Monier Monier-Williams

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Monier Monier-Williams, around 1860

Sir Monier Monier-Williams , actually Monier Williams (born November 12, 1819 in Bombay , † April 11, 1899 in Cannes ) was an English Indologist , Sanskrit scholar and Orientalist . It was not until 1887 that Monier Williams added the hyphenated first name to his surname as a result of his ennoblement .


Monier Williams was born in Bombay as the third of four sons of the English surveyor and officer Monier Williams . In 1822 he was sent to England for further education and attended school in Chelsea and London. In 1837 he enrolled as a student in Oxford , but moved in 1839 by an offer as an employee ( writer ) in the British East India Company in the civil service after the required tests in East India House and the preparatory courses in East India College of the Company in Haileybury successfully had completed. At the news of the death of his youngest brother, who had died in Sindh serving the East Indian Society, and at the request of his now widowed mother, he gave up his intention to go to India and returned to Oxford in 1841.

Studies and academic career

Under the Indologist Horace Hayman Wilson , Monier Williams began studying ancient Indian Sanskrit , the language of the Vedas and classical Indian literature , and in 1843 won the Boden Sholarship , a scholarship to promote Sanskrit studies. At the same time he became a teacher of Sanskrit, Persian and Hindustani (Hindi) at Haileybury College until the institute was dissolved in the aftermath of the Indian uprising in 1858.

In 1848 Monier-Williams married Julia Faithfull, the daughter of a pastor from Hatfield ; the marriage produced six sons and one daughter.

After an interlude at the college in Cheltenham he was appointed to the Sanskrit professor at Boden College in 1860 against the competition of Friedrich Max Müller as the successor to the Indologist and physician Horace Hayman Wilson (1786-1860) ; Müller was considered to be the more scientifically experienced applicant, but due to the fact that not only the professors but also the postgraduates were allowed to cast their votes and the statutes of the Boden Foundation explicitly required religious commitment, Monier-Williams was able to win the application process. Monier-Williams also had a knowledge of India due to his background and practical studies that Müller lacked throughout his life.

Monier-Williams pursued since 1875 the establishment of an institution at the university, which India and England should "make better acquainted with each other ". To this end, he traveled to the Indian subcontinent in the same year as well as in 1876 and again in 1883, where he successfully asked the local princes for financial support. The £ 34,000 raised enabled the official opening of the Indian Institute in 1896 , with a museum, library, and workrooms to meet the practical needs of the training of Indian Civil Service employees as well as academic purposes.

Monier-Williams' work was always practically oriented and was primarily intended to promote British understanding of Eastern religions and the willingness to serve a mission . The Vedas therefore found his interest less than the classical Sanskrit literature, which he promoted through numerous editions and translations. In his view, the system of Advaita Vedanta , as advocated by the medieval philosopher and saint Shankara (788-820), best represented the Vedic ideal and was the "highest way to salvation" in Hinduism. The more popular traditions of karma (skt. "Deeds, works") and bhakti (skt. "Love") were of lesser spiritual value to him. Nevertheless, he referred to the Hindu faith as a "huge polygon or irregular multilateral figure", which was held together by the Sanskrit literature.

His preoccupation with Sanskrit grammar and lexic found expression in grammars and dictionaries. Be especially Sanskrit-English Dictionary (first edition 1872, second significantly expanded and improved edition by Ernst Leumann and Carl Cappeller 1899) is still an indispensable reference work, introduced because of the obvious borrowings from the Petersburg Dictionary his colleagues Otto Böhtlingk and Rudolf von Roth but at that time to an unpleasant plagiarism dispute in which Max Müller was also involved. However, by omitting the references and reproducing the lemmas (keywords) in Latin transcription instead of the original Sanskrit script , the Devanagari , Monier-Williams dictionary brought tangible advantages for practical use in Indology.

The current use of the foreign term “ Hinduism ” as a name for the Hindu faith goes back to Monier-Williams' book Hinduism (1877) ; the name is in Sanskrit or Hindi (sanatana) dharma , in German about "(eternal) religion".

Monier-Williams was raised in 1886 as a Knight Bachelor ("Sir") in the British nobility and in 1887 as a Knight Commander in the Order of the Indian Empire (KCIE).

Monier-Williams spent the last years of his life since 1887 for health reasons, mainly in winter, in the south of France; the duties arising from his soil professorship have been performed by a deputy since 1888. It was only a few days before his death in Cannes in April 1899 that he finished work on the new edition of his Sanskrit dictionary, and it was printed just a few weeks after his death.

Monier-Williams found his final resting place in Chessington Cemetery, Surrey.

Works (selection, first editions only)

Text editions, translations

  • Kālidāsa Vikramorvasi (1849)
  • Kālidāsa Sakuntala (1853)
  • Book of Good Counsels (a collection of Sanskrit sayings )
  • Nalopakhyanam (part of the Ramayana)
  • Indian Wisdom (1875)

Grammars, dictionaries

  • An Elementary Grammar of the Sanskrit Language (1846)
  • A Dictionary English and Sanskrit (1851)
  • Sanskrit Manual (1862)
  • Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872)
  • A Practical Grammar of the Sanskrit Language (1857)


  • Original papers illustrating the history of the application of the Roman alphabet to the languages ​​of India (1859)
  • Hinduism (1877)
  • Modern India and the Indians (1878)
  • Brahmanism and Hinduism (1883)
  • Buddhism, in its connexion with Brahmanism and Hinduism, and in its contrast with Christianity (1889)

Web links

Wikisource: Monier-Williams, Monier  - Entry in Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement (English)


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (NDB), vol. 59 (2004), p. 260 f.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Thomas Edge: Sir Monier Monier-Williams; Julia Grantham (née Faithfull), Lady Monier-Williams. Retrieved April 22, 2017 (Portrait Photography at National Portrait Gallery).
  2. Organizational and spatial changes provoked the protest of the descendants of the Indian government in 1968 on behalf of the Indian donors of the time.
  3. NDB describes the work as an "abbreviated revision of the Sanskrit dictionary by O.Böthlingk and R. Roth"; NDB vol. V, p. 261. See also Agnes Stache-Weiske: "... for the knowledge that I live with all my soul". Otto Böhtlingk (1815-1904): a learned life . Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2017. P. 185 f.
  4. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite, sv "Hinduism"
  5. Knights and Dames: MIG-OS at Leigh Rayment's Peerage
  6. Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1899), Postscript Sx