LUDWIG ALSDORF - German Indologist 1904-1978

Published: 24.07.2007
Updated: 03.01.2011


Ludwig Alsdorf was an authority on Jainism. He travelled extensively in India and promoted a better under­standing of modern India and her problems in Germany.

Ludwig Alsdorf was born on 8.8.1904 in Laufersweiler in the Rhineland. He studied Indology, comparative linguistics, Persian and Arabic in Heidelberg and Hamburg. Alsdorf obtained a doctorate in 1928 in Hamburg for the thesis Der Kumarapalapratibodha, Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis des Apabhramsa und der Erzaehlungsliteratur der Jainas ("The Kumarapalapratibodha. A contribu­tion to the knowledge of Apabhramsha and the narrative literature of the Jains").

From October 1930 to May 1932 Alsdorf was a reader for German and French in Allahabad University. He continued his Sanskrit studies with a pundit and worked on a thesis to qualify as university professor. The thesis submitted in 1935 was Harivamsapurana, Ein Abschnittaus der Apabhramsa-Welthistorie Mahapurusa Tisatthimahapurisagunalamkara (Harivamsha-purana. A passage from the Apabhramsha World History Tisatthimahapuri­sagunalamkara"). In the course of his studies on this text, Alsdorf discovered that the Vasudevahindi, which belongs to the Harivamsha section of Jain mythology, was a new version of the lost Brihatkatha of Gunadhya. It is the oldest extant narrative work of the Jains.

Alsdorf wrote several papers on the Vasudevahindi, but he never published the whole text.

Alsdorf was lecturer in Berlin University until 1938 when he went to Muenster. He continued to work on Apabhramsha texts and published an essay on R. Pischel's Materialien zur Kenntnis des Apabhramsa ("Materials for understanding Apabhramsha") in 1933 and Apabhramsa Studien in 1937. He also discussed the Prakrit used by the Jainas in Les etudes jaina, which was published in Paris, 1965.

From 1941 to 1945 Alsdorf worked in the Foreign Office in the Special Indian Department (Sonderreferat Indien) set up after the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose. He also lectured on Indian geography and history in Berlin University.

In 1940, Alsdorf published the book Indien, which dealt with the history of British India and the Indian freedom movement. In 1942, he published Deutsch-indische Geistesbeziehungen dealing with the cultural relations between India and Germany. Indien und Ceylon, which appeared in 1943 was a concise geography of the two countries.

After the end of the War, Alsdorf became a visiting professor in Muenster. In 1950, he was appointed professor of Indology in Hamburg University. He retired in 1972. However, he continued teaching till 1978. He became editor-in-chief of the "Critical Pali Dictionary.“ He published the book Vorderindien, Landes- und Kulturkunde ("India, Geography and Culture"). From 1951 to 1959 he reconstructed H. Lueders' manuscript on the Vedic god Varuna, which had been damaged during the War. Alsdorf published it in two volumes in 1951 and 1959. Alsdorf discussed the Prakrit used by Jains in des Etudes Jaina, Paris, 1965.

A number of Alsdorf s papers were republished in Kleine Schriften by the Glasenapp Foundation in 1974 on the occasion of his 70th birthday. It also contains a complete bibliography of Alsdorf s works which shows his wide range of interests: Vedic exegesis, Jain and Buddhist studies, Ashokan inscriptions, Jatakas, Middle Indic philology, history of literature, culture and art, modern India and travel accounts. Alsdorf also wrote on the history of vegetarianism, cow worship (1961) and Pali prosody.

Alsdorf came to India about twelve times. He visited Sri Lanka in 1978. An insect bite turned infectious and caused his death on 25.3.1978 shortly after his return to Germany.


Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, India

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  1. Allahabad
  2. Apabhramsa
  3. Apabhramsha
  4. Berlin
  5. Berlin University
  6. Delhi
  7. Heidelberg
  8. JAINA
  9. Jaina
  10. Jainism
  11. Ludwig Alsdorf
  12. Max Mueller
  13. Muenster
  14. New Delhi
  15. Pali
  16. Prakrit
  17. Sanskrit
  18. Vedic
  19. Vegetarianism
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