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Surendranath Dasgupta:

Surendranath Dasgupta

Surendranath Dasgupta (Bengali: সুরেন্দ্রনাথ দাশগুপ্ত) (October 1887 – 18 December 1952) was a scholar of Sanskrit and philosophy.

Family and Education:

Dasgupta was born in Kushtia, Bengal (now in Bangladesh) in a Vaidya family. His ancestral home was in the village Goila in Barisal District. He studied in Ripon College Calcutta and graduated with honours in Sanskrit. Later, he received his Master's degree from Sanskrit College, Calcutta in 1908. He got a second Master's degree in Western Philosophy in 1910 from the University of Calcutta.

Prof. Dasgupta married Himani Devi, a beautiful lady and the younger sister of India's pioneer film director and founder of Bombay Talkies Himanshu Rai [Ray]and had six children with her. Dasgupta had three daughters Maitreyi Devi (Sen) (1914-1989), Chitrita Devi (Gupta) and Sumitra Majumdar. Maitreyi Devi and Chitrita Devi (Gupta) were also famous writers. His sons Subhayu Dasgupta, Sugata Dasgupta and Prof. Subhachari Dasgupta also left behind valuable works in nation building. Subhayu Dasgupta wrote the famous book "Hindu Ethos and the Challenge of Change", while Sugata Dasgupta was a featured speaker and a noted Gandhian and author of several books, while his youngest son, Subhachari Dasgupta, erstwhile professor at the National Institute for Bank Management (NIBM) and author of several books like "Understanding Social Reality", "The rural energy crisis, poverty, and women's roles in five Indian villages" , "Forest, ecology, and the oppressed, Dynamics of change in Karimuddinpur ; Land reforms in West Bengal and Karnataka ; Towards alternative banking ; A study into the Proshika process  ; Acculturation of the child to schooling; Impact of the employment guarantee scheme in Maharashtra on disadvantaged groups ; developed civil society leaders in India for three decades through the People's Institute for Development and Training.(www.peoplesinstitute,com) .

His last surviving and youngest child Sumitra Majumdar died in Goa in September 2008.

Dasgupta had taken the Griffith Prize in 1916 and his doctorate in Indian Philosophy in 1920. Maharaja Sir Manindra Chandra Nandi now urged him to go to Europe to study European philosophy at its sources, and generously bore all the expenses of his research tour (1920–22).

Dasgupta went to England and distinguished himself at Cambridge as a research student in philosophy under Dr McTaggart. During this time the Cambridge University Press published the first volume of the History of Indian Philosophy (1921). He was also appointed lecturer at Cambridge, and nominated to represent Cambridge University at the International Congress of Philosophy in Paris.

His participation in the debates of the Aristotelian Society, London, the leading philosophical society of England, and of the Moral Science Club, Cambridge, earned for him the reputation of being an almost invincible controversialist. Great teachers of philosophy like Ward and McTaggart, under whom he studied, looked upon him not as their pupil but as their colleague. He received his Cambridge doctorate for an elaborate thesis on contemporary European philosophy.

The impressions that he had made by his speeches and in the debates at the Paris Congress secured for him an invitation to the International Congress at Naples in 1924, where he was sent as a representative of the Bengal Education Department and of the University of Calcutta ; later on, he was sent on deputation by the Government of Bengal to the International Congress at Harvard in 1926.

In that connection he delivered the Harris Foundation lectures at Chicago, besides a series of lectures at about a dozen other Universities of the United States and at Vienna, where he was presented with an illuminated address and a bronze bust of himself. He was invited in 1925 to the second centenary of the Academy of Science, Leningrad, but he could not attend for lack of Government sanction.

In 1935, 1936 and 1939 he was invited as visiting professor to Rome, Milan, Breslau, Konigsberg, Berlin, Bonn, Cologne, Zurich, Paris, Warsaw and England.


His career in teaching began with a short stint as a Lecturer in Rajshahi College. Later, he became a Professor of Sanskrit and Bengali in Chittagong College. After some time, he went back to graduate school and received a PhD from the University of Calcutta, and later went to England to work on his second PhD at the University of Cambridge.

Following his return in 1924, Dasgupta joined the Presidency College as Professor of Philosophy. Later, he became the Principal of Sanskrit College, and later joined the University of Calcutta as a Professor.

In 1932, he served as President of the Indian Philosophical Congress. His own philosophy was known as Theory of Dependent Emergence.

The list of his famous students includes scholars like Mircea Eliade and Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya.

About 1941 or 1942 Dasgupta moved away from his wife Himani Madhuri Dasgupta and their six children, and he stayed with Suramā Mitra (1907 - 12 June 1998), his secretary and student, whom he married in 1945. Suramā Mitra held a PhD in philosophy, taught at Lucknow University, and authored a few books on philosophy. Dasgupta's relationship with Suramā Mitra caused enormous pain to his near ones and was strongly disputed by Dasgupta's family. Whilst Suramā Mitra claimed to be Dasgupta's wife, such claims were unjustifiable and illegal as Surendranath and Himani were never legally divorced and bigamy was a crime in British and Independent India.

