Matija Murko on the first Slavic Sanskritist Majewski

Dr. Nina Petek

Among the Slavs that significantly influenced the beginnings of the formation of the scientific research of Indian literature and languages in Slavic countries, Murko emphasized the Pole Walenty Skorochód-Majewski, an archivist of the Kingdom of Poland, and his work O Slovenima i braći, which was published in 1816 in Warsaw. Murko[1] commented that the title of the work makes it hard to anticipate that the work is, virtually in its entirety, dedicated to the study of Sanskrit and Indian literature. Murko valued highly Majewski’s efforts; he described him as a person “deserving of the glory of being the first Slavic Sanskritist”,[2] since Majewski’s work established firm foundations for the further scientific research of the linguistic and literary worlds of India. Namely, Majewski did not merely string together cognates in a superficial manner, but also composed a grammar of Sanskrit, relying especially on the work of Johann Philipp Wesdin Bartholomeo, an Austrian missionary and orientalist of Croatian origins. Majewski even translated two books of the epic Rāmāyaṇa, together with a list of Sanskrit words to make reading easier.[3] In addition to this, he also translated the work Brahmavaivartapurāṇa with the added Latin translation of Adolphus Fridericus Stenzler.[4]

Walenty Skorochód-Majewski (1764–1835)

Majewski’s work was characterized by a passion for seeking comparisons between Indian and Slavic gods, beliefs and customs. In addition, his tireless search for sources – namely, he acquired all the works on the languages of Indians and Persians,[5] among others also the discussions of the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, reviews of Schlegel’s work Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier, and Bartholomeo’s Sanskrit grammar – eventually led to the theory of “the origin of Slavs on Ganges”.[6] Between 1813 and 1815 he gave many lectures on Sanskrit and Indian literature, with the common thread of Slavs and Indians originating from the same tribe. In his desire to prove the Indian ancestry of Slavs, he sacrificed all of his possessions,[7] and his studies contributed to intensifying the research on Slavic identity and nationality[8], especially in Poland. This, as Murko wrote, was not surprising, since Poles, after losing their country, idealized their history and national past[9] and leaned on the romantic image of the noble ur-nation of Slavs.

In his study, Murko added that despite the importance of Majewski’s research, the nature of the reception of India in his works was typical of Europe, namely that “in the romantic spirit, he desired to create an impression of a dark Slavic antiquity and ancient Slavic national culture”,[10] especially on the basis of linguistic relatedness. But the latter does not diminish the value and significance of his research. Namely, Murko did not only describe him as the first Pole, but also the first Slav who “included in his studies the farthest nations for his purposes”.[11]


Herling, Bradley L. The German Gita: Hermeneutics and Discipline in the German Reception of Indian Thought. London: Routledge, 2016.

Murko, Matija. »Prvi uspoređivači sanskrita sa slovenskim jezicima.« CXXXII. knjiga Rada jugoslavenske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti, str. 103–115.

Petek, Nina. Bhagavadgita: onkraj vezi, tostran svobode. Maribor: Založba Pivec, 2022. Sharpe, Eric J. The Universal Gita: Western Images of the Bhagavad Gita a Bicentenary Survey. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Co., 1985.

[1] Ibid.

[2] Ibid., 107.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 108.

[5] Ibid., 107.

[6] Ibid., 108.

[7] Ibid., 107.

[8] Ibid., 108. Majewski’s research also influenced the intellectuals in Prague, where some of his theories were also negatively received. Josef Dobrovsky was especially critical of Majewski, negating his hypotheses of the common origin of Slavs and Indians. But Dobrovsky, in Murko’s words, “had no romantic sensibilities” (ibid., 106).

[9] Ibid., 105.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 105, 106.