This is a delightful short biography of an eccentric Hungarian scholar who became one of the fathers of Western studies of the Tibetan language and culture. Educated at an austere Calvinist school until aged 31 where he demonstrated exceptional skills as a linguist, Csoma de Kőrös (1784-1842) finally set out alone on a pilgrimage to the East. His personal mission was to discover the roots of the Hungarian people, whom he and others of the time theorized to be descended from Attila the Hun. Due to a Chinese decree restricting foreign entry to Tibet he was sadly never to reach Yarkand in the Western plains of China, where he hoped to find linguistic proof of the Central Asian origins of the Hungarian race. However on his way, via many adventures, misfortunes and disguises, he expanded his repertoire to as many as 14 languages, and became one of the first Europeans to enter Ladakh, Tibetan in language and culture, but politically part of India. Supported by the British vet and Superintendent of the East India Company’s Stud, William Moorcroft, Csoma was encouraged to use his extraordinary facility for languages to learn Tibetan, (largely unknown in the West), and produce the first English-Tibetan dictionary. He studied with Lama Sangye Phuntsog in a remote monastery in Zanskar. For 16 months the two men studied the Tibetan language, and its vast religious canon in austere freezing conditions in a tiny 9-foot square cell. The fruits of this arduous but pioneering effort, the first reliable grammar and dictionary of Tibetan, was finally published in two volumes in 1834 – using a Tibetan font which had to be specially made. Csoma spent the last years of his life working for the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta, mastering Marathi, Bengali and Sanskrit, before dying of malaria on a final courageous attempt to travel across Tibet to Western China. Csoma’s life-story and achievements gradually became known in Hungary, and he is now a revered national figure. A fascinating little book. The pdf contains a map of the travels of Csoma.
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