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Aashay Patel

Professor Hock
LING 240
Moksha Mller: A Deserved Name
An Analysis of F. M. Mllers Life and the Effects and Status of His Works in India
Born in 1823 in Dessau Germany, Friedrich Max Mller was a philologist, mythologist,
and indologist who is largely regarded as the founding father of the scientific study of
comparative religion. Among his most known works include The Sacred Books of the East, a 50volume set of translations of oriental texts, with a few volumes authored and each volume edited
by him, and numerous essays and short manuscripts on topics ranging from the origin of
languages to the philosophy of the Upanishads. However, it can be argued that the strongest and
the most enduring impact that this scholar had on the world was upon the psyche of a nation of
over 1 billion people. Indeed, much of what is discussed regarding Hinduism on the Indian
subcontinent today is based on close reading of sacred ancient Indian textstexts consolidated
from various sources, painstakingly translated, and ultimately revived by Max Mller. To say
that religion is an integral part of the identity of the Hindustani is an understatement, for religion
permeates the boundaries between individuals, shapes the ethos of the populace and the region,
and in some instances, is codified in law. Therefore, when so much faith is placed in one version
of a text, especially when that text greatly influences the morality, the philosophy, and world
view of roughly one seventh of the modern worlds population, it is worth ascertaining that the
man behind that work had no conflicting interests, and was acting as an unbiased procurer of
truth rather than an agent of some institution, ideology, or other group. In part, this paper will
examine the life and works of Friedrich Max Mller to determine if he was in fact an unbiased
academic, solely concerned with uncovering ancient literatures and displaying them as they are,
or an agent of some external or internal motivator, communicating half-truths or manipulated
conclusions. While I do not have the necessary technical background in linguistics, philology, or
comparative religion to comment on Mllers academic methods, Mllers life and
correspondences can be examined to understand other motivating factors which drove the
revered scholar from within and from without.
While it is necessary to evaluate the nature of the bias present in Mllers works, this is
not sufficient to understand the full effect of his works on India and the Hindu religion. To
adequately appreciate how the course of India and Hinduism was altered due to Mllers
scholarship, his works must be considered independently of their author, disregarding any bias
contained in them. The effect of these works on India and Hinduism must then be analyzed by
considering both the effect of the works on the pandits, politicians, and social reformers of
Mllers time, as well as the effect of later pandits, politicians, and social reformers on the
perception of Mllers works by the general Indian populace. Indeed, numerous organizations
and individuals with varying ideological motivations have utilized Mllers works to advance
their agendas, whether it be by agreeing with Mller and touting his work as a valuable gem that
should be shared with all who are able to listen, or by belittling his work, standing triumphantly
on the torn shreds of phony scholarship aimed to wreck Hinduism from the very beginning.

Personal Faith
It can be argued that for Mller, indeed any scholar of language, mythology, and, most
importantly, religion, the primary bias to examine is that of the scholars personal religious
beliefs. In Mllers case this examination is more important than usual because there is a degree
of controversy that surrounds his personal faith. Some claim that it motivated him to be, in
essence, an agent of Christianity when translating Hindu texts, twisting scriptures as he saw fit so
that A new national literature may spring up, impregnated with Western ideas in India [7].
His contemporaries at Oxford and elsewhere, on the other hand, deemed Mller as the much too
liberal German who could not be allowed advancement in the academic world for he held
dangerously radical views. Thus, these seemingly contradictory statements warrant a deeper
investigation of the true nature of Mllers personal religious beliefs and how those beliefs
molded his scholarly endeavors.
An interesting case in which to examine the personal religious beliefs of Max Mller, the
tenacity with which he stuck to his beliefs, and the effect that this strong faith had on his life and
scholarship is to look at Max Mllers bid to become the Boden professor of Sanskrit at Oxford
University. In 1860, after the death of the professor who had held the chair at Oxford, Mller
hoped to be promoted to the Boden professorship. Yet, there was another contender by the name
of Monier Monier-Williams, who was also an orientalist and sanskritist. Monier-Williams,
however, did not possess the stature or academic clout in the field of Sanskrit studies or
philology which Mller had. The reader may find it surprising to learn that despite the fact that
Mller was far more qualified than his contender for the position, Monier-Williams was selected
to ascend the chair over Mller. This contradiction raises many questions about why it would
occur because not only did Mller far out-qualify Monier-Williams, he also had the full support
of the faculty at Oxford and had already been a professor at the prestigious institution, while
Monier-Williams had taught at the East India Company College prior to his appointment at
Oxford, hardly as prestigious [11].
