Rahul Sankrityayan

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Rahul Sankrityayan
Born(1893-04-09)9 April 1893
Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh
Died14 April 1963(1963-04-14) (aged 70)
Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
OccupationWriter, essayist, scholar, sociology, indian nationalist, history, Indology, philosophy, Buddhism, Tibetology, Lexicography, Grammar, Textual Editing, Folklore, Science, drama, Politics, Polymath, Polyglot
Notable awards1958: Sahitya Akademi Award
1963: Padma Bhushan

Rahul Sankrityayan (9 April 1893 – 14 April 1963), is called the “Father of Indian Travelogue Travel literature and Mahapandit” (Great Scholar). He is the one who played a pivotal role to give travelogue a 'literature form', was one of the most widely travelled scholars of India, spending forty-five years of his life on travels away from his home.[1]

He travelled to many places and wrote many travelogues. He is known for his authentic descriptions about his travel experiences, e.g. in his travelogue "Meri Laddakh Yatra" he covers the regional, historical and cultural aspects of that region judiciously. He became a Buddhist monk (Bauddha Bhikkhu) and eventually took up Marxist Socialism.[1] Sankrityayan was also an Indian nationalist, having been arrested and jailed for three years for his anti-British writings and speeches.[1] He is referred to as the 'Greatest Scholar' for his scholarship.[1] He was both a polymath as well as a polyglot.[1] The Government of India awarded him the civilian honour of the Padma Bhushan in 1963.[2]


He was born as Kedarnath Pandey to a Bhumihar Brahmin[3] family on 9 April 1893 in Pandaha village. His ancestral village was Kanaila Chakrapanpur, Azamgarh district, in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.[4] He went to a local primary school. Later he studied and mastered numerous languages independently, as well as learning the art of photography.

Philosophy of his Life[edit]

Initially, he was a keen follower of Arya Samaj of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Then Buddhism changed his life. After taking Diksha in Sri Lanka he became Rahul (son of Buddha) also used his Gotra (Sankritya) with his name and finally called “Rahul Sankrityayan”. He lost faith in God's existence but still retained faith in reincarnation. Later he moved towards Marxist Socialism and rejected the concepts of reincarnation and afterlife. The two volumes of Darshan-Digdarshan, the collected history of the World's philosophy give an indication of his philosophy when we find the second volume much dedicated to Dharmakirti's Pramana Vartika. This he discovered in Tibetan translation from Tibet.


Sankrityayan's travels took him to different parts of India including Ladakh, Kinnaur, and Kashmir. He also travelled to several other countries including Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Iran, China, and the former Soviet Union. He spent several years in the "Parsa Gadh" village in the Saran district in Bihar. The village's entry gate is named "Rahul Gate". While travelling, he mostly used surface transport, and he went to certain countries clandestinely; he entered Tibet as a Buddhist monk. He made several trips to Tibet and brought valuable paintings and Pali and Sanskrit manuscripts back to India. Most of these were a part of the libraries of Vikramshila and Nalanda Universities. These objects had been taken to Tibet by fleeing Buddhist monks during the twelfth and subsequent centuries when the invading Muslim armies had destroyed universities in India. Some accounts state that Rahul Sankrityayan employed twenty-two mules to bring these materials from Tibet to India. Patna Museum, Patna, has a special section of these materials in his honour, where a number of these and other items have been displayed.


Sankrityayan was a polyglot, well versed in several languages and dialects, including Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, Bhojpuri, Magahi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Tamil, Kannada, Tibetan, Sinhalese, French and Russian.[1] He was also an Indologist, a Marxist theoretician, and a creative writer.[1] He started writing during his twenties and his works, totalling well over 100, covered a variety of subjects, including sociology, history, philosophy, Buddhism, Tibetology, lexicography, grammar, textual editing, folklore, science, drama, and politics.[1] Many of these were unpublished.[1] He translated Majjhima Nikaya from Prakrit into Hindi.[1]

Rahul's Tombstone at Darjeeling.This tombstone is established at a place called "Murda Haati" which is a cremation ground downtown in the lower altitudes of Darjeeling around 25 minutes drive from the ChowRasta.The same place also has the tombstone of Sister Nivedita.

