An inter­view with

Lokesh Chandra

Pos­i­tion & Affil­i­ation: Schol­ar of the Ved­ic peri­od, Buddhism and the Indi­an arts
Date: Janu­ary 13, 2021 in New Del­hi, India
Inter­viewed by: Shashi Bala

Cite this archive

Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. (2021, Decem­ber 2). An inter­view with Lokesh Chandra. Retrieved 27 Feb­ru­ary 2024, from
“An inter­view with Lokesh Chandra.” Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies, 2 Dec. 2021,
Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. 2021. An inter­view with Lokesh Chandra. [online], Avail­able at: [Accessed 27 Feb­ru­ary 2024]
Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. “An inter­view with Lokesh Chandra.” 2021, Decem­ber 2.

Dis­claim­er: The views and opin­ions expressed in this inter­view are those of the inter­viewee and do not neces­sar­ily rep­res­ent the offi­cial pos­i­tion of the Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies project.


Additional info


Prof. Lokesh Chandra was born in 1927 at Ambala in the Hary­ana state of India in an illus­tri­ous fam­ily of edu­ca­tion­ists. His fath­er Prof. Dr. RaghuVira was a schol­ar and thinker of world renown who made sig­nal con­tri­bu­tions to the under­stand­ing of Asi­an cul­ture and to Indi­aís lin­guist­ic devel­op­ment. Under his guid­ance, Prof. Lokesh Chandra stud­ied Sanskrit the clas­sic­al lan­guage of India and its deriv­at­ives Pali and Prakrits, besides Clas­sic­al Greek, Lat­in, Chinese, Japan­ese, Avesta of the Parsis, Old Per­sian and oth­er lan­guages of cul­tur­al import­ance. In 1943 he helped his fath­er in the trans­la­tion of a ìChinese Dic­tion­ary of Indi­an Geo­graph­ic­al Namesî which was com­piled in 517 AD from Chinese lit­er­at­ure and accounts of travellers.

Prof. Lokesh Chandra stud­ied sev­er­al Indi­an lan­guages like Bengali, Uriya, Gujar­ati, Kan­nada, Tamil and Malay­alam. Dur­ing his uni­ver­sity days he col­lab­or­ated with his fath­er in the sci­entif­ic ter­min­o­logy for Indi­an lan­guages in chem­istry, phys­ics, math­em­at­ics, bot­any, zoology and their ramifications.

His bril­liant aca­dem­ic career cul­min­ated in a Mas­ter­ís degree (M.A.) in 1947 from the Pun­jab Uni­ver­sity at Lahore. His two years 1948 and 1949 were taken up by Ved­ic researches. He crit­ic­ally edited the Gavåmay­ana por­tion of the Ved­ic work Jaimin∂ya Bråh­maƒa with the help of newly dis­covered manu­scripts. This Bråh­maƒa had already attrac­ted great atten­tion towards the end of the 19th cen­tury. European schol­ars had pub­lished extens­ive extracts but they found it impossible to edit the text as a whole. Prof. Lokesh Chandra spared no labour and time to restore this text to its ori­gin­al pur­ity. In recog­ni­tion of these con­tri­bu­tions he was awar­ded the degree of Doc­tor of Lit­er­at­ure and Philo­sophy by the State Uni­ver­sity of Utrecht (Neth­er­lands) in 1950. At Utrecht, Lokesh Chandra stud­ied Old Javanese with the lead­ing author­ity, Prof. Jan Gonda.

Four years later in 1954, he com­pleted a crit­ic­al edi­tion of the entire text of the Jaimin∂ya Bråh­maƒa. In the mean time he also edited the first Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the ›å∆khåyana-‹rauta-sµutra which was left half done by the emin­ent Dutch Vedist W. Caland.

From 1955 to 1960 Prof. Lokesh Chandra pre­pared a ìTibetan-Sanskrit Dic­tion­aryî in 12+7 sup­ple­ment­ary volumes. Twelve main volumes were reprin­ted by Rinsen Shoten, Kyoto (Japan). For it he has drawn upon the vast canon­ic­al lit­er­at­ure of Tibet. Every entry is fol­lowed by exact ref­er­ences to texts. Terms of spe­cial­ized sub­jects like astro­nomy, medi­cine, icon­o­graphy, met­rics, pros­ody, philo­sophy have also been included. It is the first com­pre­hens­ive lex­ico­graph­ic­al effort to under­stand Tibetan lit­er­at­ure and cul­ture whose sway exten­ded into the remotest inhab­it­a­tions of High­er Asia. It is unique in includ­ing more than a thou­sand illus­tra­tions from ori­gin­al xylo­graphed icon­o­graph­ic manu­als. It has been acclaimed through­out the aca­dem­ic world as ìa splen­did work and indis­pens­able for all scholars.î The late Prof. F.D. Less­ing of the Uni­ver­sity of Cali­for­nia wrote: ì I am amazed at the wealth of mater­i­al you were able to get togeth­er and I am sure it will mean a gigant­ic step for­ward in the field of Sanskrit-Tibetan studies.î

