Rahul Sankrityayan
Rahul Sankrityayan
Statue of Sankrityayan in Darjeeling
BornKedarnath Pandey
(1893-04-09)9 April 1893
Pandaha, United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, British India
Died14 April 1963(1963-04-14) (aged 70)
Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
  • Writer
  • essayist
  • scholar
Sociology, Indian nationalist history, Indology, Buddhism, Tibetology, lexicography, philosophy, grammar, textual editing, folklore, science, drama, politics
Notable awards1958: Sahitya Akademi Award
1963: Padma Bhushan
SpouseSantoshi, Ellena Narvertovna Kozerovskaya, Kamala Sankrityayan

Rahul Sankrityayan (born Kedarnath Pandey; 9 April 1893 – 14 April 1963) was an Indian independence activist, writer and a polyglot who wrote in Hindi. He played a pivotal role in giving travelogue a 'literary form'. He was one of the most widely travelled scholars of India, spending forty-five years of his life on travels away from his home.[1] Sankrityayan is often called the "father of Indian travelogue".

He travelled to many places and wrote many travelogues. He is known for his authentic descriptions about his travel experiences, for instance in his travelogue Meri Laddakh Yatra (lit.'My Ladakh Journey') he covers the regional, historical and cultural aspects of that region judiciously. He became a Buddhist monk (Bhikkhu) and eventually became a Marxist.[1] Sankrityayan was an Indian patriot, having been arrested and jailed for three years for his anti-British writings and speeches.[1] He is referred to as the 'Greatest Scholar' for his scholarship.[1] He was both a polymath as well as a polyglot.[1] The Government of India awarded him the civilian honour of the Padma Bhushan in 1963.[2]


He was born as Kedarnath Pandey to a Bhumihar brahmin family[3] on 9 April 1893 in Pandaha village.[4] His ancestral village was Kanaila Chakrapanpur, Azamgarh district, in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.[5] He went to a local primary school. Later he studied and mastered numerous languages independently, as well as learning the art of photography.


Initially, he was a keen follower of Arya Samaj of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Then Buddhism changed his life. After taking Diksha in Sri Lanka he became Rahul (son of Buddha) also used his gotra (Sankritya) with his name and was finally called “Rahul Sankrityayan”. He lost faith in God's existence but still retained faith in reincarnation. Later he moved became a Socialist and rejected the concepts of reincarnation and the afterlife. The two volumes of Darshan-Digdarshan, a collected history of the world's philosophy give an indication of his philosophy where the second volume is much dedicated to Dharmakirti's Pramana Vartika. This he discovered in a Tibetan translation from Tibet.


Sankrityayan's travels took him to different parts of India including Ladakh, Kinnaur, and Kashmir. He also travelled to several other countries including Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Iran, China, and the former Soviet Union. He spent several years in the Parsa Gadh village in the Saran district in Bihar. The village's entry gate is named "Rahul Gate". While traveling, he mostly used surface transport, and he went to certain countries clandestinely; he entered Tibet as a Buddhist monk. He made several trips to Tibet and brought valuable paintings and Pali and Sanskrit manuscripts back to India.[citation needed] Most of these were a part of the libraries of Vikramshila and Nalanda Universities. These objects had been taken to Tibet by fleeing Buddhist monks during the twelfth and subsequent centuries when the invading Muslim armies had destroyed universities in India.[citation needed] Some accounts state that Rahul Sankrityayan employed twenty-two mules to bring these materials from Tibet to India. Patna Museum has a special section of these materials in his honor, where a number of these and other items have been displayed.[citation needed]


Sankrityayan was a polyglot, well versed in several languages and dialects, including Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, Bhojpuri, Magahi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Tamil, Kannada, Tibetan, Sinhalese, French and Russian.[1] He was also an Indologist, a Marxist theoretician, and a creative writer.[1] He started writing during his twenties and his works, totaling well over 100, covered a variety of subjects, including sociology, history, philosophy, Buddhism, Tibetology, lexicography, grammar, textual editing, folklore, science, drama, and politics.[1] Many of these were unpublished.[1] He translated Majjhima Nikaya from Prakrit into Hindi.[1]

Rahul's Tombstone at Darjeeling.This tombstone is established at a place called "Murda Haati" which is a cremation ground downtown in the lower altitudes of Darjeeling around 25 minutes drive from the ChowRasta. The same place also has the tombstone of Sister Nivedita.
Rahul's Tombstone at Darjeeling.This tombstone is established at a place called "Murda Haati" which is a cremation ground downtown in the lower altitudes of Darjeeling around 25 minutes drive from the ChowRasta. The same place also has the tombstone of Sister Nivedita.