One of his most famous books in Hindi is Volga Se Ganga (A journey from the Volga to the Ganges) – a work of historical fiction concerning the migration of Aryans from the steppes of the Eurasia to regions around the Volga river; then their movements across the Hindukush and the Himalayas and the sub-Himalayan regions; and their spread to the Indo-Gangetic plains of the subcontinent of India. The book begins in 6000 BC and ends in 1942, the year when Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian nationalist leader called for the Quit India movement. It was published in 1942. A translation into English of this work by Victor Kiernan was published in 1947 as From Volga to Ganga.[5] It was translated by K.N. Muthiya-Tamilputhakalayam into Tamil as Valgavil Irundu Gangai Varai and is still considered a best-seller. The Kannada translation was carried out by B.N Sharma and called "Volga Ganga" . The Telugu translation (Volga Nunchi Ganga Ku) inspired many readers. Volga Muthal Ganga Vare, the Malayalam translation, became immensely popular among the young intellectuals of Kerala and it continues to be one of the most influential books of its times. The Bengali version is Volga Theke Ganga [ভল্গা থেকে গঙ্গা], which is still acclaimed by the critics.

His most important travelogue literature is

  • Tibbat Me Sava Varsha(1933)
  • Meri Europe Yatra(1935)
  • Athato Ghumakkad Jigyasa
  • Volga Se Ganga
  • Asia ke Durgam Bhukhando Mein
  • Yatra Ke Panne
  • Kinnar Desh Mein

More than ten of his books have been translated and published in Bengali. He was awarded the Padmabhushan in 1963,[6] and he received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1958 for his book Madhya Asia Ka Itihaas.

He maintained daily diaries in Sanskrit which were used fully while writing his autobiography. In spite of profound scholarship, he wrote in very simple Hindi that a common person could follow. He wrote books of varied interest. He was aware of limitations of Hindi literature and singularly made up the loss in no small measure.

The historian Kashi Prasad Jayaswal compared Rahul Sankrityayan with Buddha. Rahul's personality was as impressive and memorable as are his achievements. He travelled widely and wrote in five languages – Hindi, Sanskrit, Bhojpuri, Pāli and Tibetan. His published works span a range of genres, which include autobiography, biography, travelogue, sociology, history, philosophy, Buddhism, Tibetology, lexicography, grammar, text editing, folklore, science, fiction, drama, essays, politics, and pamphleteering.

Soviet Union[edit]

Although he had little formal education, in view of his knowledge and command over the subject, University of Leningrad appointed him Professor of Indology in 1937–38 and again in 1947–48.


Many of Rahul's personal collections including the ones he gathered from his multiple trips to Tibet were distributed across to multiple Universities and Museums. Patna Museum has an extensive collection of Buddhist scrolls which he assimilated through his journeys across Tibet. Many of these are considered rare gems of Indian scriptures translated into Tibetan.

Personal life and family[edit]

Sankrityayan on a 1993 stamp of India

Rahul was married when very young and never came to know anything of his child-wife, Santoshi. Probably he saw her only once in his 40s as per his autobiography: Meri Jivan Yatra. During his stay in Soviet Russia a second time, accepting an invitation for teaching Buddhism at Leningrad University, he came in contact with a Mongolian scholar Lola (Ellena Narvertovna Kozerovskaya). She could speak French, English, and Russian and write Sanskrit. She helped him in working on Tibetan- Sanskrit dictionary. Their attachment ended in marriage and birth of son Igor. Mother and son were not allowed to accompany Rahul to India after completion of his assignment due to restrictions imposed by Stalin regime.

Late in life, he married Dr. Kamala, an Indian Nepali lady and had a daughter (Jaya), two sons (Jeta) and (Jayant) .


Rahul accepted a teaching job at a Sri Lankan University, where he fell seriously ill. Diabetes, high blood pressure and a mild stroke struck him. Most tragic happening was the loss of memory. He died in Darjeeling in 1963.

