The teaching of Indian languages and literature at the St. Petersburg University began in 1836, when Professor Robert Lenz (1808-1836) of Dörpt University was invited to St.-Petersburg to read lectures on Sanskrit and comparative linguistics. However, it was only after the establishment of the Faculty of Oriental Languages and opening of the Department of Indian Philology (1858) that the systematic work in the field of Indian philology began.

The first lecturer of the department was K.A. Kossovich (1814-1883). Due to the absence in Russia of any textbooks for the initial study of Sanskrit, he selected and published some samples of Sanskrit literature, such as "Legend of a hunter and a pair of doves" (1857) and "Savitri" (1861).

Among the students of Professor Kossovich was I.P. Minaev (1840-1890), who can be considered the true founder of St. Petersburg school of Indology. In 1862 he graduated from the Oriental Faculty (the department of Sino-Manchu languages) and dedicated its further activities to the study of Buddhism. The desire to explore the primary sources led I.P. Minaev to Sanskrit studies, first at the University, with the help of professor Kossovich, and then abroad (1863-1868). In 1869 he was unanimously elected a full-time assistant professor of Sanskrit literature. In the 1874-1876, 1879-1880 and 1885-1886 I.P. Minaev made three travels to India, Ceylon and Burma respectively. In his travel diaries Minaev vividly portrayed the situation in different regions of India, noticed the attitudes of Indian intellectuals. Interest in modern India prompted him to collect and publish local tales in modern Indian languages.

Buddhist studies were continued by Minaev’s students. S.F. Oldenburg (1863 - 1934) prepared for publication a series of Buddhist monuments ‘Bibliotheca Buddhica’, while works on Buddhist logic by F. I. Shcherbatskoy (1866 – 1942) gained worldwide fame. For forty years F.I. Shcherbatskoy was reading lectures at St. Petersburg (later Leningrad) University and established the specific Sanskrit teaching tradition, a combination of traditional Indian methods with European science. Under his editorship the textbook by G. Buhler "A Guide to the elementary course of Sanskrit language" was published (1923), which still remains the main textbook in Sanskrit at the initial stage.

Unfortunately, it should be noted that after death of F.I. Stcherbatskoy his school almost ceased to exist. In Soviet science Sanskrit was commonly considered the "priest's language", not worthy studying. Established by Stcherbatskoy, the Institute of Buddhist culture was destroyed in 1930-s, with most talented researchers being arrested on charges of conducting espionage. In fact, the only specialist in ancient Indian languages and literature now was V.I. Kalyanov (1908 - 2001), later convicted of publishing under his own name of works by his repressed colleagues, scientific misconduct and ahistorical translations.

Revival of Sanskrit studies in Leningrad is associated with the name of V.S. Vorobyov-Desyatovsky (1927-1956). After graduation (1951) he started to work in the manuscript sector of the Institute of Oriental Studies, where he studied and described Indian and Central Asian manuscripts in Sanskrit. Through the efforts of V. Vorobyov-Desyatovsky, teaching of Pali and the Tibetan language was resumed after a long break. He also conducted Sanskrit classes and read the course “Theoretical grammar of the Hindustani language”.

In 1960, V.G. Ehrmann (b. 1928) was enrolled in the staff of the Department of Indian Philology. Along with Sanskrit classes, he read the theoretical course of Sanskrit grammar, conducted special seminars on Prakrits, and special course on the history of ancient Indian dramaturgy. V.G. Ehrmann, a recognized researcher of ancient Indian literature and mythology, has also translated and prepared popular adaptations of various literary monuments - "Mudrarakshasa", "Raghuvamsha", “Mahabharata. Book 6”, “The tree great legends of ancient India "(co-authored with E.N. Temkin) etc.

An important contribution to the study of ancient Indian literature has been made by S. L Neveleva (b. 1937). She has carried out much research of all levels of the Indian epic, and has translated five books of "Mahabharata" (together with Y.V. Vassilkov). For many years Y.V. Vassilkov (b. 1943) worked at the Leningrad branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies; since 1993 he headed the Department of South and Southeast Asia, and in 2005 moved to the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. In addition to active participation in the translation and publication of ancient Indian monuments, Y.V. Vassilkov is engaged in typological study of epic and mythological images of India and other regions, as well as the history of Russian Indology.

Currently ancient Indian studies in St. Petersburg are also continued by Yu.G. Kokova (ancient Indian literature and mythology), S.S. Tavastsherna (ancient Indian linguistic tradition, various aspects of grammar of Sanskrit and Pali, ancient Indian metrics and poetics), A.V. Paribok (Buddhist scriptures, ancient Indian philosophy, philosophy of language), S.V. Pakhomov (ancient Indian culture, Tantric philosophy), E.A. Desnitskaya (ancient Indian grammatical and philosophical tradition, Indian philosophy of language), V.P. Ivanov (ancient Indian philosophical tradition and linguistic philosophy), E.P. Ostrovskaya (ancient Indian philosophy and culture), S.H. Shomahmadov (Buddhist canon, the Buddhist theory of power).


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