Alain Danielou (1907-1994) came from a family well-known in the world of art and politics. From his youth, he was interested in philosophy and serious music. Later on, attracted in the course of travel on musicological studies by the civilization of India, he lived for twenty years in Benares, observing in his own life the rules and customs of the most orthodox Hindu society which had not, up till then, made any concession to the customs of the modern world. He was able to study philosophy and the books of traditional law. Later on, he had an academic career in India which took him first to teach as a professor at the University of Benares, then to direct the Center of Research and Bibliography at the Adyar Institute in Madras, and finally in 1956, he was named to the French Institute of Indology at Pondicherry. In 1959, he was recalled to the Ecole Française d’Extreme Orient in Paris, and from 1960, was advisor to the International Music Council at UNESCO, and director of the Institute for International Musical Studies in Berlin.
An authority on Hinduism and renowned for his directorship of the Institute of Comparative Music Studies in Berlin and Venice, Alain Daniélou is also an accomplished pianist, dancer, player of the Indian vînâ, painter, linguist and translator, photographer, and world traveler. To these attainments he has added The Way to the Labyrinth––as vivid, uninhibited, and wide-ranging a memoir as one is ever likely to encounter, now translated and published in English for the first time. Born of a haute-bourgeoise French family––his mother an ardent Catholic, his father an anticlerical leftwing politician, his older brother a cardinal––Daniélou spent a solitary childhood. Escaping from his family milieu, he went to Paris, where he fell in with avant-garde, bohemian, sexually liberated circles, among whose luminaries were Cocteau, Diaghilev, Max Jacob, and Maurice Sachs. But however fervently he plunged into various activities, he felt some other destiny awaited him. After a number of journeys, some of them highly adventurous, he found his real home in India. He spent twenty years there, fifteen of them in Benares on the banks of the Ganges. There he immersed himself in the study of Sanskrit, Hindu philosophy, music, and the art of the ancient temples of Northern India, and converted to the Hindu religion. But times changed, and soon after India gained its independence, he returned to live again in Europe and devoted much of his great energy to the encouragement of traditional musics from around the world.
Available: May 01 1987
Never before translated into English, the Manimekhalaï is one of the great classics of Indian culture. A second-century Tamil verse epic, it is a sequel to the Shilappadikaram (New Directions, 1965), which was also masterfully translated into prose by the acclaimed musician and scholar of Hinduism, Alain Daniélou. Rich with details of the period’s arts, customs, and religions, the Manimekhalaï provides an extraordinary picture of an age that suddenly comes back to life. It is the story of a beautiful young dancer who decides to forego her looming career as a courtesan in order to dedicate her life (with the aid of gods, demigods, and a magic bowl called the Cow of Abundance) to charity and to attaining the "bright light of knowledge."
Available: June 01 1989
One of the great classics of Indian culture is the Shilappadikaram, or Lay of The Ankle Bracelet, a verse romance in the ancient Tamil language which is attributed to Ilangô Adigal, a Jain prince of the Third Century AD. This is a tale of wonders and misfortunes, of hapless mortals and capricious deities, of magic and heroism in a bright but also cruel world in which the law of Karma rules: “actions committed in past lives must always bear fruit." Thus the peerless young Kôvalan will leave his loyal wife Kannaki for the courtesan Midhavi, and though he returns to her, still meets his death because of her ill-omened ankle bracelet. The Shilappadikaram has been called all epic and even a novel, but it is also a book of general education. llangô packed his story with information: history merging into myth, religious rites, caste customs, military lore, descriptions of city or country life. And four Cantos are little anthologies of the poetry of the period (seashore and mountain songs, hunters’ and milkmaids’ songs). Thus the Shilappadikaram gives us a vivid picture of early Indian life in all its aspects.