Most scholars state that the reason why Mller failed to gain the seat is that he had broad
views which did not fit into the conservative political and religious categories necessary for a
candidate to be chosen by the electors, the electors being all who held an MA from Oxford
University, which were mostly Anglican Clergymen [1]. Especially in the time when scholars
from mainland Europe were proposing radical enlightenment era ideas and the mainland was rife
with revolution, these conservative clergy were very wary of electing this German Lutheran.
The clergy, however biased, were actually quite accurate in predicting the nature of the
influence of Mllers religious beliefs on his scholarship, being much less than what the common
sensibilities of the time may have demanded. Indeed, the major difference between MonierWilliams and Mller was regarding how much they allowed religion to shape their scholarship.
One the one hand, Monier-Williams, a strong adherent of the Christian religion, allowed his bias
to enter into his scholarship and academic opinions and arguments, which diluted his attempts to
feign neutrality [9]. His bias was blatantly obvious in his scholarship. For instance, he wrote the
volume Hinduism, in the series Non-Christian Religious Systems, a collection of books
published by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge [5]. Note the word
Christian and consider the fact that an academic who should maintain neutrality published
openly on Hinduism for a society aiming to promote Christianity. Not much more evidence is
needed to show that Monier-Williams was definitely an agent of Christianity studying Sanskrit
so as to better understand the culture and religion of a people he hoped to convert to adherents of

On the other hand, Mller was a much more moderate Christian, and he attempted to
disallow Christianity from entering his scholarship. While Mller definitely tried to maintain
neutrality, accounts of how religion functioned in his personal life, for personal matters, differs
between scholars. Some scholars paint Mllers picture as:
a liberally yet profoundly religious man, or, perhaps better, that of a religiously
concerned scholar who, while duly cognizant and attentive to empirical-historical particularities
and differences, held fast to his conviction of the ultimate unity of all religions and all human
Although Mller was less concerned with directly promoting Christianity in India and
viewing the study of Vedic texts as a practical pursuit, useful in converting Hindus, Masuzawa
still states that Mller was, while seemingly a relaxed universalist, only partially successful in
holding his personal religious conviction and proclivities in check in order to keep them from
interfering in the process of objective observation and rational analysis.
Perhaps a better understanding of Mllers religious views may be gleaned from what
Mller himself had to say about them. It should be noted that these are words of Mller, not
actions of his, and should be taken as such.
My practical religion was what I had learned from my mother; that remained unshaken
in all storm, and in its extreme simplicity and childishness answered all the purpose for which
religion is meant. Then followed, in the Universities of Leipzig and Berlin, the purely historical
and scientific treatment of religion, which, while it explained many things and destroyed many
things, never interfered with my early idea of right and wrong, never disturbed my life with God,
and seemed to satisfy all my religious wants. [4]
Thus, Mller explains, through his own words, that his relationship with Christianity was
that of the practitioner with the practical religion, not the missionary with the ideological
correct religion. The fact that this academic, quite popular in the world outside the ivory tower
as well, would go against the common sensibilities imposed upon him in a heavily religious
world, be prepared to face the consequences, and ultimately not give up his attempt to maintain
his neutrality, however successful, indicates that Mller did not insist on facilitating the
conversion of Hindus through his work, or portraying the Hindu literature, practices, and people
in a bad light.
It can be concluded that Mller was not some Christian agent aiming to wreck
Hinduism through dishonest and ideologically biased scholarship. There is no doubt that Mller
was not utterly Pro-Hindu, as in many cases he describes the religion as primitive, and states that
the religion had deteriorated from its glorious Vedic days. Yet, he wanted to reinvigorate India
through education about the vast Vedic literature available. He did not compromise in
maintaining some degree of neutrality in an environment in which, typically, no neutrality was
kept. Indeed, Mller sacrificed much, including a highly coveted position at Oxford University,
to maintain some degree of neutrality, and in doing so, demonstrated to other scholars that they
too must not give their personal religious beliefs too much sway over the academic integrity of
their works. Mller could have easily painted a different portrait of himself in front of the clergy
men who had come to elect the successor to the Boden professorship, but he held on to his
academic integrity and thus showed the world that his religious bias less than that of some of his
colleagues. Ultimately, upon examination of Mller actions, words, and the opinions other
scholars held of him, it becomes clear that Mller did not operate as an agent of Christianity, but
was indeed aimed at becoming a procurer of truth in the fields of philology, comparative
mythology, and comparative religion as they relate to the study of the Indian subcontinent.

