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The passing of Friedhelm Hardy - Scholar of South Indian religion

Jagat - Wed, 25 Aug 2004 07:00:19 +0530
This sparse notice just came to my attention on the RISA List, sent by Greg Bailey. Professor Hardy was one of the examiners of my PhD dissertation, and a scholar I admired greatly.

Professor Friedhelm Hardy died on the 4th of August. Fred was a scholar of great integrity, massive erudition and keen analytical mind. He had just retired as the Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religions at King¹s College, University of London. Fred was an outstanding scholar in both Sanskrit and Tamil and is best known for his two monumental works:

The religious culture of India : power, love, and wisdom / Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Viraha-bhakti : the early history of Krsna devotion in South India. Oxford University Press, 1983.

As well as many other articles. At the time of his death he had almost completed a number of other studies.

Hardy's interest in Indian culture began with a study of Chaitanya Vaishnavism, through which he became interested in Madhavendra Puri and the connection to South India and the Alvars. This led him in turn to study the Bhagavata Purana and its connection to the literature of the early Vaishnava saints of Tamil Nadu. He was the foremost Western scholar of the Alvars, that goes almost without saying.

His comparative analysis of the Bhagavatam to other Krishna-centered puranas is extremely enriching, and Viraha-bhakti is full of beautifully translated Alvar songs. It furthermore ends with a comparative study of John of the Cross and the idea of the "Dark Night of the Soul" that is also useful.

I did not know Hardy socially, though I was once invited to his house. His wife was from Tamil Nadu. He was very Germanic, with a sharp wit and ebullient nature. He was a very meticulous scholar, as Viraha bhakti showed. He took fifteen years writing that book, compiling detail upon detail, not missing a single alleyway of investigation. No doubt he had a great deal of unfinished work of the same quality.

One other thing I remember about Friedhelm Hardy was his interest in social issues. He told me that as a scholar he found that one had a tendency to become isolated from the "real world." He happened to be friends with Michael Aris, the husband of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar political activist and Nobel prize winner who was held for years in house arrest by the military junta there. As a result, he became something of an activist himself for the rights of people in Southeast Asia, especially Cambodia, to which he felt an attraction due to the cultural connection with South India.

I am very sorry to hear of his passing. If more information comes to me, I will post it.
Jagat - Tue, 14 Sep 2004 06:38:31 +0530
(by Richard Gombrich, sent to me by Aruna Hardy, Fred's wife).

Friedhelm Ernst Hardy, widely known to his friends as Fred, died suddenly on 4 August, his 61st birthday, while he was dining in a restaurant with his wife Aruna. He died as he had lived, a bon viveur.

Fred was an academic of extraordinary learning, intelligence and sensitivity; and he was also an extremely kind and generous man with apparently boundless curiosity about and sympathy for his fellow human beings. He and Aruna, besides having a son and daughter of their own, acted for some years in loco parentis to the daughter of a friend from Ghana who was studying at an English boarding school.

His outspoken and occasionally even rough manner sometimes gave a wrong impression to those, especially within academia, who knew him only superficially, and he was one of the rare people to be fully justified in feeling that he was undervalued in his profession – though he did not bear grudges. He could be stubborn, but often this was because of his loathing for both hierarchy and bureaucracy.

When he died, he had just taken early retirement from his chair in Indian religions at King’s College London, where he spent almost the whole of his career. He was looking forward to having the time at last to devote himself to several major academic projects, and making full use of his knowledge of Indian languages both classical and modern, unrivalled in this country and possibly anywhere in the world today.

Fred Hardy was born in the Rhineland. He was brought up by his mother, who was widowed at the end of the war. He showed an early interest in languages and scripts, and started his studies in Sanskrit in Cologne. In 1967 he came to Oxford University to read for a B.A. in Oriental Studies (Sanskrit and Prakrit). This was followed by a D.Phil., for which he was supervised by Prof. R.C. Zaehner. It was also at Oxford that he met his wife, the mathematician Aruna Gokhale.

For his doctoral research, Fred spent over a year in Tamilnadu, studying the classical language with local scholars and developing such empathy with his surroundings that when he returned to Britain he was speaking English with a strong Indian accent. The thesis traced through sources in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Tamil the origins of the extremely emotional devotionalism found in the Bhaagavata It was 225,000 words long, which would not be allowed nowadays; for publication, though it contained no redundant verbiage, it had to be considerably shortened.

The book, Viraha-bhakti : the Early History of Devotion in South India (1983) was not just massively learned: it contained a least two major discoveries. He showed that though Krishna is the object of devotion (bhakti) in the Bhagavad Giitaa, that bhakti sharply differs from the later form of bhakti, which is highly emotional; the later form blends Tamil worship of the god Mayon with the literary tradition for depicting passion for an absent lover. In the Tamil poems of the Alwars, Vaishnava saints, the devotee is condemned to play the part of the lover who can only at rare moments fuse with God, the beloved.

Fred was also able to demonstrate not merely that the Bhaagavata was heavily influenced by Tamil religious literature, but that some of its most famous and beautiful poetry is simply a translation into Sanskrit of Tamil originals. Thus Fred’s work will forever be fundamental to the study of how Hinduism developed. He also showed in subsequent publications how Tamil devotionalism gradually spread to North India and laid the ground for the later bhakti of Caitanya.

At King’s Fred taught across the whole range of religions indigenous to India and was as knowledgeable about Jainism and Buddhism as he was about Vaishnavism, even though he published comparatively little about them. His encyclopaedic knowledge made him an excellent editor of a general companion to Indian religion, The World's Religions: the Religions of Asia (1990). But it was shown to best effect when he was invited to give the Wilde Lectures on Comparative Religion at Oxford. The 24 lectures, spread over 3 years, were later published as The Religious Culture of India: Power, Love and Wisdom, 1994. It is probably its size that has prevented this book from gaining the recognition it deserves. It shows Hardy entertaining and enlightening his audience with his vast knowledge of literature both Indian and western. It also shows how he insisted on retaining his own intellectual style: he utterly despised jargon and academic fashions, just as the comparatively slow rate of production of his latter years was probably due to his revulsion from “publish or perish” and the world of Research Assessment Exercises. He refused to engage in any kind of reductionist analysis and always gloried in the richness of human diversity.