Prof. Lokesh Chandra has edited sev­er­al volumes of Tibetan his­tor­ic­al texts. They include a his­tory of Samye the first mon­as­tery of Tibet, built as a great cos­mo­gram sym­bol­ising her entry into a new cos­mic order. He has brought out a study on 19 Mon­go­li­an poly­maths, besides ìThe Golden Annals of Mon­go­li­aî by Tsawa Tamdin.

His three-volume “Mater­i­als for a His­tory of Tibetan Lit­er­at­ureî brings into view the vast dimen­sions of the intel­lec­tu­al life of the Land of Snows and the Mon­go­li­an steppes through the march of centuries.

Prof. Lokesh Chandra col­lab­or­ated with his fath­er Prof. RaghuVira and com­pleted the ìNew Tibeto-Mon­gol Pan­theonî in 20 volumes. It provides a wealth of inform­a­tion on the unex­plored aspects of the icon­o­graph­ic art of trans-Him­alay­an Asia as far as the Siberi­an and Volga regions.

Prof. Lokesh Chandra com­pleted a fac­sim­ile edi­tion of the Com­plete Works of Bu-ston in 28 volumes in the huge format of 11×18 inches. Bu-ston is one of the greatest rep­res­ent­at­ives of Lamaist thought: there is scarcely a branch of the ancient dis­cip­lines that he did not cultivate.

Start­ing with an under­stand­ing of the most ancient of Indi­aís spir­itu­al expres­sion enshrined in the Ved­ic tra­di­tion, Prof. Lokesh Chandra has moved on to the inter­locu­tion between India, Tibet, Mon­go­lia, China, Korea, Japan, South East Asia, Indone­sia, and the Phil­ip­pines. His edi­tion of the 108 large volumes of the Mon­go­li­an Kan­jur or Buddhist Can­on was recog­nised as an out­stand­ing achieve­ment by the Hun­gari­an Academy of

Sci­ences, which elec­ted him an Hon­or­ary Mem­ber of the Academy. It is after a hun­dred years that an Indi­an has been hon­oured to be its Academician.

At present Prof. Lokesh Chandra is the Hon­or­ary Dir­ect­or of the Inter­na­tion­al Academy of Indi­an Cul­ture which is a premi­er research insti­tu­tion for Asi­an cul­tures. Speak­ing at the occa­sion of lay­ing the found­a­­tion-stone of the Academy, H.E. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first Pres­id­ent of India, said: ìI believe there are some oth­er insti­tu­tions also car­ry­ing on researches in Indo­logy and oth­er branches of ancient thought, but I do not think any one of them has been able to cov­er such a range of sub­jects and such a wide field as to include South-East Asia, the Middle East and Cent­ral Asia as the Inter­na­tion­al Academy of Indi­an Cul­ture. See­ing the import­ance of this work, it seems essen­tial that the Academy should be encour­aged in its work as far as pos­sible. I hope this import­ant work will con­tin­ue and the gaps which exist today in our know­ledge of ancient his­tory and lit­er­at­ure will be bridged by the pub­lic­a­tions of the Inter­na­tion­al Academy of Indi­an Culture.î

Prof. Lokesh Chandraís interests also extend into the domain of nat­ur­al sci­ences. He has edited the inter­na­tion­al research journ­al ìAd­van­cing Fron­ti­ers of Plant Sci­encesî (vols.1–30) which includes ori­gin­al work on plant mor­pho­logy and physiology, sys­tem­at­ic bot­any, phyto­path­o­logy, eco­nom­ic bot­any, plant cyto­logy and genet­ics, agro­nomy, hor­ti­cul­ture, paleo­bot­any and oth­er domains of plant sciences.

