfilled; his tomb there is now a place of pilgrimage for all Hungarian visitors.

Indology has always formed a major part of the work of the Department of Indo-European Studies. The Department was established in 1873 in the Faculty of Philosophy of the University. Its first professor was Aurél Mayr (1846-1915) who taught in the Department until 1905. His special field was the history of Ancient Indian Law, and his published works in this field (in German) are still of scientific value.

In the field of translation pioneering work was done by Károly Fiók (1857-1915), who at the time was working as a schoolteacher. He translated from the original Sanskrit the drama Abhijñānaśākuntalam of Kālidāsa (1887), two episodes from the Mahābhārata (1885, 1889), and the Hitopadeśa (1905). The celebrated Hungarian poet, János Arany, was inspired by this first translation and he produced his own version of the fourth act of Kālidāsa's drama.

Professor Mayr's successor in the Department was József Schmidt (1868-1933). His lectures on comparative linguistics were renowned for their erudition and for the lively presentation of his own researches. Besides Sanskritology his other research fields were Iranian Studies and Indo-European Comparative Linguistics. His popular works, published during the 1920's, include: Life and Works of Kālidāsa, The Light of Asia: the Life and Doctrines of the Buddha, Old Indian Epic Poetry, The History of Sanskrit Literature, and Indian Philosophy. He published several translations including the Mālavikāgnimitra ("The King and the Courtesan") of Kālidāsa, the Mṛcchakatịka ("The Little Clay Cart") of Śūdraka, and the Pañctantra. Unfortunately many of his unpublished manuscripts were later destroyed by fire.

In the first decades of the 20th century many translations from Sanskrit by other authors were published, including several versions of the Bhagavadgītā.

In 1913 some poems of Tagore were published in the famous Hungarian literary journal Nyugat, in translation by Mihály Babits. By the time of the poet's visit to Hungary in 1926 more than 20 of his works had appeared in Hungarian. His visit was partly for medical treatment in a sanatorium in Balatonfüred; the treatment was wholly successful, and to commemorate the visit he planted a tree there, which still stands. On his return home he maintained lively contacts with Hungarian scholars and artists.

Ervin Baktay


Ervin Baktay (1890-1963) played a seminal role in popularizing Indian culture in Hungary. From the 1920's onwards he published many books on the subject, notably his version of the epics Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata, and books on Indian philosophy, yoga, and religion. After 1946 he worked at the Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Art, and also gave lectures on Indian art at the University. His book on Indian art, published in 1958, is a classic work.

A further link between the two countries was represented by Amrita Sher-Gil, (1913-1941). The talented painter had a Hungarian mother and an Indian father. She pioneered a new phase in the development of Indian painting.











Sir Aurel Stein In 1920 the Department's work had to cease for political reasons, and was not resumed until 1948. However during this time another distinguished Hungarian Indologist, Sir Aurél Stein (1862-1943) was working outside the country. His most important philological work was his critical-text edition of Kalhaṇa's Rājataraṅgiṇī. His most valuable activity, however, was the organization of three expeditions to Central Asia between 1900 and 1916. These brought to light a large quantity of ancient manuscripts (mostly from Tun Huang, western China) whose study has not yet been completed. For his work he received a British knighthood. The Delhi National Museum has a special exhibition of the material collected by him.

In 1948 studies at the University in this field were recommenced, being led by Oszvald Szemerényi (for one year). József Vekerdi, later well-known as a translator of many Sanskrit works, was one of his students. After this László Gaál, later professor of Classical Philology in Debrecen, taught Sanskrit in the Department for a short time. He had studied in Göttingen, being the student of Professor Andreas the well-known scholar of Iranian Studies, and of Richard Fick the famous Sanskritologist.








János Harmatta The Department of Indo-European Studies was formally re-established in 1952, when János Harmatta was appointed as its head. At that time the principal activity of the Department was the teaching of the linguistics of classical languages; Sanskrit was taught as an optional subject.

In 1956 Indology was introduced as a formal university subject in the Department. This was the first time such a course had been offered in Hungary; and it remains the only such course in the country today. All Indologists currently working in Hungary were trained in the Department.

