Jan Gonda, a celebrated Orientalist and Indologist, was born in Gouda in the Netherlands on 14 April 1905 and died in Utrecht on 28 July 1991. He studied with Willem Caland at Rijksuniversiteit, Utrecht (since 1990 Universiteit Utrecht) and from 1932 held positions at Utrecht and Leiden.
Gonda is recognized as one of the twentieth century's leading scholars of Asian language, literature and religion. He wrote with ease and elegance in Dutch, English and German, and had a breath-taking range of interests from the ancient literature of Indonesia and India to comparative religion and philology. Like many Orientalists of his generation, Gonda never visited Asia. However, his lack of field experience was more than compensated for by his encyclopedic knowledge of Indic literature and his profound empathy for the religious culture of Asia. Among his many students, the most-gifted, at least in Indology, was J. A. B. van Buitenen. However, van Buitenen had moved to the University of Chicago in 1961 and Henk Bodewitz eventually succeeded to the chair of Sanskrit at Utrecht in 1976.
Gonda left a bequest to Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1992 the Gonda Foundation was set up in his name. The foundation offers publication subsidies and grants to projects relating to Indology, the size of the grants and scope of activities being determined by the return on invested capital. The Gonda Lectures and Gonda Indological Series are also named in his honour.
Gonda produced a substantial number of books and articles during his long career. The most useful starting point is Jan Gonda, Selected Studies, 6 vols. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975-1991). These volumes contain most of his key articles.
- H. W. Bodewitz, 'Jan Gonda (14 April 1905 – 28 July 1991)', Indo-Iranian Journal 34 (1991): 281-86; J. Ensink, 'Jan Gonda (‡1991) and Indonesian Studies' Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 148 (1992): 209-19.
- A. Griffiths and Jan E. N. Houben, 'H.W.Bodewitz: Bibliography 1969-2004,' Indo-Iranian Journal 47 (2004): 121-31.