CSOMA DE KŐRÖS, Alexander (Kőrösi Csoma Sándor). Kőrös, Kovászna, Transylvania (now Chiuruş, Covasna in Romania) 27.3.1784 — Darjeeling 11.4.1842. Hungarian Tibetologist, in Ladakh and India 1822-42. Born of poor parents, András Csoma and Krisztina Getse (Ilona Göcz), belonging to the military nobility known as Székely. Birth year sometimes given as 1787 and 1788, but usually 1784; Háromszék (then larger unit of which Covasna was part) 4.4.1784 in some sources probably refers to baptism. In the age of 15 he was sent to the Nagy-Enyed (now Aiud) College of nobility, graduated there in 1807. Learnt German, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. In 1816-18 he studied with a scholarship for learning English at Göttingen, but also Arabic under Eichhorn. After further studies of Slavonian lan­guages in Zagreb he began his great journey to the east on 30th October 1819 with the intention of finding roots of Hungarians in Central Asia or Tibet.

The journey went on: Bucureşti (1.1.1820) – Adrianopol (Edirne) – Rhodos – Alexandria – Syria – Baghdad (22.7.) – Tehran (14.10., stayed 4 months in order to learn Persian) – Meshed (1.3.1821) – Buchara (18.11.) – Kabul (6.1.1822) – Lahore (11.3.) – Kashmir (17.4.) – Leh (9.6.1822). From Leh he returned to Kashmir and met there on 16th July —> Moorcroft, who prompted him to study Tibetan and let him borrow the Alphabetum Tibetanum of Georgi. It is said that he visited Leh again with Moorcroft (but this is not possible!), spent the winter 1823 in Kashmir and returned on 1st June alone to Ladakh. Now he spent 15 months studying Tibetan and Buddhism at the monastery of Yangla in Zangskar. In fall 1824 he came through Kulu to British territory (Subathu 26.11.) and in 1825 obtained a salary (50 Rs. a month) from Indian government for his Tibetan studies. In 6th June again left Subathu for Ladakh, arrived on 12th August in Tisa in Zangskar. Now studied 18 months at the monastery of Pukdal. In January 1827 he returned with a collection of books to Subathu, in summer again back to Ladakh, where he now studied in the monasteries of Yangla and Kanum.

In April 1831 CdK arrived at Calcutta and in summer was granted, on recommendation of Wilson, a salary of 100 Rs. With this he concentrated on his literary and philological work. The grammar and dictionary of Tibetan were finished in 1832 and published in 1834. In Calcutta he lived an extremely ascetic life. He was not drinking, not smoking, and rarely meeting people. In addition to his former Hebrew, Croatian, Russian, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Tibetan, he learned now Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, and Sanskrit. In 1835-37 he stayed in Sikkim. In May 1838 he became the Librarian of the Asiatic Society.

After having finished his obliged studies in Calcutta he decided to return to Hungary and go on with his studies there. Before this he intended to visit Lhasa. After leaving Calcutta he arrived in Darjeeling on 24th March, got a fever and died in a few weeks. Although his own intention, to find the origins of Hungarians, was a total failure, with his scrupulous method of work CdeK became the great pioneer of Tibetan studies. He was the first Western scholar who really knew Tibetan language and religion well, and in his painstaking works gave his knowledge to others. Soon after his death he was already much honoured for this, and with time the honour grew, to some extent because of the effort of his landsman in India —> Duka, to a kind of cult. The culmination of this was seen in 1933 in Japan, when CdeK was canonized as a Bodhisattva.

Publications: With H. H. Wilson: “Abstract of the Contents of the Dul-va”, JASB 1, 1832, 1-8.

A Grammar of the Tibetan Language. 256 p. Calcutta 1834.

Essay towards a Dictionary, Tibetan and English. 373 p. Calcutta 1834.

– “Analysis of the Dulva”, As. Res. 20, 1836, 41-93; “Analysis of the Sher-Chin-P’hal-Ch’en-Dkon-Séks-Do-Dé-Nyáng-Dás and Gyut”, As. Res. 20, 1836, 393-552; “Abstract of the contents of the Bstan-hgyur”, As. Res. 20, 1836, 553-585 – these three transl. into French by L. Feer, “Analyse du Kandjour. Recueil des livres sacrés du Tibet par Alexandre Csoma de Körös. Traduite de l’anglais et augmentée de diverses additions et remarques”, A.M.G. 2, Lyon 1881, 131-559; Analysis of the Kanjur. 7+281 p. Bibl. Indo-Buddh. 2. Delhi 1982 (four articles from As. Res. 1836 reprinted).

– “Enumeration of historical and grammatical works … in Tibet”, JASB 7, 1838, 147-1??.

