Tributes to the Eminent Indologist Prof. Frits Staal

published on February 21, 2012

Eminent Indologist Johan Frederik (Frits) Staal passed way on February 19th Sunday at his home town in Chiangmai, Thailand. He was 82. Stall born in Amsterdam was one of the first Foreign Vedic scholar who fully appreciated the power of Vedic rituals and Vedic chantings.
After completing his studies at Amsterdam he came to India and studied Sanskrit from Chennai and Banaras.

Staal’s specialized in the study of Vedic ritual and mantras, and the scientific exploration of ritual and mysticism. He is also a scholar of Greek and Indian logic and philosophy and Sanskrit grammar. In 1975, a consortium of scholars, led by Staal, documented the twelve-day performance, in Kerala, of the Vedic Agnicayana ritual. He literally organised the Athiratram in 1975 through grants and donations from institutions such as Harvard University and Smithsonian Institution.In 2011, he travelled all the way down to Panjal in Kerala forgetting his age old ailments to be part of it as well. Dr. Staal commented in April 2011 on witnessing Athirathram in Panjal after 35 years. “It is a great pleasure for me to be back in Trichur as I have always called it since I was a student at the University of Madras in the 1960’s.  It has remained what it was then: a city of culture with active citizens, a brilliant example of intelligentsia,” he said, addressing a special lecture on ‘A Theory of Ritual’ at Brahmaswam Madham in Thrissur, Kerala, during the Panjal Athirathram 2011.

The details that he garnered from his interaction with the scholars during Athiratram went into a two-volume book on Athirathram, ‘Agni – The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar’.He also studied the application of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy in this complex ritual.

“Over the decades, while I penetrated the riches of their Vedic heritage, I made many Namboodiri friends and came to know them better. I have found them sincere, straightforward and disciplined. After initial reluctance, they are eager to explain the intricacies of their recitations, chants and ceremonies. They never claim knowledge that they do not possess. They will not preach or become pompous. They will express no interest in going to the U.S. Though no longer averse to modernisation, they remain attached to their simple habits,” Staal observed.

“While pyramids, temples, cathedrals, and skyscrapers were built and fell into decay, languages and religions came and went, and innumerable wars were fought, the vedas and their ritual continued to be transmitted by word of mouth, from teacher to pupil, and from father to son.” -“What a triumph of human spirit over the limitations of matter and the physical body,” He Wrote!.

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