Academic Motivators
In addition to examining the impact that Mllers personal religious beliefs had on his
work, it is necessary to also examine Mllers academic motivators and interests. It is
particularly important in Mllers case because he lived such a varied life in which his
intellectual pursuits changed significantly from linguistic studies to mythology and finally
ending on comparative religion. Some academics go further and state that Mller was ultimately
interested in philosophy. The arguments on Mllers academic motivation are as varied as
Mllers own intellectual pursuits, and thus one must analyze Mllers own life, work, and
correspondences, as well as examine the arguments of academics, to shed light on the true nature
of Mllers intellectual interests and how they affected his research methods. Pinpointing
Mllers academic motivation is integral to answering the question of whether Mller was an
unbiased scholar. For example, had Mller been overly interested in philosophy, he may have
given undue weight to interpreting texts or had he preferred linguistics, he may have put his best
efforts into simply representing texts accurately.
To understand Mllers intellectual biases, one must begin at the onset of Mllers life
and trace his intellectual development. Mller was born into a very musical home, one devoted
to the arts and the humanities. After the death of his grandfather in 1839, Mller attended
primary and secondary school in Leipzig, where he was heavily interested in and actively studied
music and the classics. In 1841, Mller entered Leipzig University on a scholarship [11]. Here
lies the first big shift in Mllers intellectual pursuits. While he had pursued music and poetry in
years past, Mller realized that he could not make a living on music and poetry and thus decided
to leave the arts behind and study philology in University, suggesting at least some regard for
financial practicality. There is also some speculation that he chose to pursue philology and
specifically Sanskrit simply because it was a different and distinctive pursuit from the other
endeavors undertaken by his peers and other philologists, indicating a yearning to be a pioneer,
which can segue to radical ideas. Amazingly, he graduated from Leipzig University with his PhD
in just two years, with his final dissertation being on Spinozas Ethics [1]. The topic of Mllers
dissertation is also notable because some scholars have used this topic choice to argue that
Mller was interested in philosophy from a very young age and wrote all of his scholarship
through this lens, rather than a purely philological one [5].
As a philologist, Mller received a highly disciplined and technically sound training
under Hermann Brockhaus, Franz Bopp, and Eugne Burnouf, his teachers at Leipzig, Berlin,
and Paris, respectively. In 1844, Mller moved to Berlin to continue his studies with Friedrich
Schelling and Franz Bopp. Here he began to translate the Upanishads. This choice is notable
because some scholars use it as further evidence that Mllers studies were heavily infused with
philosophical concerns, as the Upanishads are often cited as the core philosophy of the Vedas. In
Berlin, Schelling led Mller to examine the history of language and the history of religion
together. This change can be seen as the impetus for Mllers turn from strict philology to
mythology and comparative religion [5].
After his stint in Berlin, Mller again moved in 1845, this time to Paris to study Sanskrit
under Eugene Bernouf. Bernouf encouraged the young Mller to publish a complete translation
of the Rig Veda, using sources that were available at the time in Britain. In order to pursue this
goal, Mller moved to England, which would turn out to be his home for the rest of his life, in
1846 and started to talk to the East India Trading Company about financing the translation of the
Rig Veda. After moving to England, Mller came into contact with some fellow Sanskritists at

Oxford University, and eventually became a deputy Taylorian professor of Modern European
Languages. After 10 years in the Taylorian professorship, Mller was vying for the Boden
professorship of Sanskrit in 1860, but he was defeated by Monier Monier-Williams in the
competition for the position, despite having the support of much of the faculty and being more
academically qualified for the chair than Monier-Williams [9]. This is often cited as the most
pivotal event in Mllers academic life, one which will be discussed later in this section [1]. In
1868, Mller vacated the Taylorian professorship and assumed the chair of professor of
Comparative Philology, made especially for him. This chair he held until his death.
The positions Mller held from 1845 to 1868 and onwards, the bulk of Mllers career at
Oxford, seem to indicate that Mller kept philology central to his academic endeavors
throughout his life. The fact that Mller continued to be interested in translating and editing
Sanskrit texts, and that every professorship which Mller secured or hoped to secure revolved
around the study of language suggests that Mller was most interested in language as it was,
understanding it, pondering its origins, and, most importantly, representing it without ideological
or academic bias. Indeed, it seems that he was never paid by Oxford to study comparative
mythology or comparative religion. Oxford continually hired a professor of philology or
However, a chronological examination of Mllers published work suggests otherwise.