One of his most famous books in Hindi is Volga Se Ganga (A journey from the Volga to the Ganges) – a work of historical fiction concerning the migration of Aryans from the steppes of the Eurasia to regions around the Volga river; then their movements across the Hindukush and the Himalayas and the sub-Himalayan regions; and their spread to the Indo-Gangetic plains of the subcontinent of India. The book begins in 6000 BC and ends in 1942, the year when Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian nationalist leader called for the Quit India movement. It was published in 1942. A translation into English of this work by Victor Kiernan was published in 1947 as From Volga to Ganga.[6] It was translated by K. N. Muthiya (Tamilputhakalayam) into Tamil as Valgavil Irundu Gangai Varai and is still considered a best-seller. The Kannada translation was carried out by B. N. Sharma and called Volga Ganga. The Telugu translation, Volga Nunchi Ganga Ku, inspired many readers. Volga Muthal Ganga Vare, the Malayalam translation, became immensely popular among the young intellectuals of Kerala and it continues to be one of the most influential books of its times. The Bengali version is Volga Theke Ganga, which is still acclaimed by the critics.

His most important travelogue literature is

More than ten of his books have been translated and published in Bengali. He was awarded the Padmabhushan in 1963,[7] and he received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1958 for his book Madhya Asia Ka Itihaas.

He maintained daily diaries in Sanskrit which were used fully while writing his autobiography. In spite of profound scholarship, he wrote in very simple Hindi that a common person could follow. He wrote books of varied interest. He was aware of limitations of Hindi literature and singularly made up the loss in no small measure.

The historian Kashi Prasad Jayaswal compared Rahul Sankrityayan with Buddha. Rahul's personality was as impressive and memorable as are his achievements. He travelled widely and wrote in five languages – Hindi, Sanskrit, Bhojpuri, Pāli and Tibetan.

Soviet Union

Although he had little formal education, in view of his knowledge and command over the subject, University of Leningrad appointed him Professor of Indology in 1937–38 and again in 1947–48.

Personal life and family

Sankrityayan on a 1993 stamp of India
Sankrityayan on a 1993 stamp of India

Rahul was married when very young and never came to know anything of his child-wife, Santoshi. Probably he saw her only once in his 40s as per his autobiography: Meri Jivan Yatra. During his stay in Soviet Russia a second time, accepting an invitation for teaching Buddhism at Leningrad University, he came in contact with a Mongolian scholar Lola (Ellena Narvertovna Kozerovskaya). She could speak French, English, and Russian and write Sanskrit. She helped him in working on Tibetan- Sanskrit dictionary. Their attachment ended in marriage and birth of son Igor Rahulovich. Mother and son were not allowed to accompany Rahul to India after completion of his assignment due to restrictions imposed by Stalin regime.

Late in life, he married Kamala Sankrityayan, who was an Indian writer, editor and scholar in Hindi and Nepali of the 20th century. They had a daughter Jaya Sankrityayan Parhawk,[8] one son, Jeta. Jeta is a professor of Economics at North Bengal University.[9]


Rahul accepted a teaching job at a Sri Lankan university, where he fell seriously ill. Diabetes, high blood pressure and a mild stroke struck him. Most tragic happening was the loss of memory. He died in Darjeeling in 1963.

Rahul Nivas in September 2015
Rahul Nivas in September 2015


Many of Rahul's personal collections including the ones he gathered from his multiple trips to Tibet were distributed across to multiple Universities and Museums. Patna Museum has an extensive collection of Buddhist manuscripts and paintings which he assimilated through his journeys across Tibet. Many of these are considered rare gems of Indian scriptures translated into Tibetan.

Rahul Sankrityayan Inter College Rajesultanpur is an intermediate college located in Rajesultanpur, Uttar Pradesh. It was named in honour of the writer.[10]

Eponymous awards

Awards About Awarded By
Rahul Sankrityayan National Award Contribution to Hindi travel Literature (also called Travel Litterateur's Honour). Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Government of India
Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan Paryatan Puraskar Awarded for contributing significantly in the field of travelogue and Discovery and Research in Hindi, for books written originally in Hindi on Tourism related subjects. Ministry of Tourism, Government of India


This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (August 2008)

In Hindi


Short Stories



Some of his other books are:-

In Bhojpuri


Related to Tibetan

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sharma, R. S. (2009). Rethinking India's Past. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-569787-2.
  2. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ "Rahul Sankrityayan's Work on Caste Is Necessary But Also Invokes Questions of Dalit Agency". thewire.in. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  4. ^ Meri Jeevan Yatra. Vol. 1. pp. 1–4, 465–488.
  5. ^ Prabhakar Machwe (1 January 1998). Rahul Sankrityayan (Hindi Writer). Sahitya Akademi. pp. 12–. ISBN 978-81-7201-845-0.
  6. ^ Rahul Sankrityayana From Volga to Ganga, Rahula Publication, Mussorie, 1947.
  7. ^ "Padma Awards Directory (1954–2013)" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.
  8. ^ Sankrityayan’s daughter protests shifting of Patna Museum Collection, Times of India, Sept 13, 2017
  9. ^ Roles of Rahul Sankrityayan in Nepalese Cultural Tourism is an analysis of Nepalese, BP Badal, Nepal Journal of Development Studies, 2019]
  10. ^ "दस टीमों के बीच रोमांचक रही कबड्डी प्रतियोगिता - Kabbaddi competition". Dainik Jagran (in Hindi). 30 September 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2014.

Further reading