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India has always been a source of inspiration and wonder for the Western world. This fascination has led to a multitude of representations and interpretations of India, ranging from idealized and romanticized notions to more realistic and darker perspectives. The diversity of representations of India in Western literature is a testament to the profound interest the West has had in this country. India has been the subject of numerous studies, books, and films. It has attracted scholars in search of knowledge, adventurers seeking exploration, philosophers yearning for wisdom, writers seeking inspiration, travelers in search of marvel, and the youth in search of spirituality. In the French context, India has also sparked a special interest and there has been a fascination among French writers and intellectuals for India. Since the 18th century, India has been portrayed as an exotic and distant place, a source of inspiration and escape for French writers. During the 18th century, French Indology emerged with a growing interest in Indian culture and texts. Translations of major works, such as the Bhagavad Gita, the laws of Manu, and the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, started appearing in French. This fascination with India continued into the 19th century, with Victor Hugo being deeply captivated by India, as evidenced in several of his literary works. Victor Hugo’s monumental epics, including La Légende des siècles (The Legend of the Centuries), Dieu (God), and La Fin de Satan (The End of Satan), bear the imprint of India. Michelet, the great historian, felt stifled in the West and considered “the divine Ramayana… vast as the sea of the Indies, blessed, golden with the sun, a book of divine harmony where nothing is discordant.” It is reported that Alfred de Vigny, a 19th-century French writer and poet, was deeply fascinated by reading the Bhagavata Purana, a Hindu sacred text. Similarly, Alphonse de Lamartine, a 19th-century French poet, writer, and politician, expressed his belief that “the key to everything lies in Orientalist India.” Indeed ,the influence of India continued to permeate the 19th-century French literature. Writers such as Leconte de Lisle, Baudelaire, and numerous travelogues were marked by this influence, with Pierre Loti at the forefront.

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No Thoughts on Revisiting French Indology through Intercultural Approaches Organised by Department of French Studies Faculty of Arts Banaras Hindu University October 30th – November 1st, 2023