ALBRECHT WEBER - German Indologist 1825-1901

Posted: 18.07.2007
Updated on: 03.01.2011


Albrecht Weber's field of specialisation was Vedic literature. He also made valuable contributions in the field of Jain studies and Prakrit. [See last 3 breaks for Jainism] He was one of the outstanding scholars of the latter half of the 19th century.

Albrecht Weber was born on 17.2.1825 in Breslau. His father was an economist. In 1842, he went to Breslau University where he studied Sanskrit with A. Stenzler. He also attended lectures on classical philo­logy and history. He later went to Bonn and Berlin and then returned to Breslau, where, in 1845, he submitted his thesis Yajurveda Specimen cum commentario. The Yajurveda specimen is taken from the ninth adhyaya of the Vajasaneya Samhita with Mahidhara's commentary. The Devanagari text is followed by a romanised transcription, a comprehensive commentary and etymological explanations make up the remainder of the text.

A travel grant from the Prussian Academy enabled Weber to stay in France and England from 1846 to 1848. During his stay there he collated manuscripts of the White Yajurveda.

In 1848, Weber qualified as university professor in Berlin. He became associate professor in 1856 and was appointed professor in 1867. He died on 30.11.1901 in Berlin.

Weber's first important publication was the edition of the White Yajurveda in three volumes. Part I was the Vajasaneyi Samhita in the Madhyandina and the Kanva Cakha with the commentary of Mahidhara; Part II was the Catapatha Brahmana in the Madhyandina Cakha with extracts from the commentaries of Sayana, Harisvamin and Dvivedaganga; Part III was the Srautasutra of Katyayana with extracts from the commentaries of Karka and Yajnikadeva. The volumes were published in Berlin and London 1852, 1855 and 1859. The second part was of special importance because it was the first critical edition of the oldest and most important Brahmana. Sacrifices are described in detail in this text, which, being the oldest prose work extant is also of interest from the linguistic point of view. Earlier, in 1850, Weber published a translation of the first adhyaya in order to make the Brahmana style known. J. Eggeling later translated the whole text in the "Sacred Books of the East".

Weber was particularly interested in legends. He published Zwei Sagen aus dem Catapatha Brahmana ueber die Einwanderung und Verbreitung der Arier in Indien nebst einer geographisch-geschichtlichen Skizze aus dem Weissen Yajus; Die Flutsage und die Sage von der Uebersiedelung des Videgha Mathava von der Sarasvati nach der Sadanira im Lande der Kosala Videha ("Two legends from the Satapatha Brahmana on the immigration and spread of the Aryans in India, together with a geographical and historical sketch from the White Yajurveda: The legend of the flood and the legend of the migration of Videgha Mathava from the Sarasvati to the Sadanira"), 1850. Other articles in which he attempted to elucidate the middle Vedic period are: Eine Legende des Catapatha Brahmana ueber die strafende Vergeltung nach dem Tode ("A legend from the Shatapatha Brahmana on the retaliatory retribution after death"); Ueber Menschenopfer bei den Indern der vedischen Zeit ("On human sacrifices among Vedic Indians"). He wrote about two special sacrifices mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana, Ueber den Vajapeya ("On the Vajapeya") and Ueber die Koenigsweihe, den Rajasuya ("On the consecration of kings, the Rajasuyd"). He also published Collectanea ueber die Kastenverhaeltnisse im Brahmana Sutra ("Collectanea on the caste system in the Brahmana Sutra") and Zur Kenntnis des vedischen Opferrituals ("On Vedic sacrificial rites"). In 1849, Weber started a journal, Indische Studien. He himself contributed the largest number of papers. Volumes 11 and 12 of this journal contain the edition of the Taittiriya Samhita of the Black Yajurveda, 1871 and 1872, together with appendices and indices. Owing to his extensive knowledge of ritual literature, Weber contributed on this subject in the St. Petersburg Sanskrit Dictionary, brought out by Boehtlingk and Roth. After Benfey's edition of the Samaveda had appeared, Weber wrote Ueber die Literatur des Samaveda ("On the literature of the Samaveda").