While Mller was actively publishing philological works at Oxford, he was also publishing in
the fields of comparative mythology, comparative religion, and even some philosophy. For
instance, in 1856 Mller published his Essay on Comparative Mythology, and in 1859 and 1873,
respectively, Mller published A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature So Far As It Illustrates
the Primitive Religion of the Brahmans and Introduction to the Science of Religion. These are
just a few examples of the vast collection of Mllers writings on subjects outside philology and
the study of Sanskrit.
This mix of writings turns even more strongly to non-linguistic studies after 1860, the
year Mller lost the Boden Professorship. This is often cited as the most pivotal moment in
Mllers academic evolution. After he lost the competition for the chair, his work on the Rig
Veda continued but most of his time was spent preparing books and lectures on comparative
mythology and religion, written with the public in mind. He delivered many lectures, throughout
Britain and Europe, which were publicly acclaimed and often printed and quickly reprinted.
Thus, this success reinforced his efforts and interests in non-philological disciplines [1].
However, in his most serious academic works, Mller maintained his commitment to
accurate representation over interpretation, which is a unique characteristic among sanskritists of
his time. A notable example is his choice to include Sayanas commentaries on the Rig Veda
when the vast majority of scholars thought that only a European from outside the Hindu culture
could produce an objective commentary of the Rig Veda. Furthermore, Mller may have been
influenced by H.H. Wilson, whose intervention led the East India Company to support Mllers
work. Wilson disliked scholars who tried to interpret the language of the Vedas through overly
philological methods stating instead that such a mode of interpretation by European scholars,
whose ordinary train of thinking runs in a very different channel from that of Indian scholarship,
can scarcely claim equal authority with the latter, [13]. In following Wilsons footsteps, it
seems plausible that Mller held similar views, maintained the originality of the texts, and
allowed the commentary of a native Indian to appear in his works, rather than providing his own
interpretation. This commitment to authenticity demonstrates an unbiased perspective, not rife
with interpretation of the sometimes obscure language of Ancient Indian texts.

It seems that with respect to academic motivations, Mller was mixed. While he
maintained a commitment to representing texts accurately, without undermining the Indian origin
of the texts and the contributions of Indian scholars to these texts, he also engaged in many
interpretive endeavors, lecturing on his interpretation of Hinduism and the Vedas. Regardless, in
understanding how Mllers work had an impact on the Indian subcontinent, one must recall that
much of Mllers interpretive work was via the medium of lectures delivered to European
audiences. Hence, Mllers impacts on India are most likely confined to his most serious written
academic works, in which there are clear examples of Mllers objective perspective. There is no
doubt that he had interests in a variety of subjects, and he did pursue these interests. The
influential aspect of his work for the Hindustani, however, is his compilation and translation of
books like the Rig Veda, and here Mller does not lack in academic integrity.
The Celebrity Scholar
Outside of factors like religion and academic interests molding Mller from within, there
are a plethora of factors that potentially motivated Mller from without. For many scholars,
external factors such as financial gain, prestige, reputation, and power can direct research efforts
and goals. Oftentimes, these external motivators may lead to a breach of the scholars academic
integrity, resulting in the scholar twisting facts and changing conclusions to please, for example,
a University Board. It is well known that Mller was a celebrity scholar, comparable to Carl
Sagan or Neil DeGrasse Tyson today. It is also well known that Mller was, at times, unfairly
discriminated against for his views and he faced pressure to conform or exude a particular
persona. Mllers actions in response to this criticism and pressure are worth examining to
determine if Mller would have changed his views because of them.