Professor János Harmatta (†2004), a Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, was Head of Department from 1956 until his formal retirement in 1987. He continued to teach here as a professor emeritus. His major specialties were: Indo-European linguistics (especially the development of the languages, and phonetics of Hittite languages); Classical Philology (Greek historians and geographers); Iranian Studies (history of Old- and Middle-Iranian languages, inscriptions in Old Persian, Parthian, Middle-Persian, Bactrian and Sogdian); and Indology (Prakrit languages including Gandhari Prakrit, history of the Indian languages, Brahmi and Kharoshti inscriptions). He also translated Sanskrit works including some hymns from the Ṛgveda.

Professor Csaba Töttössy has taught in the Department since 1953, and was Head of Department from 1987 till 2001. Since 2002 he has been teaching as retired professor. In 1963 he received his Candidate's Degree (PhD) on the subject of a work of Sanskrit literature, the Śukasaptati. He delivered his Habilitation lecture, on the subject of the Comparative Syntax of Latin, Greek and Sanskrit, in March 1995. Professor Töttössy was in 1956 commissioned by the Ministry of Education to extend Departmental activities to include the formal teaching of Indology; he established the university syllabus for this subject. He has taught grammar, text-reading and analysis, history of Sanskrit language and literature, etc. since then. He also lectured on Indo-European linguistics and Latin historical grammar. One of his research interests is the comparison of Greek and Latin with Indo-Iranian languages. His studies on the Śukasaptati are a major contribution to Sanskritology. These include the problem of authorship, the elucidation of the thematic structure and the demonstration of parallels with western literary genres. His translation of the textus ornatior version of this work was published in 1962. He has also translated selections from the Mānavadharmaśāstra, and Kauṭilya's Arthaśāstra.

In the 1960's Miklós Hutterer, the well-known specialist in Germanic languages, was a member of the Department for some years.

Studies on contemporary India, especially Hindi language and literature, only began in Hungary a few decades ago. Nevertheless, Hindi was an integral part of the syllabus when formal training in Indian Studies started in 1956.

The first teacher in this field was Dr. Árpád Debreczeni (1911-1984). His PhD thesis was concerned with the role of stress and intonation in Hindi. His introductory language-teaching textbook, used internally in the Department, was the first in Hungarian. His research interests included the comparative verb-structure of the two languages, and the different "registers" in the use of Hindi. He translated several works of modern Hindi literature, and published numerous academic papers. Unfortunately his pioneering Hindi-Hungarian dictionary is still unpublished; but the first Hungarian-Hindi dictionary, published in 1973, was revised by him. It had been compiled by Péter Kós, the former Hungarian Ambassador to India.

After Dr. Debreczeni retired, Dr. Éva Aradi lectured in the Department for one year. She prepared translations of Hindi short stories by Premcand and other modern writers.

From 1976 until his departure in 1995, Dr. György Karsai taught Sanskrit here, specializing in the dramas of Kālidāsa. His research field was the comparison of Ancient Greek and Sanskrit theatre. He was a visiting professor at French universities for several years (University of Paris X, Department of Greek; Université des Sciences Humaines de Strasbourg; Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris Centre). His departure was necessitated by financial stringency in the University. Now he is Head of Department of Classics at Janus Pannonius University, Pécs.

Since 1981 Dr. Mária Négyesi has been teaching at the Department, and she became Head in January 2001. She obtained her PhD degree in Hindi Literature from Agra University in 1997. Her special field is Hindi linguistics and literature. She has translated several Hindi short stories into Hungarian and vice versa. Formerly she taught Latin and Ancient Greek, and studied aspects of Sanskrit lyrical poetry. She re-organized the Hindi syllabus, and introduced new teaching methods which have proved very successful. In collaboration with Dr. Asghar Wajahat, she prepared a new textbook for university students of Hindi which will be the first one commercially available. In March 2002 she organized an International Hindi Conference in Budapest in collaboration with the Embassy of India, Budapest, which provided the first occasion for professors of Hindi in Central Europe to meet and exchange views. Since 1993 she has been organizing with the support of the Embassy of India, Budapest an Orientation Course on Indian culture and Hindi classes on three levels. The course and the classes have been popular among several generations of India-enthusiasts, and they give an opportunity to the young Indologists to introduce themselves with lectures.

Dr. Asghar Wajahat of the Jamia Millia University, Delhi, joined the Department in 1992 as a visiting professor for a period of five years. He introduced Urdu studies to the syllabus and made highly appreciated contributions in the teaching of Hindi literature. He is a distinguished creative writer in Hindi; some of his works have been published in other languages, including English and Hungarian. He also jointly translated contemporary Hungarian short stories into Hindi.

