Alain Daniélou

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Alain Daniélou
Alain Daniélou
Born4 October 1907
Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Died27 January 1994
Lonay, Switzerland
OccupationHistorian, Indologist, musicologist, translator, writer
SubjectCulture of India, Hindu studies, Indian classical music, Indian philosophy, Shaivite Hinduism
Notable works
  • Introduction to the Study of Musical Scales (1943)[1]
  • The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism (1964)[2]
  • Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus (1979)[3]
PartnerRaymond Burnier[4]
RelativesJean Daniélou[4][5][6]

Alain Daniélou (4 October 1907 – 27 January 1994) was a French historian, Indologist, intellectual, musicologist, translator, writer, and notable Western convert to and expert on the Shaivite sect of Hinduism.[7]

In 1991 he was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, the highest honour conferred by Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

His mother, Madeleine Clamorgan, was from an old family of the Norman nobility; a fervent Roman Catholic,[4][5][6] she founded schools and a religious order, the Order of Sainte-Marie,[6] for women teachers in civilian costume under the patronage of St. François-Xavier. His father, Charles Daniélou, was an anti-clerical Breton politician who held numerous national ministerial posts in the Third Republic. One of his brothers was the Roman Catholic prelate and Académie Française member, Jean Daniélou.[4][5][6][9]

He received his education at the Institution Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix, Neuilly-sur-Seine, and at St. John's College, Annapolis.[9] The young Daniélou studied singing under the famous Charles Panzéra, as well as classical dancing with Nicholas Legat (teacher of Vaslav Nijinsky), and composition with Max d'Ollone. Subsequently, he performed professionally on stage with dancers such as Floria Capsali and Marjorie Daw.[9] Growing up, he rebelled against his mother's deep devotion to her faith, but his father remained a positive influence, which helped in developing his musical talent and in coping with his homosexuality.[6] He studied piano and singing, learning the songs of Duparc and Chausson and the liederkreis of Schumann and Schubert. He started writing poems, as acquired proficiency in English and other European languages.[9]


India: 1932–1960[edit]

He and his partner, the Swiss photographer Raymond Burnier,[4] first went to India as part of an adventure trip, and they were fascinated with the art and culture of the nation. Daniélou and Burnier were among the first Westerners to visit India's famed erotic Hindu temples in the village of Khajuraho and Burnier's stunning photographs of the ancient temple complex launched the site internationally. The photographs were featured in an exhibition at the New York's Metropolitan Museum.[10]

In 1932, during his first trip to India, he met one of the great influences poet Rabindranath Tagore.[9] His close association with Tagore lead him to become the director of Tagore's school of music at Shantiniketan (Visva-Bharati University).[11] Subsequently, in 1935, he joined the Banaras Hindu University, where he studied Hindu music, Sanskrit language and literature, Hindu philosophy, and Hindu religion for the next 15 years of his life. In 1949, he was appointed as a research professor at the University, a post he held until 1953; he also remained the director of the College of Indian Music. In Bénarès (now Varanasi), he lived in a mansion on the banks of the Ganges, named Rewa Kothi. During these years, he studied Indian classical music in Bénarès with Shivendranath Basu and played the veena, a classical Indian instrument which he started playing professionally. He also studied Hindi and Sanskrit languages, as well as Indian philosophy.

His interest in the symbolism of Hindu architecture and sculpture lead him to long trips with Burnier to Khajuraho, Bhubaneswar, and Konarak, sites located in central India and Rajasthan.[11][12] He also translated some works of Swami Karpatri, the samnyasin by whom he was initiated into Shaivism under the Hindu name Shiva Sharan ("Protected by Shiva").[9][13] In 1942, he published his translation of the Tirukkural, a Tamil moral literature.[14]

In 1953, he joined the Adyar Library and Research Centre at the Theosophical Society Adyar near Madras (now Chennai), where he was the director of a centre of research into Sanskrit literature until 1956. In 1959, he became a member of French Institute of Pondicherry, which works in the field of Indology.[9]