In examining the life of Max Mller outside the Ivory Tower of academia, it must be
understood that Max Mller was not merely just another academic practicing the philosophy of
Wissenschaftlichkeit (knowledge for knowledges sake) [10]. Rather, outside the walls of
Oxford, Mller was very much an entrepreneurial scholar, actively propagating his arguments
and opinions, heavily influencing both the academic community and the community of elites and
commoners. Indeed, many of his famous lecture series were not only given to the faculty and
students of the institution hosting Mller, but also were open to the public and the public came in
droves [1]. Many of the lectures were full of the intellectual elites of the city Mller was
speaking in. This description of Mllers lecture attendance begins to elucidate the sway he had
on the thoughts of people, and, conversely, if he highly valued his positive image as an expert on
India and exotic cultures, this description also begins to hint at the sway that the common people,
and especially the intellectual, political, and financial elites would have had on him. To quote
Girardot, who states it quite openly and bluntly,
Mllers influence was, therefore, as much due to his self-cultivated fame, social
networking, professorial prestige, business acumen, and political skill as it was to his scholarship
(not that these are ever separate). [3]
Indeed, in looking at some of Mllers speeches and correspondence, it seems that some
of the tenacity he had in holding on to his neutrality starts to wane. The common sensibilities he
so boldly went against in his life in scholarly circles start to guide him when he comes before
persons of political, financial, or social power. In his Address to the Ninth Congress Mller
England has proved, she knows not only how to conquer but how to rulerealized, and
more than realized, the dream of Alexander, the marriage of the East and West, and has drawn

the principal nations of the world together more closely than they ever have been beforebut to
conquer and rule is one thing, to understand is quite another. [3]
Some scholars have also stated that Mllers comparative method was as much a way of
classifying, controlling, and colonizing other worlds as it was an objective, scientific, or value
free enterprise. While some would accuse the scholar of aiding imperialism via comparing
cultures and religions, it does not seem appropriate that the scholar be blamed for something
which politicians and the social elite independently created from his work. Scholarship,
especially in Mllers case, does not seem to be written for the express purpose of classifying,
controlling, and colonizing other worlds. [3] It is often people outside academia who use
academic works to build ethos with their audience, rather than convey the true scholarly spirit of
the work.
Other correspondences of Mllers however, do seem to indicate that Mller was not
entirely Pro-Hindu, but rather bring into focus his universalist nature, his hope to bring all
mankind and religions to one origin, and thus rid the world of discrimination based on race, faith,
creed, class, or caste. One case of this universalism can be found in Mllers letters to the Duke
of Argyll. In the letter, he initially expounds upon the fact that the ancient language of India,
Sanskrit, must be studied closely, for only through this study and, consequently, the
understanding of the Vedas and other Ancient Indian literature, can India be reinvigorated. He
states that A new national literature will bring with it a new national life and new moral vigour.
As to religion, that will take care of itself. [7] This last line is particularly confusing when taken
in isolation. Mller, however, clarifies himself. He states:
The Christianity of our nineteenth century will hardly be the Christianity of India. But
the ancient religion of India is doomedand if Christianity does not step in, whose fault will it
be? [7]
This statement, when taken in context of the letter, namely a letter to the Duke of Argyll,
seems to suggest that Mller was indeed motivated by external pressures at times to say things
which he may not have entirely believed in. His other rhetoric often paints India as a land of
supreme transcendentalist philosophy, yet, here, when confronted by someone of political power,
Mller changes his rhetoric.
Importantly, though is that Mller does not change his rhetoric in his academic works.
After all, only Mllers academic works have outlived him. That Mller promoted Christianity in
front of the Duke of Argyll, or that he played along with the imperialist desires of the Ninth
Congress, is not remembered to a great extent in this age. Most of what remains of Mllers life
is the scholarship he left behind, and one will be hard pressed to find an instance of a lapse in
academic integrity on Mllers part in his published works.
Refutations to Counterarguments
Thus far, I have posited three conclusions about F.M. Muller. Firstly, Muller, while not
completely unbiased, did not aim his work to result in the conversion of Hindus to Christianity.
Secondly, Muller did not look at the study of ancient texts such as the Rig Veda as an entirely
subjective task like a philosopher or mythologist may have viewed it, nor as a completely
practical task as a missionary may have viewed it. Thirdly, in most cases, Muller was not moved
to alter his scholarly conclusions and arguments on the basis of external pressure from power,
money, or prestige. There are counterarguments to each of these conclusions, and these
counterarguments must be addressed and evaluated.

Most authors who state that Mller was a Christian agent, aiming for the conversion of
the peoples of India point to the fact that Mller, at times, spoke of the Hinduism contemporary
to his life as diminished or deteriorated. These authors then extrapolate these statements to
produce the image of the missionary scholar. [12] Max Mller actually did make such
statements. He often spoke of Indias religion as far from the religion of the Vedic tradition and
thought it had been corrupted. He gave so much respect to the Vedic religion that he spoke of it
as the shared religion of the peoples of the world, looking to India as the cradle of religion and
civilization, a very bold claim for a European of the time. He once stated, citing linguistic
Though the historian may shake his head, though the physiologist may doubt, and the
poet scorn the idea, all must yield before the facts furnished by language. There was a time when
the ancestors of the Celts, the Germans, the Slavonians the Greeks, and Italians, the Persians, and
Hindus, were living together within the same fence [13]
These do not seem to be the words of one who despises Hindus and is ethnocentric.