Dr. Laxman Singh Bisht of the Nainital University was our second visiting professor under the Indo-Hungarian Exchange Programme. During his three years tenure he prepared an Anthology of Modern Hindi Poetry, which we currently use as a study-aid. Apart from being an expert on modern Indian literature, Dr. Bisht is also a well-known creative writer.

Dr. Ravi Prakash Gupta of the Central Institute of Hindi, Agra, was visiting professor at the Department between 2000 and 2003. His field of research is Hindi linguistics. He had taught Hindi to non-Hindi speakers in Poland before coming to Budapest and acquired expertise in this field. During his stay he prepared, together with the students, a Hindi Converstaion Course Book for intermediate students.

As mentioned above, József Vekerdi, a former Indology student of the University, is a celebrated translator of a large number of classic Sanskrit works, amongst which are the Kathāsaritsāgara, the Vetālapañcaviṃśatikā, hymns from the Ṛgveda, and works of Kálidása. He has collaborated with several Hungarian poets, amongst them. Gyula Tellér and István Lakatos. His work produced with Sándor Weöres has been particularly acclaimed; their version of Jayadeva's Gītagovinda has been praised by Indian poets. He is also a distinguished scholar, with a special interest in the language of the Gipsy people.

Some of our graduates now hold distinguished positions. Géza Bethlenfalvy, the Department's first graduate, was the Director of the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre in Delhi for several years. His main academic field is Tibetology, especially the mutual influences between the Sanskrit and Tibetan literatures. He formerly lectured for many years at Delhi University in Hungarian language and literature. Currently he teaches at the Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde in Vienna.

Dr. Ildikó Puskás was Head of the Department of Ancient History, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest (ELTE). She lectured in the equivalent department at the University of Debrecen. Her research field is the pre-Aryan history of India. She has published a bilingual (English-Hungarian) bibliography of Hungarian works on India.

Dr. Bálint Rozsnyai is Head of the Department of American Studies at József Attila University, Szeged (JATE). He has translated many English-language works of modern Indian writers, e.g. U. R. Anathamurthy's A Rite for a Dead Man.

Dr. Gyula Wojtilla is Head of the Department of Ancient History, at József Attila University, Szeged (JATE). He too formerly lectured at Delhi University in Hungarian language and literature, for three years. His central academic interest is the Sanskrit terminology of agriculture in ancient times. He has translated some works from Sanskrit erotic literature and also publishes works for the general public.

Dr. Eszter Bánffy is a renowned archaeologist specializing in the prehistoric period.

Dr. Ferenc Ruzsa is currently the Rector of the Dharma Gate Buddhist University, and he also teaches at the Department of Philosophy at ELTE. He is also an external lecturer in our Department, giving classes in Indian philosophy. His PhD topic is concerned with one branch of philosophy, the Sāṃkhya; his other field of research is Vedāntic philosophy.

Dr. Judit Fehér, after graduating in 1983 in Indian and Tibetan studies worked in the Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Art for two years. She was awarded her PhD in 1994 on the subject of Buddhist philosophy (the Madhyamaka). She now works as a researcher at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and also teaches at the above-mentioned Buddhist University in Budapest.

Zsuzsanna Renner is currently the Director of the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. She is a specialist in Indian art and former director of the Ferenc Hopp Museum where she has organized several exhibitions, e.g. Indonesian vayang performances and an exhibition on '3000 years of Indian bronze sculpture'. She is a visiting lecturer in the Department, lecturing on the history of Indian art.

Anna Somi studied classical Indian dance in the Kalakshetra, Madras. She has established and runs a wildely acknowledged Bharatanāṭỵam dance school in Budapest.

Dr. Imre Bangha has been Lecturer in Hindi at the University of Oxford since 1998. He studied for his PhD at the Śāntiniketan University, India. His research field is mediaeval Hindi poetry. He has in collaboration with Balázs Déri translated the poems of Mīrā Bāī and Ānandghan, which were published in book form with his commentary. In 2003 he introduced Indological studies at the recently established Sapientia University, Csíkszereda (Miercurea Ciuc), Romania. He organised a Conference commemorating Sir Aurel Stein at De Monfort University, Leicester in 2004. In the same year the ELTE University conferred on him the title “honorary reader”.

