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, a peasant and soldier, and Krisztina Getse (Ilona Göcz), belonging to the military nobility known as Székely (Sicules). Birth year is sometimes given as 1787 and 1788, even 1789, but usually 1784; Háromszék (then the larger unit of which Kovászna was part) 4.4.1784 in some sources refers to his baptism (Le Calloch’ in RHR 1987, 357). In the age of 15 he was sent to the Nagy-Enyed (now Aiud) Calvinist college of nobility, graduated therefrom in 1807 and became teacher at the college. He learned German, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. In 1816-18 he studied with a scholarship for learning English at Göttingen, but took also theology and Arabic under Eichhorn. After further studies of Slavonian languages in Kolozsvár and Zagreb he began his great journey to the east on 30th October 1819 with the intention of finding the supposedly Hunnic roots of Hungarians in Central Asia or Mongolia.
The journey went on: Bucharest (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), mainly by foot and often with great difficulties and dangers. 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 Zangla in Zangskar (Le Calloc’h 2004, 445ff. argues that it was not a monastery). 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 he studied 18 months at the monastery of Pukdal (Phuktal). 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 Zangla and June 1827 to November 1830 Kanam in Kinnaur (here he met J. G. Gerard and Jacquemont). His main teacher was lama Sangye Phuntsok (Saṅs.rgya Phun-tshogs).
In April 1831 Csoma 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. Details of his last days are given by Campbell. Although his own intention, to find the origins of Hungarians, was a total failure, with his scrupulous method of work Csoma 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 Csoma was canonized as a Bodhisattva 22.2. by Taishō University, Tokyo.
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, a Portion of the Tibetan work entitled the Kah-Gyur”, As. Res. 20, 1836, 41-93; “Analysis of the Sher-Chin-P’hal-Ch’en-Dkon-Séks-Do-Dé-Nyáng-Dás and Gyut; being the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Divisions of the Tibetan work, entitled the Kah-Gyur”, 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??.
– “Geographical Notice of Tibet”,, JASB 1, 1832, 121-127; “Notices on the life of the Shakya, extracted from the Tibetan authorities”, As. Res. 20, 1836, 285-317; “Interpretationof the Tibetan Inscription on a Bhotian Banner”, JASB 5, 1836, 264-266; “Notices on the different Systems of Buddhism”, JASB 7, 1838, 142-157 – all republ. in 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.
– With T. H. A. Lloyd: “Note on the White Satin embroidered Scarfs of the Tibetan Priests”, JASB 5, 1836, 383f.; With W. E. Carte: “Notice of Amulets in use by the Trans-Himalayan Boodhists”, JASB 9, 1840, 904-907.
– 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; G. 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; *I. Galambos, “‘Touched a nation’s heart’: Sir E. Denison Ross and Alexander Csoma de Körös”, JRAS 21, 2011, 361-375; *Th. Pavie, Revue des deux mondes 19, 1847 (on his own meeting with Csoma); *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; “A. Cs. de K. et la théorie finno-ougrienne”, JSFOu 79, 1984, 25-46; “Un témoignage capital sur la vie d’A. Cs. de K.: Le journal de Victor Jacquemart”, AOHu 40, 1986, 249-281 & 41, 1987, 83-124; “Un témoignage sur la vie d’A. Cs. de K.: le récit du capitaine Johnson”, AOHu 41, 1987, 267-276; “A. Cs. de K. le bodhisattva hongrois”, RHR 204, 1987, 353-388; *“La littérature orientaliste de la langue française et A. Cs. de K. Essai de bibliographie”, JA 276, 1988, 189-200; “Addendum: à la liste des écrits d’A. Cs. de K.”, AOHu 42, 1988, 321-324; “Amulettes himalayennes décrites par Cs. de K.”, RHR 206, 1989, 271-282; “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; “Pourquoi A. Cs. de K. a-t-il dût fuir Boukhara en novembre 1821?”, AOHu 49, 1996, 407-421; “A. Cs. de K. vu par H. C. Rawlinson”, AOHu 57, 2004, 205-223; “Kanam, le village d’Al. Cs. de K., d’après Werner Hoffmeister”, AOHu 57, 2004, 329-362; “Sangye Phuntsog est-il allé à Lhassa en 1824–1825?”, AOHu 57, 2004, 439-455; “A. Cs. de K., le voyageur sans passeport”, AOHu 59, 2006, 95-116; 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 and elsewhere.
*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 and Le Calloc‘h, JSFOu 1984, statue as Bodhisattva in Peiris.
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