Rather, he casts his lot and the Hindus lot into the same category. There is no doubt that the
Hinduism of the time was deteriorating, as will be discussed later in the paper. What is
remarkable about Max Mller, however, is that he did not solve this problem by introducing
Christianity, but rather the result of his work was a reintroduction of the Hindus own scriptures
into their religious practices. This is where Max Mller showed his neutrality. Other authors are
correct in stating that Max Mller thought that Hinduism at the time was deteriorating, and I also
concur with this view. What else could happen after hundreds of years of colonial rule and
inaccessible scriptures? Mller however, is far from a Christian agent because his lifes work
resulted in a revitalization of Hinduism, not a cessation.
With respect to Mllers academic motivators, some scholars state the Mller was far too
subjective in his edition of the Rig Veda, or simply incompetent. The incompetence of Mllers
edition, regardless of his expertise on the Sanskrit text of the Rig Veda and the Pratisakhya, is
expounded upon mostly by Mllers contemporaries. This can be reduced to competition
amongst colleagues. The accusation that Mller was overly subjective in his works, however, can
be put to rest by again considering some specific choices which Mller made in publishing his
works, the most notable of which is his decision to include Sayanas texts in his volumes of the
Rig Veda. Other scholars criticized Mller, stating that a conscientious European interpreter
may understand the Veda far better and more correctly than Sayana, yet Mller included
Sayanas commentary, and, although later in life he discredited Sayana, still conceded that
Sayana was required to give the traditional sense of Vedic verses, if not the original [13].
Effects on India in the Mllerian Era and Immediately Afterwards
After examining what motivated Mller, ascertaining that Mller was quite the neutral
scholar in comparison to some other scholars of his day, and understanding that what Mller
infused in his work was not an ideology or manipulation, but rather a very liberal and much more
neutral view than what one would predict from a scholar living in the context of the general
opinions and common sensibilities about India at the time, it is necessary to see how Mllers
work impacted Hinduism and Hindustanis during and immediately after his life, as well as the
context in which Mllers work is seen in modern Hindustan, to see the full effects of the scholar
on over one seventh of the modern worlds population.
To see a change, there must be a before and an after. Thus, this analysis will start by
looking at the state of Vedic philosophy before Max Mller, both in terms of availability and

accuracy in communication. To say that the common man had little access to the Vedic
scriptures before Max Mller is an understatement. Except for a community of pandits who
preserved texts orally, the financial, political, and, in some cases, intellectual elites had no access
to the treasure trove of culture and philosophy contained in the Vedas, Upanishads, and other
Ancient Indian literature. The primary reason for this was that the vast majority of Indians could
not read the Vedic Sanskrit in which these texts were written. This factor, combined with poor
literacy and poor circulation of books and manuscripts in an underdeveloped nation, made it
certain that most Indians had never read any significant literature, let alone ancient Indian texts.
In India, sometimes referred to as the land of one thousand languages, it is difficult enough to
communicate between state boundaries, let alone have a command of Vedic Sanskrit.
Furthermore, for reasons not entirely clear, Indian scholars could not consolidate their
manuscripts and sources to produce one complete Devanagari edition of the Vedas, Upanishads,
or other Indian texts, let alone in either Hindi or English, the two languages accessible to the
common man.
During this time period, the intellectual elites, the pandits, the shashtris, and even the
Indian princes, all of whom saw it as their moral duty to facilitate the delivery of religion to the
masses, were deprived of good translations, in their respective native languages, of the books
that are the foundation of Hinduism, and, consequently, they had little knowledge of Hinduism
from its source. Hinduism had transformed from a religion of philosophy and logically sound
explanations of concepts like karma and moksha into a religion of blind faith, based on
meaningless ritual, and robbed of its ability to affect human life and morality for the better. To
illustrate this religious environment, the thief prayed for success before setting out for the days
work, as did the priest.
All of these factors contribute to the reason why the Indian pandits and the intellectual
elites of the late nineteenth century were ultimately pleased when Mller produced compilations
and translations of the Upanishads, the Rig Veda, and other texts, as well as gave lectures and
published works outlining Hindu philosophy and the core fundamentals of the religion, all in an
accessible or at least easily translatable languageEnglish. One specific instance which is
interesting to investigate and sheds light on how pandits and social reformers reacted to Mllers
work is seen in a 1907 article in the American Journal of Theology written by Menant.