Dr. Judit Törzsök is at present Lecturer in Sanskrit at the University of Lille. She studied for her PhD at the University of Oxford. Her research field is non-dualist Tantric Śaivism. She taught Sanskrit at the Department as a visiting lecturer. Currently she is translating Sanskrit belletristic works for the Clay Sanskrit Library.

Tibor Körtvélyesi teaches Sanskrit at the Buddhist University in Budapest. His special interest is the history of Indian philosophy. He also published the very first Sanskrit Grammar in Hungarian.

Dr. Csaba Dezső (Senior Lecturer) completed his PhD studies at the University of Oxford in 2004. (The title of his DPhil thesis is: Much Ado About Religion. A critical edition and annotated translation of the Āgamaḍambara, a satirical play by the ninth century Kashmirian philosopher, Bhaṭṭa Jayanta.) Since February 2002 he has been teaching at our Department. Currently he is translating Sanskrit belletristic works for the Clay Sanskrit Library.

Dr. Máté Ittzés (Senior Lecturer) joined the Department in February 2001, and has been teaching Sanskrit and Linguistics since February 2002. He defended his doctoral dissertation Studies on the Usage of the Augment in Ancient Greek and in the Indo-Iranian languages at the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, in 2007. His research field is Indo-European comparative linguistics.

Hajnalka Kovács is currently studying for a PhD in Urdu at Chicago University. Apart from our department, she has also recived an MA from Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi, in Urdu.

Recognising the opportunities of the bilateral cooperation, and taking into consideration that the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) sets a high value on the education and research work of the Department of Indo-European Studies, and that ICCR acknowledges the importance of Indian Studies in Hungary, the ICCR ― paying tribute to the memory of Rabindranath Tagore ― established the Tagore Research Scholarship at the Department of Indo-European Studies in 2007. This was the first time that the Indian Government established such a Scholarship in an East European country. The Scholarship is awarded to young researchers in the field of Indology, for a maximum period of three years.

Gergely Hidas was Tagore Research Fellow at our department from 2009 to 2011 teaching philology, Buddhist texts and cultural history. He submitted his doctoral dissertation “Mahāpratisarā-Mahāvijñārājñī, The Great Amulet, The Great Queen of Spells. Introduction, Critical Editions and Annotated Translation” at the University of Oxford, and his viva was held in November 2008.

Dr. Csaba Kiss is the current Tagore Research Fellow (2011-2013). He holds a doctoral degree in Oriental Studies, Sanskrit, from Oxford University.

Péter-Dániel Szántó are studying for their DPhil degree in Sanskrit at the University of Oxford, with the scholarship of the same university.

Our most recent graduates are Dániel Balogh (MA dissertation: statistical analysis in editing mediaeval Hindi texts) and Beáta Kakas (MA dissertation: Hungarian translation of Kamalaśīla’s Third Bhāvanākrama).

As will be apparent from this summary, Indian Studies in Hungary has a respectable pedigree. In May 2004 Hungary joined the European Union and, even before the formal accession, had signed the Bologna Agreement. This means that the entire structure of higher education in our country has been reorganised according to the EU system. Starting from the academic year 2006/07, the BA-MA-PhD system has been introduced at Hungarian universities. Accordingly now the Department offers a full BA course in Indology, as well as two “minor courses” in Sanskrit and Hindi. Beside the BA students who study according to the “Bologna System” we still have students finishing their “pre-Bologna” diploma course (four years with a dissertation at the end; students study both Sanskrit and Hindi in parallel throughout the course). From 2009 a new MA in Indology will be introduced, with two possible specializations: one in Classical Indology (Sanskrit) and one in Modern Indian Studies (Hindi). Both in the “old style” diploma course and in the new BA and MA courses particular emphasis is placed on the acquisition of language skills in Sanskrit and Hindi and on the philological training of the students, which are the key to higher-level studies in this field. The second and third years of the BA course as well as the two years of the MA are based on the reading and analysis of a considerable quantity and range of Sanskrit texts, in parallel with similar work on Hindi texts. In Hindi, active oral and writing skills are also developed. Linguistics is studied from both the comparative and historical point of view, and the students must also demonstrate their competence in English. Cultural studies take place in parallel with the philologically oriented classes.