Europe: 1960 onwards[edit]

Upon his return to Europe in 1960, he was appointed an advisor to the UNESCO's International Music Council, which led to a number of recordings of traditional music such as Unesco Collection: A Musical Anthology of the Orient, Musical Atlas, Musical Sources, and Anthology of Indian Classical Music - A Tribute to Alain Daniélou. In 1963, he became the founder and director of the International Institute for Comparative Music Studies and Documentation (IICMSD) in West Berlin, where he remained till 1977; he was also the director of the Istituto Internazionale di Musica Comparata (IISMC) in Venice from 1969 to 1979.[9]

He worked on Indian classical music. But his more important contribution to Indology is his writings on the ancient wisdom of the Vedas, Hindu philosophy, and Shaivism.[citation needed]

He is the author of over thirty books on Indian music and culture. He received several awards for his work on music. He was also a photographer and artist.[citation needed]

Awards and recognition[edit]

He was an Officer of the Légion d'Honneur, an Officer of the Ordre National du Mérite, and Commander of Arts and Letters. He was the director of the UNESCO Collection series, a series of recordings of traditional world music. In 1981, he received the UNESCO/CIM prize for music, and, in 1987 the Kathmandu Medal from UNESCO.


In 2004, to mark his tenth death anniversary a photo exhibition, "India through the eyes of Alain Danielou (1935-1955)" was hosted at the Alliance Française, Hyderabad.[11]




  • 2017: Alain Daniélou - The Way to the Labyrinth, a documentary by Riccardo Biadene, KAMA Productions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniélou, Alain (1943). Introduction to the Study of Musical Scales. Bénarès: The India Society, London. ISBN 0-8364-2353-4. S2CID 190774873 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ Daniélou, Alain (2017) [1964]. The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-3638-9. OCLC 24247413. S2CID 169604069.
  3. ^ Daniélou, Alain (1984) [1979]. Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions. ISBN 0-89281-374-1. OCLC 25281659. S2CID 191033152.
  4. ^ a b c d e Golliau, Catherine (28 June 2010). "L'affaire Daniélou". Le Point (in French). Paris. Archived from the original on 15 May 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Catinchi, Philippe-Jean (8 September 2010). ""L'Hindouisme traditionnel et l'interprétation d'Alain Daniélou", de Jean-Louis Gabin: Alain Daniélou, revu et corrigé". Le Monde (in French). Paris. Archived from the original on 9 September 2010. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e de Boysson, Emmanuelle (2008). Le cardinal et l'hindouiste: Le mystère des frères Daniélou. Petite Renaissance. Spiritualité (in French). Paris: Presses de la Renaissance. ISBN 9782750904234.
  7. ^ Aldrich, Robert (2015). "Sojourners and the Seduction of Ceylon". Cultural Encounters and Homoeroticism in Sri Lanka: Sex and Serendipity. Routledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia (1st ed.). London and New York: Routledge. p. 147. ISBN 9781138491502. OCLC 943053586.
  8. ^ "SNA: List of Sangeet Natak Akademi Ratna Puraskarwinners (Akademi Fellows)". SNA Official website. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Kirkup, James (4 February 1994). "Obituary: Alain Daniélou". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 8 April 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  10. ^ "Medieval Indian Sculpture" (PDF). Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  11. ^ a b c "Visual flashback". The Hindu. 19 July 2004. Archived from the original on 9 September 2004. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  12. ^ "Snapshots of Indian culture". The Telegraph. 19 March 2009. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
  13. ^ Rama, Swami (1999) Himalayan Institute, Living With the Himalayan Masters, page 247.
  14. ^ Sanjeevi, N. (1973). Bibliography on Tirukkural. In First All India Tirukkural Seminar Papers. Chennai: University of Madras. p. 146.

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