They [pandits and shastris] had tried at first to boycott the book [Mllers edition of the
Rig Veda] by spreading the rumor that it had been printed with the blood of the cow by a
mlekkha (unclean); but this did not prevent its being read at Poona before an assembly of
Brahmins who corrected the manuscripts which they possessed by comparing them with the text
revised at Oxford by the aforesaid mlekkha![6]
This quote clearly shows that after a time of justifiable mistrust, even the conservative
pandits of India were disarmed by the quality of the works which Mller had produced. That
these pandits swallowed their pride to correct their versions of texts by looking at the work of the
European Mller shows the value which Indian religious figures immediately saw in Mller. It is
said that these pandits began to refer to Max Mller as Moksha Mller, referring to his work as
a liberating force for Hinduism, and some prolific Hindu leaders continue to pay Mller such
respect to this day.
Beyond his representation of ancient texts, Mllers work in interpreting the Hindu
religion was also highly revered. An instance of this reverence can be seen in the
correspondences between Behramji Malabari, a social reformer from Gujarat, a western state in
India, and Mller. After Mller gave his Hibbert Lectures, and Malabari read them, Malabari

insisted that they must be translated into the many native languages of India and be distributed
amongst the people, so that the Hindu religion could experience revival and be jolted out of its
then passive nature. Malabari was eventually successful in this venture, only possible because of
Mllers support and scholarship. The following is a quote from Malabari about Mllers Hibbert
What a glorious subject and how gloriously handled! I am a poor book-reader, seldom
engrossed even by my favorite works. But there was a genuine Indian ring about the contents of
this volume which sounded exceeding sweet to my ear and felt equally satisfying to the soulIn
short, the Hibbert Lectures impressed me as being the flowers, not the ripened fruit, of Max
Mllers labors in the field of oriental researches; and its seemed strange that none of our
students had yet thought of representing them to his countrymen in the simple vernaculars of the
Of the many things that Malabari said about Mller, one could argue that the most
important statement that Malabari made was that there was a genuine Indian ring about the
contents of this volume, which seems to indicate the Mllers work was exceptional amongst
the work of other Western scholars of India.
Thus, the immediate after of the state of Hinduism post-Mller was that of a religion
slowly coming out of a deep slumber, and getting back into touch with the source of its
philosophy and doctrine. As aforementioned, Mller hoped that his work would reinvigorate the
Hindu faith as it was practiced in India at the time. He wanted to encourage a study of Ancient
Indian literature as a part of education in India and thus invoke a sense of pride and self-respect
for the masses. He hoped his work would bring with it a new national life and a new moral vigor.
This he successfully did.
Facets of Modern Indias Perception
In the years since Mllers passing in 1900, much has been said about the great man. As
previously demonstrated, the religious figures of the immediately Post-Mller decades were
quite accepting of Mllers work and hailed him as a great scholar, vedantist, and the liberator
and reviver of the great Hindu texts. Hinduism was in a state of decay, and it can be argued that
Mller saved Hinduism from the Hindu, and gave the Hindu a new library of Ancient Indian
texts from which to draw his own religious conclusions. Swami Vivekananda, a prominent
Hindu thinker said about Mller that:
Max Mller is a Vedantist of Vedantists. He has, indeed, caught the real soul of the
melody of the Vedanta, in the midst of all its settings of harmonies and discords the one light
that lightens the sects and creeds of the world, the Vedanta, the one principle of which all
religions are only applications. [8]
Unfortunately, much of that reverence for the man that rejuvenated a stagnant religion is
dying out. As the years have passed, most people, religious leaders, politicians, and commoners
alike, have forgotten that Mller, despite being somewhat biased in favor of Christianity and
Western ideas, was much less biased than other contemporary scholars and that his work is the
primary force for the religious revival that India has gone through in the years since. While there
are those that still revere Moksha Mller, including the growing Swadhyaya Parivar and other
Hindu groups focusing on Vedic philosophy, there are many more which, in a general wave of
distrust for western scholarship and culture, born out of hundreds of years of colonial rule and a
renewed propaganda of nationalism or Hindutva, claim that Mller is responsible for the
degradation and manipulation of Vedic texts to serve the purposes of European colonial powers

and Christianity. In recent times, a simple internet search reveals numerous individuals,
including educated scholars, ranting about the great biases of Max Mller and how he aimed to
wreck India and Hinduism.
One recently published book, ridiculed by many scholars in their publications, is Brahm
Datta Bhartis Max Mller, a Lifelong Masquerade: The inside Story of a Secular Christian
Missionary Who Masqueraded All His Lifetime from behind the Mask of Literature and
Philology and Mortgaged His Pen, Intellect, and Scholarship to Wreck Hinduism [2]. Another
example of an Indian aiming to undermine the contributions of Mller is found in a seminar
delivered by Devendra Swaroop in which he delineates all of the ways in which Max Mller was
an agent of Christianity, choosing quotes from Max Mllers correspondences which supposedly
show that Max Mller was working to convert Hindus to Christianity [12]. Additionally,
numerous bloggers and other non-intellectuals expound, on the internet, how Max Mller was a
diabolical genius, twisting his words to have double meanings and convince the pandits and
intellectual elites of India to accept his works, while also somehow planting the seeds of
Christianity in their heads [14].
