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Paul Thieme

  • West Germany / 1905-2001
  • Indologist
  • Professor Emeritus, University of Tuebingen

One of the Most Eminent Indologists of the 20th Century Who Made a Significant Contribution to the Comprehension of Indo-Aryan and the Ancient Indian Philosophy through His Detailed Studies of Vedic

Through his rigorous approach to philosophical studies, he added immensely to our knowledge of Vedic and other classical Indian literature and provided a solid foundation to the study of the history of Indian thought. He has also trained many outstanding scholars and made a profound contribution to the academic world.
*This category then was Category of Creative Arts and Moral Sciences.
*This field then was Field of Philosophy, History of Ideas (Ancient Indian and Greek).


Brief Biography

Born in Berlin, Germany
Doctor in Philosophy, Gottingen University
Lecturer, Gottingen University
Lecturer, University of Allahabad (India)
Assistant professor, Breslau University (Poland)
Professor, University of Halle
Professor, University of Frankfurt
Professor, Yale University
Professor, University of Tubingen
Professor Emeritus, University of Tubingen

Selected Awards and Honors

Foreign member of Sachsen Academy of Sciences
The Rabindranath Tagore Medal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal
Associate member of Bayern Academy of Sciences

Major Works


Panini and the Veda


Der Fremdling im Rigveda


Untersuchungen zur Wortkunde und Auslegung des Rigveda


Gedichte aus dem Rig-Veda




Kleine Schriften


One of the Most Eminent Indologists of the 20th Century Who Made a Significant Contribution to the Comprehension of Indo-Aryan and the Ancient Indian Philosophy through His Detailed Studies of Vedic

Ancient Indian thought has, in the form of Buddhism, been familiar to the Japanese since the earliest historical times. But its deepest and most venerable roots can be traced back to that great body of classical literature known as the Vedas.

Dr. Thieme has established a firm foundation for the elucidation of the Vedic texts, and has produced from among his students many outstanding scholars in fields such as Vedic studies, Indian philosophy, Sanskrit grammar, and Indo-Aryan Philology. These students have continued Dr. Thieme’s work in many nations far beyond the borders of his native Germany.

The Vedic literature which has formed the principle object of Dr. Thieme’s enquiry is important not merely from the standpoint of ideological research, but because it comprises Hinduism, Buddhism, and various other elements making up the rich tradition of Indian thought. The Vedas, the oldest of all Sanskrit literature, rank in importance with the ancient Greek classics as vital source materials for comparative linguistic studies in the Indo-European languages.

Dr. Thieme, building on his work in the Western classics and Indo-European comparative linguistics, has opened new vistas in the philological and interpretative study of Vedic literature.

Dr. Thieme’s method employs the “Wortkunde,” a German expression indicating the study of word meaning. This method involves collecting terms associated with important ideological and literary concepts from the entire range of Vedic literature, arranging them, and analyzing them according to context. This precise investigative technique enables the fundamental meanings of concepts to be clarified, and their subsequent etymological development to be traced.

Using this method Dr. Thieme has clarified the meanings of numerous important concepts, including “brahman,” the supreme principle of the universe and one of the fundamental axioms of Indian philosophy and religion, and “arya,” the name adopted by the various peoples who rose from the original Vedic culture.

Ancient Indian literature, with the Vedas at its peak, stands with the classic writings of Greece and China as part of the priceless spiritual heritage of humankind. In modern civilization we have come to rely on fossil fuels such as coal and oil for many of our material needs, but the ancient classics provide an invaluable source of “fossil fuel” to meet our spiritual needs. Correctly understood and applied, they have an enormous amount to contribute to our inner lives.

Dr. Paul Thieme’s contribution in providing a firm direction for the study of the ancient Indian classics is fully as important as any advance made in the more eye-catching fields of science and technology. His work is a priceless gift to the future of humankind.


Abstract of the Lecture


The object of my university studies (begun in 1923) was, first, Comparative Philology (of the Indo-European languages)”, involving the study of the old and sacred language of India:Sanskrit. I soon changed to “Indology”, becoming interested–chiefly and without fiving up altogether my linguistic interests–in old Indian religion (Vedism, Brahmanism), philosophy, and Sanskrit literature in general.

The character of Vedism: it is composed (like old Iranian religion) of worship of the forces and elements of nature: Dawn (Usas), Sun (Surya), Fire (Agni), Winds (Maruts) etc, called devas “the Heavenly”, and of personifications of ethical concepts: Truth (Varuna), Contract/Treaty (Mitra), Hospitality (Aryaman), Justice (Bhaga) etc., called asuras “Lords” or Adityas.

Religiously oriented search for causes and origins leads to cosmogonic questionings and speculation, finally to “Metaphysics”.

My special interest: “Philosophic hymns of the Rgveda (the oldest collection of religious poetry, from middle of 2nd millenium BC)”, dealing with cosmogonic themes. These “philosophic poems” should be interpreted as discussions where different points of view are brought forward. Examples are Rgveda 10.72 and 10.129; the latter is treated in detail. Of particular interest is here the growing philosophic scepticism, leading to the conviction that men and even gods are unable to penetrate the darkness of “the origin of the origin of creation”.

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Some Problems in Vedic Studies

November 12, 1988 13:00-17:00
Kyoto International Conference Center
Masaaki Hattori : Member, Kyoto Prize Screening Committee in Creative Arts and Moral Sciences; Professor, Faculty of Letters, Kyoto University


Opening Remarks Muneo Tokunaga
Greetings Kazuo Inamori, President, Inamori Foundation
Greetings Shunpei Ueyama, Chairman, Kyoto Prize Committee in Creative Arts and Moral Sciences; Director-General, Kyoto National Museum
Introduction of Achievement Masaaki Hattori
Lecture Paul Thieme
Laureate in Creative Arts and Moral Sciences
"On the Khilakãnda of the Satapathabrãhmana"
Chairperson Masaaki Hattori
Lecture Ryutaro Tsuchida
Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, the University of Tokyo
"On the custom of the Vedic opavasa and the origin of the Buddhist uposatha"
Chairperson Masaaki Hattori
Lecture Yasuke Ikari
Associate Professor, the Research Institute for Humanistic Studies, Kyoto University
"Some Aspects of the Idea of Rebirth in Vedic Literarure"
Closing Remarks Minoru Hara