Smaller articles on Tibetan geography (JASB 1832), the life of the Buddha (As. Res. 20, 1836, 285-317), Tibetan epigraphy (JASB 1836), and Buddhist sects (JASB 1838), see Tibetan Studies, being a reprint of the articles contributed to the Journal of the As. Soc. by Al. Cs. de K. Edited by E. D. Ross. 172 p. JASB 8, Extra No. Calcutta 1912.

Sanskrit–Tibetan–English Vocabulary: being an edition of the Mahāvyutpatti. Ed. by E. D. Ross. MASB 4:1-2. Calcutta 1910-11, and vol. 3 ed. by S. C. Vidyabhushan. Calcutta 1942.

J. Terjék (ed.): Collected Works of Al. Cs. de Kőrös. 1-4. Budapest 1984 (1. Dictionary; 2. Grammar; 3. Mahāvyutpatti; 4. Tibetan Studies [from As.Res. & JASB]. 9+459 p.).

Sources: autobiography in JRAS 1, 1834, 128-133; *E. Baktay, “New data concerning the life of Al. C. de K.”, JASB 3:23:2, 1957, 11-19; Barthelemy St. Hilaire, JS 1887, 673-686; Bethlenfalvy 1980, 7-12; *A. Campbell, JASB 11, 1842, 303-308; *id. & Lloyd, JASB 14, 1845, 823-827; Th. Duka, JRAS 1884, 486-494; *L. Feer, JA 8:6, 1885, 384-394; *Th. Pavie, Revue des deux mondes 19, 1847 (on his own meeting with CdK); *L. Petech, “Ippolito Desideri, Al. CdeK, Giuseppe Tucci”, AOHu 43, 1989, 155-161; *H.G. Rawlinson, “Cs. de K.”, Indian Art and Letters 19, 1945, 6 pages; *J. de Somogyi, “Al. Cs. de K.”, JRAS 1935, 233-237; Wikipedia with two portraits (drawing and bust).

*B. Le Calloch; “Les biographes d’Alexandre Csoma de Kőrös”, JA 272, 1984, 403-423; “La littérature orientaliste de la langue française et Alexandre Csoma de Kőrös. Essai de bibliographie”, JA 276, 1988, 189-200; “Alexandre Csoma de Kőrös vu par H. C. Rawlinson”, AOHu 57, 2004, 205-223; “Un passage du récit de voyage de Joseph Wolff relatif à CdeK”, AOHu 45, 1991, 133-148 & *“Une curieuse affaire: l’allocation de la Société Asiatique du Bengale à Al. CdeK”, AOHu 46, 1992.93, 289-298 & a series of articles about his voyages in Studia Asiatica (Bucharest), 1, 2000, 149-174, 2, 2001, 73-140, 3, 2002, 83-177, 4-5, 2003-04, 749-769 & 6, 2005 & “Kanam, le village d’Al. CdeK, d’après Werner Hoffmeister”, AOHu 57, 2004, 329-362.

*E. Baktay, *Un grand tibétain hongrois. 1983 (Hungarian original: Kőrösi Csoma Szandor. 267 p. Budapest 1962, cf. BSOAS 26, 1963, 203f.; there is also an earlier life by Baktay publ. in 1942); *Th. Duka, Life and Works of Alexander Csoma de Körös. 7+234 p. L. 1885 (also in Hungarian 1885); *Edw. Fox, The Hungarian who walked to heaven. Alexander Csoma de Koros 1784–1842. 96 p. L. 2001; *L. Ligeti (ed.), Tibetan and Buddhist Studies Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Al. Cs. de Kőrös. 1-2. 387+440 p. Bibl. Or. Hung. 29. Budapest 1984; *H.N. Mukerjee, Hermit-hero from Hungary, Alexander Csoma de Koros, the great Tibetologist. N.D. 1981; *G. Tucci, Alessandro Csoma de Körös / Kőrösi Csoma Szandor. 20 p. Universitas Francisco-Josephina Acta Philosophica i. Kolozsvár 1942 (in Italian and Hung.); *S.K. Vij & G. Bethlenfalvy (edd.), A.CdeK (1784-1842), Pioneer of Oriental Studies in Hungary. N.D. 1992; *Gy. Wojtilla, A list of words Sanskrit and Hungarian by A. Cs. de K. 90 p. Budapest 1984.

In Hungarian: *G. Kara, Kőrösi Csoma Sándor. 210 p. Budapest 1970 (cf. AOHu 26, 1972, 158f.); *F. Szilágyi, Kőrösi Csoma Sándor hazai útja. 91 p. Budapest 1966 (cf. AOHu 19, 1966, 376f.); *J. Terjék, Kőrösi Csoma dikumentumok az Akadémiai Könuvtár gűjteményeiben. Budapest 1976; more references in Hungarian Wikipedia and in Puskás 1991, 63ff.

Bust also e.g. in JASB 7, 1911, bust and A. Schoeff’s lithography in Bethlenfalvy 1980, statue as Bodhisattva in Peiris.


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