A common theme emerges in these articles and lectures. Many of the quotes which these
articles use are common to all articles, and, upon further examination, are sourced from
essentially two letters of Mllers, both written in 1868, one to his wife and one to the Duke of
Argyll [7]. Another common argument which these people use is to criticize Mllers statement
that the Vedas are approximately from 1200 BC. They point out flaws in his reasoning, and thus
aim to reduce the credibility of the entirety of Mllers work. The dating of the Vedas, however,
has nothing to do with whether Mller manipulated anything which was contained in them. This
commonality indicates heavy cherry-picking and essentially eliminates any ethos which these
authors may have.
It is a shame to see such politically motivated, nationalist, overly conservative, and overly
Hindutva rhetoric tarnishing the image of Max Mller in the minds of Indians. Each of the
websites which criticize Mller, of which there are many, have hundreds of comments from
unsuspecting Indians either supporting the claims of the author or thanking the author for
illuminating the conspiracy which had taken their religion and turned it upside down. The
truth remains that Mller, however slightly biased, revived Ancient Indian texts from a state of
inaccessibility and stagnation. Perhaps, had Mller not contributed to Hinduism in such a way,
India, ripe for Christianity in his own words, would indeed have lost its religious identity.
Perhaps Mller actually did wish for India to undergo a conversion to Christianity. It is possible
that he privately lauded the missionaries doing work there and hoped to see a westernized Indian
subcontinent. However, if these were his hopes, then he miserably failed, for the ultimate result
of Mllers work was a strengthening of a weakening Hindu tradition.
After examining Max Mllers life, works, and correspondences, it is safe to state that
Mller was no Western, Christian agent aiming to subvert the power of Hinduism in Hindustan.
One cannot state that he had absolutely no conflicting interests. He was, after all, a Christian
European living in the context of European imperialism and ethnocentrism. However, the
conflicts of interest were small, and did not have a significant impact on Mllers scholarly
pursuits. Investigating Mllers personal religious beliefs, one finds a picture of a privately
religious man practicing his practical religion inside the walls of his home and upholding the
scientific standards of inquiry inside the walls of his University. Looking at his academic

interests, one can safely say that the works which had the most significant impacts on the Indian
subcontinent, namely those which were written rather than delivered via lectures and those which
dealt with translations and compilations of Ancient Indian texts, were written primarily through
an objective lens rather than a subjective one employed by, for example, a philosopher or
mythologist. Examining Mllers external motivators, one finds that he maintained his image by
going along with the common sensibilities of the time in some contexts, but in other contexts,
particularly his academic works, he did not fall under the influence of some financier to
manipulate his research. Indeed, Max Mller was a mixed man personally, but his effects on
Hinduism, his effects on nearly one seventh of the modern worlds population, were quite
singular. As Swami Vivekananda said about Moksha Mller, Every heart there [India] would
welcome one who has done so much to place the thoughts of their ancestors in the true light." [8]
Unfortunately, such reverence for Mllers work is waning. This is to be expected,
however, because in a land under the onslaught of constant political pressures and rapidly
shifting ideologies, no scholar will be respected forever. Regardless of whether Mllers
reputation is restored, Mllers liberating effects on Hinduism will always be real and
widespread in Hindustan.
There is no doubt that Moksha Mller is a well-deserved name for a scholar who,
wittingly or unwittingly, had enormous influence in shaping the ethos of a nation and religion.

[1] Abraham, Sara, and Brannon Hancock. "Friedrich Max Mller." The Gifford Lectures. N.p.,
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Christian Missionary Who Masqueraded All His Lifetime from behind the Mask of
Literature and Philology and Mortgaged His Pen, Intellect, and Scholarship to Wreck
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[11] Stephen, Leslie, George Smith, and Sidney Lee. The Dictionary of National Biography:
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[12] Swaroop, Devendra. "Max Mller - Missionary or Scholar?" Astha Bharati 9.3 (2008): n.
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[13] Tulll, Herman W. "F. Max Mller and A. B. Keith: "Twaddle", the "Stupid" Myth, and the
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[14] Wadhwa, Y. K. "Interpretation of Vedas." Interpretation of Vedas. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov.