Monier Monier-Williams bigraphy, stories - Linguist (Sanskrit) and dictionary compiler

Monier Monier-Williams : biography

12 November 1819 - 11 April 1899

Monier Monier-Williams, KCIE (12 November 1819 – 11 April 1899) was the second Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University, England. He studied, documented and taught Asian languages, and compiled one of the most widely used Sanskrit-English dictionaries.




Monier Williams taught Asian languages at the East India Company College from 1844 until 1858, when company rule in India ended after the 1857 rebellion. He came to national prominence during the 1860 election campaign for the Boden Chair of Sanskrit at Oxford University, in which he stood against Max Müller.

The vacancy followed the death of Horace Hayman Wilson in 1860. Wilson had started the university's collection of Sanskrit manuscripts upon taking the chair in 1831, and had indicated his preference that Williams should be his successor. The campaign was notoriously acrimonious. Müller was known for his liberal religious views and his philosophical speculations based on his reading of Vedic literature. Monier Williams was seen as a less brilliant scholar, but had a detailed practical knowledge of India itself, and of actual religious practices in modern Hinduism. Müller, in contrast, had never visited India.Nirad C. Chaudhuri, Scholar Extraordinary, The Life of Professor the Right Honourable Friedrich Max Muller, P.C., Chatto and Windus, 1974, pp. 221-231.

Both candidates had to emphasise their support for Christian evangelisation in India, since that was the basis on which the Professorship had been funded by its founder. Monier Williams' dedication to Christianisation was not doubted, unlike Müller's. Monier Williams also stated that his aims were practical rather than speculative. "Englishmen are too practical to study a language very philosophically", he wrote.

After his appointment to the professorship Williams declared from the outset that the conversion of India to the Christian religion should be one of the aims of orientalist scholarship.Terence Thomas, The British: their religious beliefs and practices, 1800-1986, Routledge, 1988, pp. 85-88. In his book Hinduism, published by SPCK, he predicted the demise of the Hindu religion and called for Christian evangelism to ward off the spread of Islam.

Early life

Monier Williams was born in Bombay, the son of Colonel Monier Williams, surveyor-general in the Bombay presidency. His surname was "Williams" until 1887 when he added his Christian name to his surname to create the hyphenated "Monier-Williams".

He was educated at King's College School, Balliol College, Oxford (1838-40), the East India Company College (1840-41) and University College, Oxford (1841-44). He married in 1848. He died, aged 79, at Cannes in France.


He was knighted in 1876, and was made KCIE in 1887, when he adopted his given name of Monier as an additional surname.

Writings and foundations

When Monier Williams founded the University's Indian Institute in 1883, it provided both an academic focus and also a training ground for the Indian Civil Service. The Institute closed on Indian independence in 1947.

In his writings on Hinduism Monier Williams argued that the Advaita Vedanta system best represented the Vedic ideal and was the "highest way to salvation" in Hinduism. He considered the more popular traditions of karma and bhakti to be of lesser spiritual value. However he argued that Hinduism is a complex "huge polygon or irregular multilateral figure" that was unified by Sanskrit literature. He stated that "no description of Hinduism can be exhaustive which does not touch on almost every religious and philosophical idea that the world has ever known."

Monier Williams created a Sanskrit-English dictionary that is still in print. It is also now available on CD-ROM and as the basis of the Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon.

Published works

  • Translation of Shakuntala
  • Indian Wisdom, an anthology from Sanskrit literature (1875)
  • Modern India and Indians
  • Brahmanism and Hinduism (1883)
  • Buddhism, in its connexion with Brahmanism and Hinduism, and in its contrast with Christianity (1889)
  • Sanskrit-English Dictionary, ISBN 0-19-864308-X.
  • , Monier Monier-Williams, revised by E. Leumann, C. Cappeller, et al. not dated, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi; apparently a reprint of edition published 1899, Clarendon Press, Oxford
  • An Elementary Grammar of the Sanscrit Language (1846).
  • A Practical Grammar of the Sanskrit Language, Arranged with Reference to the Classical Languages of Europe, for the Use of English Students, Oxford: Clarendon, 1857, enlarged and improved Fourth Edition 1887
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