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Biography of Sir Monier Monier-Williams

By Dr. Gillian Evison

Sir Monier Monier-Williams

Sir Monier Monier-Williams was born in Bombay in 1819, the third of the four sons of Colonel Monier Williams, R.E., surveyor-general of the Bombay Presidency. At first he intended to pursue a career with the East India Company but the death of his brother in an attempt to relieve the fort of Kahun in Sind caused him to relinquish his appointment at the request of his widowed mother.

In 1841 he joined University College Oxford where he studied Sanskrit under Prof. Horace Haymen Wilson. After he graduated in 1844, he was appointed to the professorship of Sanskrit, Persian and Hindustani at Haileybury. In 1860 he became the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford in a hotly contested election fought against the scholar Max Müller. After his appointment to the Boden Professorship, Monier-Williams founded Oxford’s Indian Institute, which was to be a focus for the concentration and dissemination of information about Indian literature and culture. He raised a fund of nearly £34,000 from subscribers in India and the United Kingdom and the Institute was formally opened by Lord George Hamilton, the secretary of state for India in 1896. Prof. Monier-Williams was knighted in 1886, and became a K.C.I.E. in 1887, when he assumed the additional surname of Monier.

Monier William’s scholarly activity was mainly directed towards classical Sanskrit and furthering the knowledge of Indian religions amongst the British public. He wrote books on Hinduism and religious life and thought in India and was the first European to make an English translation of the Shikshapatri. This was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of 1882. The Shikshapatri manuscript that was presented him by the Acharya of Vadtal in 1875 was part of collection of some three thousand books and manuscripts which Monier Williams subsequently presented to the Indian Institute Library.

The Monier Williams Shikshapatri manuscript is available to browse.

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