Prof. Lokesh Chandra has trav­elled widely all over Europe, Asia, and Rus­sia. He has par­ti­cip­ated in sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences. He is act­ively con­tinu­ing the ìwork that Prof. RaghuVira has inaug­ur­ated and bril­liantly pur­sued for many years (and which) is con­sequently as import­ant as it is vast in its con­cep­tion. All those who share his interest in the civil­iz­a­tion of India and her neigh­bours will fer­vently hope that the Inter­na­tion­al Academy of Indi­an Cul­ture, now under the able dir­ec­tion of his son, will be able to pro­ceed along on the paths mapped out by its great founder, and to bring to com­ple­tion the valu­able work to which he devoted so many years of fruit­ful labour.î (Prof. D.S. Ruegg, Uni­ver­sity of Leiden).


Men over vari­ous regions of the world and over mil­lenia of time have shared the dynam­ic inter­flow of cul­ture. This cul­tur­al inter­flow vibrates to the hid­den impulses that gov­ern the breath of Life. The his­tor­ic migra­tions and move­ments of ideas have had uni­ver­sal implic­a­tions, embra­cing every form of human activ­ity. They have led to epic of ideas, the uni­ver­sal­ity of the mes­sage of Wis­dom and Com­pas­sion, and the serenity of the golden mean. The pain of strife and strain has become the poem of com­ing togeth­er. Con­tin­ent­al influ­ences in the domains of art and thought have giv­en rise to the deep solitudes of lit­er­at­ure, and the silent rap­ture of live sculp­tures in their kissed limbs. The study of the con­ver­gence and cre­ativ­ity of vari­ous cul­tures in dif­fer­ent parts of the world has been the life-long ded­ic­a­tion of Prof. Lokesh Chandra. His con­cern has been the cul­tur­al uni­ver­sal­ism of Hel­las, Rome and Buddhism: all pro­found move­ments kiss­ing the hearts of men, and lead­ing to ever-renew­ing peace.

The epic of manís march over the cen­tur­iesóin remote grass­lands, lands of ice, expanses of sand and vales of magic charmóis chron­icled in 576 large and learned volumes of the pub­lished work of Prof. Lokesh Chandra. His researches make us alive to the immens­ity of ideas in the vast­ness of time, and at the same time they betoken a vibrant hope of a dynam­ic future in an ever-evolving time-space continuum.

The annals, texts, pan­theon­ic scrolls, cos­mo­graph­ic maƒŒalas, annot­ated and eval­u­ated by Prof. Lokesh Chandra, are laden with rich treas­ures of art, philo­sophy, sci­ence, lit­er­at­ure and all else that sheds efful­gence on ages when Indi­aís sages and sav­ants toasted with the hordes that raced from the shores of the Amur and the Baikal to the shores of the Volga and the Caspi­an; the ages when the Hun, the Uig­ur, the Tokhar, the Scythi­an, the Sog­di­an, the Kuchean, the Agni­an, the Mon­gol and the Man­chu had paid homage to age­less wis­dom, the ages when åcåry­as had dawned serenity into lands that lie in the lap of the Him­alay­as and bey­ond, or when their boats braved the per­ils of the sea to the south­east­ern climes.

The oeuvre of Prof. Lokesh Chandra enchants while it illu­mines the dark, date­less and undefined unknown. You can get lost in travels with him into the spa­cious majesty of Angkor Vat, where monu­ment fol­lows on monu­ment, ruins edge upon ruins, the walls of veget­a­tion screen and hide and cur­tain, masonry masses mingle into the fant­ast­ic flower­ing of the jungle. The shrines seem to have been trans­por­ted by divine magic. By moon­light these build­ings take on an appear­ance of sol­id majesty which is awe-inspir­ing. In the twi­light gloom of these jungles a någa slith­ers over the sen­su­ous limbs of an apsarå pet­ri­fied in a seduct­ive pose of her dance in hon­our of a Devaråja of lost Angkor.

The writ­ings of Prof. Lokesh Chandra span sev­er­al lan­guages of Asia wherein he dis­cusses with crit­ic­al acu­men finer points of Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japan­ese, Mon­go­li­an, Tibetan, Indone­sian, Per­sian, Arab­ic in inter­cul­tur­al contexts.