Weber also catalogued the manuscripts of the Royal Library of Berlin. His catalogue Die Handschriftenverzeichnisse der koeniglichen Bibliothek zu Berlin. I Band, Verzeichnis der Sanskrithandschriften, 1853, was a meticulous work setting new standards. An outcome of this work were Weber's lectures on Indian literary history published in 1853 under the title Akademische Vorlesungen ueber Indische Literaturgeschichte ("Academic Lectures on Indian literary history"). Weber discussed Vedic literature in great detail. He arranged the literature according to topics and aimed at a relative chronology. The Epics and Puranas are dealt with briefly. In the chapter on grammar, he discusses the Mahabhasya and the age of Panini. Indian medicine, warfare, music and the arts are dealt with in short chapters. The last chapter is devoted to Buddhist Sanskrit works. Weber also took an interest in Indian astronomy, which he divided into four periods: the period of the solar year and the lunar mansions; the period in which the planets are worshipped; the period in which Greek influence was felt and the period of the Tajiks, works of Arab astronomers who had become acquainted with Indian astronomy. A large number of notes were added in the second volume of the work, published in 1876, 24 years after the first edition. In these notes, one notices the progress made in Indology during this period. Winternitz, himself an author of "A History of Indian literature," called this work "a landmark in the history of Indology.“ A French translation appeared in 1859. The second edition of 1876 was translated into English in 1878.

Weber wrote a treatise on Panini Zur Frage ueber das Zeitalter Paninis ("On the problem of the age of Panini"), 1861. One of Weber's articles in vol. XIII of Indische Studien, is entitled Das Mahabhasya des Patanjali, 1873. He extracted all the notices of interest for the cultural history of India from this grammatical text.

The problem of chronology induced Weber to study astronomical texts. In his Die vedischen Nachrichten von den Naxatra ("Vedic accounts of the Nakshatras"), published in two parts, 1860 and 1861, he proved that the lunar mansions, the nakshatras, could not have originated in China as they were mentioned earlier in India. Having studied the semantic development of the word nakshatra in Vedic sources, he came to the conclusion that the concept of lunar mansions have been taken over from Babylonia.

That the intercourse between India and the West interested Weber in other contexts as well, is attested in his essay Die Verbindungen Indiens mit den Laendern des Westens ("India's relations with Western countries"). He wrote on the relation between Greek and Indian fables. He also wrote on the Ramayana, which he believed was influenced by Homer. His last paper on this subject Written in 1890 was Die Griechen in Indien ("The Greeks in India"). He brought out a translation of Malavikagnimitra and adduced definite proof of Kalidasa's authorship.

One of Weber's greatest achievements is that he studied Jain literature and introduced the teachings of this religion to the West. He did not, how­ever, realise that Jainism is a religion in its own right. He mistook it to be an offshoot of Buddhism. G. Buehler had sent Jain manuscripts to Germany and Weber began studying them immediately. The results of these studies were laid down in a treatise Ueber die heiligen Schriften der Jaina ("On the Holy Scriptures of the Jains") in which he discussed the Canon of the Svetambara sect. In the fifth volume of the "Catalogue of the manuscripts of the Royal Prussian Library" he described the manuscripts in great detail. Weber also, took an interest in Jain secular literature and wrote on the Pancadundachatraprabandha, a fairy tale of King Vikramaditya on the Simhasanadvatrimshika; on the Campakashresthikathanakam, the story of the merchant Campaka and on the Uttararamacharita. Weber was the first to discuss Jain Prakrit. He interpreted it as an intermediate stage between Pali and the Prakrit of the grammarians.

Another treatise on Jain literature is the analysis of the Satrunjaya-mahatmya, the glorification of a holy mountain and place of pilgrimage, published in the Journal of the German Oriental Society in 1858. In 1867 and 1868, Weber published a monograph Ueber ein Fragment der Bhagavati, ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der heiligen Sprache und Literatur der Jaina ("On a fragment of the Bhagavati, a contribution to the knowledge of the holy language and literature of the Jains").

Prakrit studies greatly benefited by Weber's edition of the Saptashatakam, an anthology of verses in Maharashtri, compiled by Hala. The edited version and translation appeared in 1881; two years later Weber dealt with Bhuvanapala's commentary on this work.

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