SOAS University of London

T. S. Rukmani

Profile by Matthew Clark BACK

Born in Kerala, South India, Rukmani graduated with a distinction from Delhi University in 1952, majoring in mathematics. Her father had studied Malayalam and wanted his daughter to continue higher studies in Sanskrit. Rukmani had already enrolled for an MA in mathematics but reluctantly agreed to change to an MA in Sanskrit, for which she gained a distinction and also a gold medal. Rukmani's Sanskrit studies continued at Delhi, where she was awarded a PhD in 1958 for a study of bhakti in the Bhagavata Purana. Rukmani has remarked that a training in mathematics was useful for learning the intricacies of Sanskrit grammar, a mastery of which is essential for the study of Indian philosophical texts. Her interest in philosophy was largely stimulated by a study of Sankara's Brahmasutrabhasya, under the supervision of Dr. Nigam, at Delhi University.

Rukmani was the first woman and the second person to receive a PhD in the Department of Sanskrit, since the establishment of Delhi University in 1930. In 1991 she was honoured with the highest degree of D.Litt, the first ever awarded by the Department, in recognition of a major contribution to the study of yoga philosophy, a four-volume critical translation of the Yogavarttika by Vijnanabhiksu.

From 1964 to 1981 Rukmani was Lecturer and Senior Lecturer in Sanskrit in Indraprastha College at Delhi. During this time her scholarship was acknowledged by the Smedley International Fellowship, whose award in 1972 enabled her to study comparative philosophy at Toronto University, under the guidance of the world-renowned philosopher, the late Prof. B.K. Matilal. In 1989 she was awarded a prestigious fellowship at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla, India. Between 1981 and 1993 she held administrative posts at the University of Delhi, as Director of the Women's Education Board (1981-1982), and Principal of Miranda House (1982-1993). In 1993 Rukmani became Professor and Head of Department of Hindu Studies and Indian Philosophy, at the University of Durban Westville, Durban, South Africa, a post she occupied until December 1995. Since 1996 she has been Professor and Chair of Hindu Studies, at Concordia University, in Montreal, Canada.

Over the course of her career Rukmani has published ten books (which includes the four-volume annotated English translation of Vijnanabhiksu's Yogavarttika), twenty-three articles, and contributed to a dozen other publications, including articles on yoga in the Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies, on Patanjali and on Panduranga Sastri Athavale in the forthcoming Encyclopaedia of Hinduism, and on 'The Concept of the Self in Hindu Thought', in the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, published in 1998. While her main work has been on the philosophies of Samkhya-Yoga, and Sankara's Advaita Vedanta, she has also written on folk traditions in the Mahabharata in South India, Kalidasa and Shakespeare, women in the Bhagavata Purana, environmental ethics in Sanskrit sources, Mahatma Gandhi and women, Vedanta and the bhakti traditions, and religious consciousness. She has recently edited a volume on the Hindu diaspora and completed a two-volume translation of the Yogasutrabhasyavivarana. In this study the Yogasutras of Patanjali, the Bhasya of Vyasa on the Yogasutras, and the Vivarana of Sankara have all been brought together, for the first time in one work. A critical examination of the texts provides a solution to the vexed problem of the authorship of the Yogasutrabhasyavivarana. The evidence points to Vacaspati Misra. Another of her current research projects is a textual and ethnographic study of renunciation in Hinduism.

Rukmani has been a member of numerous academic boards and committees, some concerned with Sanskrit studies, others related to education, drugs and associated problems, ethics and culture, and women's studies and publications. She was President of the University Women's Association of Delhi for two years and was a member of the Fellowship Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, for three years. She is currently on the Consultative Committee of the International Association for Sanskrit studies. Besides academic interests and committee work, Rukmani has also participated as director and as an actor in dramatic productions.

While Rukmani's meticulous scholarship and wide-ranging knowledge of the Hindu spiritual and religious tradition is apparent in her numerous publications, her work on so many committees testifies to her active humanitarian concerns in many areas of cultural and educational life.

Matthew Clark is a research student in the Department of the Study of Religions at SOAS, under the supervision of Dr Julia Leslie. Matthew (mclark@mistral.co.uk) is researching renunciation in Hinduism.