HERMANN JACOBI - German Indologist 1850 - 1937

Published: 20.06.2005
Updated: 03.01.2011


Hermann Jacobi was a scholar who worked on several aspects of Indology. His main contribution was in the field of Jaina studies. Hermann Georg Jacobi was born on 1.2.1850 in Koeln. He attended high school in his native town and then went to Berlin where he studied mathematics. Soon he took up Sanskrit and comparative linguistics. In 1872, he obtained a doctorate from Bonn University. His thesis was entitled De astrologiae Indicae 'Hora' appelate originibus ("On the origins of Indian astrology's term Hora"). Jacobi spent a year in London and visited India in 1873-74. This visit was of decisive importance for him. He was particularly fortunate that he could accompany Georg Buehler on his journey through Rajasthan where the latter was collecting manuscripts. Jacobi thus visited Jaina monasteries in which old traditions were still upheld. After his return to Germany, Jacobi qualified as a professor in 1875. He became associate professor in the University of Muenster in 1876. In 1885, he became professor in Kiel. In 1889, he went to Koeln.

In the winter of 1913 to 1914 Jacobi visited India again. He was invited by Calcutta University to lecture on Indian poetics. An honorary doctor's degree was conferred upon him. Though Jacobi retired from the university in 1922, he continued to lecture and contribute papers to learned journals. He died on 19.10.1937.

Jacobi edited many Jain texts and translated them into German. Among the text editions are: Zwei Jainastotras, in Indische Studien, 1876; The Kalpasutra of Bhadrabahu edited with an Introduction, Notes and a Prakrit-Sanskrit Glossary, Leipzig 1879; The Kalakacarya-Kathanakam, edited and translated, in the "Journal of the German Oriental Society" 1880; The Ayaramga Sutta of the Svetambara Jains, Pali Text Society, London 1882; The Sthaviravali Charita or Parisistaparvan by Hemacandra, Bibliotheca Indica, 1883, 2nd edition 1932. Jacobi translated Acaranga Sutra and Kalpasutra for the "Sacred Books of the East", 1884 and Uttaradhyayana-sutra and Sutrakrtanga Sutra, in the same series, 1895.

Jacobi published Ausgewaehlte Erzaehlungen in Maharashtri ("Selected Stories in Maharashtri"), Leipzig 1886. It contained a grammar and a glossary and was considered a landmark in the study of Prakrit. From 1901 to 1914, Upamitibhavaprapanca Katha of Siddharsi, a story in prose and verse, appeared in "Bibliotheca Indica". The Jainajnanaprasarakmandala sarapha bajara tnumbai was published, Ahmedabad, 1906. In 1908, he edited Haribhadra's Samaraicca Kaha, 2nd edition 1926. In 1914, Jacobi brought out the Paumacariya of Vimalasuri. This is a Jain version of the Ramayana in Maharashtri, which he ascribed to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D.

During his stay in India, Jacobi discovered two texts in Apabhramsa, a language hitherto known only from quotations by grammarians. He published these texts, Bhavisatta Kaha of Dhanavala and Sanatkumara-caritam in "Proceedings of the Bavarian Academy", 1918 and 1921.

Apart from text editions, Jacobi wrote a large number of papers on Jain subjects. Jacobi and his teacher A.Weber were pioneers in Jain studies. He proved that Mahavira and Parshva were historic personalities. He also established that Jainism was not an offshoot of Buddhism as earlier scholars had thought. Jacobi was awarded the title Jaina Darsana Divakar ("Sun of Jain Doctrine") by the Jain community.

Jainism was, however, not the only field of Jacobi's studies. His interest in mathematics and natural sciences had been expressed in his doctoral thesis. In later years he published Methods and tables for verifying Hindu dates, tithis, eclipses, nakshatras etc., Bombay, 1888, Kiel 1891. The following three papers appeared in "Epigraphia Indica". The Computation of Hindu Dates in the Inscriptions, 1892; Tables for Calculating Hindu Dates in True local Time, 1894 and The Planetary Tables, 1912.

Jacobi contributed a paper on the age of the Veda in Festschrift for Rudolf Roth. On the basis of astronomical calculations he dated the extant collec­tions of hymns to about 4500 B.C. He addressed this question again in On the Antiquity of Vedic Culture, in "Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society", 1908. His theories generated a lot of controversy among scholars.

Editing Prakrit texts led Jacobi to write on Prakrit grammar and linguistics too. The most important publication was a book on syntax, Compositum und Nebensatz, Studien ueber die indogermanische Sprachentwicklung ("Compound and Subordinate Clauses. Studies in the Development of Indo-European Language"), Bonn, 1897.

In middle age Jacobi turned to the Epics and poetry. He wrote Das Ramayana, Geschichte und Inhalt nebst Concordanz nach den gedruckten Rezensionen ("The Ramayana, history and contents with a concordance of the printed recensions"), Bonn, 1893, reprinted Darmstadt 1976. Frau-wallner who edited the reprint, remarked that some of Jacobi's theories are hasty, some correct but all are stimulating. A corresponding book on the Mahabharata appeared in 1903.

Jacobi also wrote on the theory of poetry and aesthetics. He translated Anandavardhana's difficult treatise on dhvani the soul of poetry Dhvanya-loka, Leipzig, 1903. He also wrote on the early history of Alamkara-sastra, 1930.

Among the philosophical systems of the Hindus, Nyaya and Vaisheshika appealed most to Jacobi. He also studied Yoga. In Die indische Logik, NGGW, 1901, he gave a clear account of logic, arguments, the terminology and the concept oianumana (inference). His detailed analysis of diffe­rent kinds of fallacies was useful for the interpretation of philosophical texts. In Der Ursprung da Buddhismus aus detn Samkhya- Yoga ("The origin of Buddhism from Samkhya-Yogd"), 1896, Jacobi maintained that Samkhya and Yoga concepts influenced Buddhist doctrine. Jacobi and Garbe were involved in a discussion on the character of the Bhagavadgita. Jacobi thought that theism and pantheism did not exclude each other in Indian thought. Both trends were originally represented in the Gita. Pantheism, Jacobi maintained, was derived from the Upanishads. Theistic ideas were due to the influence of Yoga. Ueber das urspruengliche Yogasystem ("On the original system of Yoga") was published in Proceedings of the Goettingen Academy, 1929 and 1930. He wrote a book on philosophy for the general reader Lichtdes Ostens ("Light from the Orient"). 1922.

Jacobi contributed many articles to "Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics". He wrote Die Gottesidee in der indischen Philosophic ("The concept of God in Indian Philosophy"). In Die Entwicklung der Gottesidee hei den Indern und deren Beweise fuer das Dasein Gottes ("The development of the concept of god among the Indians and their proofs of his existence"), 1923, Jacobi surveyed the concept of god from the Vedas to the philoso­phical systems.

A commemoration volume, edited by W. Kirfel for Jacobi's 75th birthday in 1925, contains a bibliography of Jacobi's works.


Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, India


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