The University of Warsaw made him an honorary Fellow of the Academy of Sciences. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. The Societe des Amis du Monde of Paris offered him a special reception, and M. Renou, Professor of Sanskrit in the University of Paris, wrote to him afterwards: " While you were amongst us, we felt as if a Sankara or a Patanjali was born again and moved amongst us." Kind and simple and gentle as he was, Dasgupta was always undaunted in challenging scholars and philosophers.

In the second International Congress of Philosophy in Naples, the thesis of Dasgupta's paper was that the philosophy of Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) had been largely anticipated by some forms of Buddhism, and that where Croce differed, he (Croce) was himself in error. On account of internal differences Croce had no mind to join the Congress, but the fact that Dasgupta was going to challenge his philosophy and prove it to be second-hand in open congress, induced him to do so.

In the same way he challenged Louis de La Vallée-Poussin, the great Buddhist scholar, before a little assembly presided over by McTaggart. In the meetings of the Aristotelian Society Dasgupta was a terror to his opponents, his method of approach being always to point out their errors. He inflicted this treatment on many other scholars, particularly Fyodor Shcherbatskoy (Stcherbatsky) (1866-1942) and Sylvain Lévi (1863-1935).

A History of Indian Philosophy:

When Lord Ronaldshay, the Governor of Bengal, came to visit Chittagong College, he had a long talk with Professor Dasgupta in his classroom, and was so much impressed by it that he expressed the desire that the first volume of the History of Indian Philosophy might be dedicated to him.

Originally Dasguptas plan was to write out the history of Indian systems of thought in one volume. Therefore, he tried to condense the materials available within the compass of one book. But as he went on collecting materials from all parts of India, a huge mass of published and unpublished texts came to light, and the plan of the work enlarged more and more as he tried to utilise them.

This was the first and only attempt to write out in a systematic manner a history of Indian thought directly from the original sources in Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit. In a work of the fourteenth century A.D., the Sarva-darsana-samgraha of Madhavacarya, we find a minor attempt to give a survey of the different philosophical schools of India.

But the account given there is very brief, and the work does not give an exhaustive survey of all the different systems of philosophy. In the present series the author traced, in a historical and critical manner, the development of Indian thought in its different branches from various sources, a considerable portion of which lies in unpublished manuscripts. He spared no pains and underwent a tremendous amount of drudgery in order to unearth the sacred, buried treasures of Indian thought.

He revised his original plan of writing only one volume and thought of completing the task in five consecutive volumes constituting a series. He shouldered this gigantic task all alone, with the sincerest devotion and unparalleled enthusiasm and zeal.

In 1942 he retired from Sanskrit College and was appointed King George V Professor of Mental and Moral Science in the University of Calcutta. He worked there for three years and delivered the Stephanos Nirmalendu lectures on the history of religions. He had been suffering from heart trouble since 1940, but was still carrying on his various activities and research work.

In 1945 he retired from the Calcutta University and was offered the Professorship of Sanskrit at Edinburgh which had fallen vacant after the death of Professor Keith. The doctors also advised a trip to England. On his arrival in England he fell ill again.

In November 1945 he delivered his last public lecture on Hinduism in Trinity College, Cambridge. Since then he was confined to bed with acute heart trouble. He stayed in England for five years (1945–50). Even then he published the fourth volume of his History of Indian Philosophy at the Cambridge University Press, the History of Sanskrit Literature at Calcutta University, Rabindranath the Poet and Philosopher with his Calcutta publishers, and a book on aesthetics in Bengali. In 1950 he returned to Lucknow.

In 1951, through friendly help given by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, he started writing the fifth and final volume of the Historyof Indian Philosophy. He had also planned to write out his own system of philosophy in two volumes. His friends and students requested him several times to complete the writing of his own first. Yet he looked upon his work on Indian philosophy as the sacred mission of his life, and thought himself to be committed to that purpose.

With strong determination and unwavering devotion he brought his life's mission very near its completion.

Until the end of his life he was working for this, and completed one full section just a few hours before his passing away, on 18 December 1952. Even on this last day of his life, he worked in the morning and afternoon on the last chapter of the section of Southern Saivism.

He died peacefully at eight in the evening while discussing problems of modern psychology.

Selected Writings:

  • A History of Indian Philosophy, 5 volumes
  • General Introduction to Tantra Philosophy
  • A Study of Patanjali
  • Yoga Philosophy in Relation to Other Systems of Indian Thought
  • A History of Sanskrit Literature
  • Rabindranath: The Poet and Philosopher
  • Hindu Mysticism (1927)
  • Kavyavicha
  • Saundaryatattva
  • Rabidipika

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