The work of Prof. Lokesh Chandra has revolu­tion­ised the under­stand­ing of the evol­u­tion of sev­er­al coun­tries of Asia as he has opened up unknown texts, facts and eval­u­ations, tempt­ing the sci­entif­ic world to the light that keeps vigil on the far hori­zon, deep in his­tory. The time­less toil of Prof. Lokesh Chandra tran­scends exi­gen­cies and cir­cum­stances into the web of abid­ing inter­na­tion­al under­stand­ing. He has atten­ded sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ences and trav­elled extens­ively in remote corners of the world in search of frozen levels of cul­ture pulsat­ing in the warm real­ity of life.

Shar­ing of minds is a must for a bal­an­cing of nature and the Human Imper­at­ive; lest mod­ern man burn his hands in the fire he has kindled by allow­ing him­self to for­get who he is. Lalleshvari, the poet­ess of Kash­mir, has spoken of the syn­chron­icity of the rim and the axis: ìFrom the out­ward enter into the most inward part of thy being.î The syn­chron­icity of the sub­lime and the sec­u­lar is manís hope. Prof. Lokesh Chandra hopes that the rich wis­dom of all men will evoke the light and lyr­i­cism that lives on in our life.

The work of Prof. Lokesh Chandra is a pas­sion and con­cret­isa­tion of a com­mon human des­tiny in a shared plen­it­ude. The East and West are not shred­ded frag­ments of con­tin­ents. The des­tinies of the East and West are no longer closed sys­tems. In every one of us there is an East and a West. Each per­son has an East, a hori­zon he nev­er reaches, a bey­ond where the sun rises, a dimen­sion of hope. Every human being has a dimen­sion of the West, of matur­ity, where val­ues mater­i­al­ise. The East and West can be har­mon­ised in the micro­cosm of ourselves alone. We are the chasm and we like­wise are the bridge.

Prof. Lokesh Chandraís work is an affirm­a­tion of the vital­ity of dia­logue. The word dia­logue is Greek dia­lo­gos or pier­cing the logos to reach the dia-logic­al or trans-logic­al realm, allow­ing for the emer­gence of a cata­lyst that would break through its region­al and civil­iz­a­tion­al entrap­ments, free­ing it to func­tion in a glob­al matrix.


Lokesh Chandra, M.A., D.Litt.

Born: 11 April 1927 at Ambala (India)

Son of: emin­ent Indo­lo­gist late Prof. RaghuVira

Stud­ied at Forman Chris­ti­an Col­lege, Uni­ver­sit­ies of Lahore and Utrecht (Neth­er­lands)

Pub­lic­a­tions: 576 books; and 286 articles

Trav­elled extens­ively in Asia, Europe, USA and Rus­sia for inter-cul­tur­al relations

Lan­guages: Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, Avesta, Old Per­sian, Japan­ese, Chinese, Tibetan, Mon­go­li­an, Indone­sian, Greek, Lat­in, Ger­man, French, Rus­si­an, etc. (20 languages)


Mem­ber of the Par­lia­ment of India 1974–80

Mem­ber of the Par­lia­ment of India 1980–86

Mem­ber of sev­er­al com­mit­tees of Par­lia­ment on Edu­ca­tion, Offi­cial Lan­guage, Heavy Industry, Tour­ism and Civil Avi­ation, Defence, Sci­ence and Tech­no­logy, etc. etc.

Jawa­harlal Nehru Fel­low (1974–75)

Life Trust­ee of the Jawa­harlal Nehru Memori­al Fund, once presided over by the Prime Min­is­ter of India

Vice-Pres­id­ent, Indi­an Coun­cil for Cul­tur­al Rela­tions (Min­istry of Extern­al Affairs)

Advis­ory Com­mit­tee, Encyc­lo­pae­dia of Dravidi­an Languages

Inter-Reli­­gious Coun­cil for Peace and Under­stand­ing, presided over by the Lord Bish­op of Delhi

World Con­fer­ence on Reli­gion & Peace, Cath­ol­ic Bish­ops Con­fer­ence, New Delhi

Mem­ber of the Indi­an Nation­al Com­mis­sion for Cooper­a­tion with Unesco

Mem­ber of Court of the Jawa­harlal Nehru Uni­ver­sity (1980–84)

Mem­ber of the Visva Bhar­ati Uni­ver­sity, Santiniketan

Govt. nom­in­ee, Indi­an His­tor­ic­al Records Commission

Hon­or­ary Doc­tor­ate (Vidyå-Våridhi) awar­ded by the Nalanda University

Chair­man, Indi­an Coun­cil of His­tor­ic­al Research (1982–85)

Dir­ect­or, Inter­na­tion­al Academy of Indi­an Cul­ture, New Del­hi (1963-)