Rahul Nivas in September 2015


Awards About Awarded By
Rahul Sankrityayan National Award Contribution to Hindi travel Literature (also called Travel Litterateur's Honour). Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Government of India
Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan Paryatan Puraskar Awarded for contributing significantly in the field of travelogue and Discovery and Research in Hindi, for books written originally in Hindi on Tourism related subjects. Ministry of Tourism, Government of India


In Hindi[edit]


  • Baaeesween Sadi – 1923
  • Jeeney ke Liye – 1940
  • Simha Senapathi – 1944
  • Jai Yaudheya – 1944
  • Bhago Nahin, Duniya ko Badlo – 1944
  • Madhur Swapna – 1949
  • Rajasthani Ranivas – 1953
  • Vismrit Yatri – 1954
  • Divodas – 1960
  • Vismriti Ke Garbh Me

Short Stories

  • Satmi ke Bachche – 1935
  • Volga Se Ganga – 1944
  • Bahurangi Madhupuri – 1953
  • Kanaila ki Katha – 1955–56


  • Meri Jivan Yatra I – 1944
  • Meri Jivan Yatra II – 1950
  • Meri Jivan Yatra III, IV, V – published posthumously


  • Sardar Prithvi Singh – 1955
  • Naye Bharat ke Naye Neta (2 volumes) – 1942
  • Bachpan ki Smritiyan – 1953
  • Ateet se Vartaman (Vol I) – 1953
  • Stalin – 1954
  • Lenin – 1954
  • Karl Marx – 1954
  • Mao-Tse-Tung – 1954
  • Ghumakkar Swami – 1956
  • Mere Asahayog ke Sathi – 1956
  • Jinka Main Kritajna – 1956
  • Vir Chandrasingh Garhwali – 1956
  • Mahamanav Budha – 1956
  • Akbar – 1956
  • Simhala Ghumakkar Jaivardhan – 1960
  • Kaptan Lal – 1961
  • Simhal ke Vir Purush – 1961

Some of his other books are:-

  • Mansik Gulami
  • Rhigvedic Arya
  • Ghumakkar Shastra
  • Kinnar desh mein
  • Darshan Digdarshan
  • Dakkhini Hindi ka Vyaakaran
  • Puratatv Nibandhawali
  • Manava Samaj
  • Madhya Asia ka Itihas
  • Samyavad hi Kyon

In Bhojpuri[edit]


Related to Tibetan[edit]

  • Tibbati Bal-Siksha – 1933
  • Pathavali (Vol. 1,2 & 3) – 1933
  • Tibbati Vyakaran (Tibetan Grammar) – 1933
  • Tibbat May Budh Dharm-1948
  • Lhasa ki or
  • Himalaya Parichay Bhag 1
  • Himalaya Parichay Bhag 2

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sharma, R.S. (2009). Rethinking India's Past. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-569787-2.
  2. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  3. ^ Meree Jeevan Yatra-Vol.1, pp.1-4 and 465-488
  4. ^ Prabhakar Machwe (1 January 1998). Rahul Sankrityayan (Hindi Writer). Sahitya Akademi. pp. 12–. ISBN 978-81-7201-845-0.
  5. ^ Rahul Sankrityayana From Volga to Ganga, Rahula Publication, Mussorie, 1947.
  6. ^ "Padma Awards Directory (1954–2013)" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ram Sharan Sharma, Rahul Sankrityayan and Social Change, Indian History Congress, 1993.
  • Himalayan Buddhism, Past and Present: Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan centenary volume by D. C. Ahir (ISBN 978-81-7030-370-1)
  • Prabhakar Machwe: "Rahul Sankrityayan" New Delhi 1978: Sahitya Akademi. [A short biography including a list of Sankrityayan's works]
  • Bharati Puri, Traveller on the Silk Road: Rites and Routes of Passage in Rahul Sankrityayan’s Himalayan Wanderlust, China Report (Sage: New Delhi), February 2011, vol. 47, no. 1, pp. 37–58.
  • Alaka Atreya Chudal, A Freethinking Cultural Nationalist: A Life History of Rahul Sankrityayan, Oxford University Press, 2016. (ISBN 978-01-9946-687-0)