Sándor Kőrösi Csoma bigraphy, stories - Linguists

Sándor Kőrösi Csoma : biography

March 27, 1784 - April 11, 1842

Sándor Csoma de Kőrös () (March 27, 1784? – April 11, 1842), born Csoma Sándor (Csoma being the family name), also transcribed as Alexander Csoma de Kőrös, was a Hungarian philologist and Orientalist, author of the first Tibetan-English dictionary and grammar book. He was called Phyi-glin-gi-grwa-pa in Tibetan, meaning "the foreign pupil" and was given the title of Bosatsu or Boddhisatva (Buddhist sainthood) by the Japanese in 1933. He was born in Kőrös, Grand Principality of Transylvania (today Chiuruş, Romania). His birth date is often credited as April 4, which is actually his baptism day and the year of his birth is debated by some authors to be 1787 or 1788. The Magyar ethnic group, the Széklers, to which he belonged believed that they were derived from a branch of Attila's Huns who had settled in Transylvania in the fifth century. Hoping to study the claim and to find the place of origin of the Székely-s and the Magyar-s by studying language kinship, he set off to Asia in 1820 and spent his lifetime studying the Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy. Csoma de Kőrös is considered as the founder of Tibetology. He was said to have been able to read in seventeen languages. He died in Darjeeling while attempting to make a trip to Lhasa in 1842 and a memorial was erected in his honour by the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

Works About de Kőrös

  • Life and works of Alexander Csoma de Kőrös a biography compiled chiefly from hitherto unpublished data : with a brief notice of each of his unpublished works and essays, as well as of his still extant manuscripts, Theodore Duka. London: Trübner, 1885.
  • Hermit-hero from Hungary, Alexander Csoma de Koros, the great Tibetologist, Hirendra Nath Mukerjee. New Delhi: Light & Life Publishers, 1981.
  • Alexandre Csoma de Kőrös, Bernard Le Calloch̓. Paris: La nouvelle revue tibétaine, 1985.
  • The Hungarian Who Walked to Heaven (Alexander Csoma de Koros 1784-1842), Edward Fox. Short Books, 2001.
  • A Guest of Life, a film by Tibor Szemző, 2006.
  • Zangla - Path of Csoma, a film by Zoltán Bonta, 2008.

Catalogue of the Csoma de Kőrös Collection

  • Collection of Tibetan mss. and xylographs of Alexander Csoma de Kőrös. József Terjék. Budapest : Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Könyvtára, 1976.


Memorials and honours

The grave of Csoma at Darjeeling was marked by a memorial by the Asiatic Society of Bengal. It is included in the list of monuments of historical maintained by the Archeological Survey of India (Calcutta circle). A tablet was placed by the Hungarian government with the words of Count Istvan Szechenyi : "A poor lonely Hungarian, without applause or money but inspired with enthusiasm sought the Hungarian native country but in the end broke down under the burden".

A project was been started to restore the old royal palace (Kharkongma) of Zangla where Csoma de Kőrös lived and compiled his Tibetan-English dictionary.

He was declared as a Bodhisattva (canonized as a Buddhist saint) on 22 February 1933 in Japan. A statue of him in in lotus posture by the Hungarian sculptor Géza Csorba was placed on the occasion at the shrine in the Tokyo Buddhist University. On his 200th birth anniversary in 1984, the Hungarian government released a postal stamp depicting him and his travel. In 1992 a park in his memory was opened at Tar and inaugurated by the Dalai Lama.

Works of de Kőrös

  • Essay towards a dictionary, Tibetan and English, Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1984.
  • Grammar of the Tibetan language, Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1984.
  • Sanskrit-Tibetan-English vocabulary: being an edition and translation of the Mahāvyutpatti, Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1984.


Youth in Transylvania

Csoma de Kőrös was born (Parish register record of 4 April 1784 was noted by Duka but others think this might be the baptization date and the year 1787/1788 is suggested by other authors) into a poor Székely family, as the sixth child of András Csoma and his wife, Krisztina Getse (Ilona Göcz). His name in English would be written as Alexander Csoma of Koros and in Hungarian as Kőrösi Csoma Sándor where Kőrösi means "of Koros" (i.e., a praedicatum of nobility) and alternate continental forms include "Sándor Csoma de Koros". His father served with the Székely Border Guards. His eary schooling was at the local village school. In 1799, he went to Nagyenyed (present day Aiud) to join the boarding school Bethlen Kollégium. The education was free (so called gratistae) in return for manual labor. Here he was influenced by a Professor Samuel Hegedüs. He left the school in 1807 and continued university studies, taking an interest in history, a subject made popular by Professor Ádám Herepei. In 1815 he passed the public rigorosum his studies at the Bethlen Kollégium. A scholarship allowed him to continue studies at Göttingen where he began to learn English under Professor Fiorillo. Csoma de Kőrős also came under the influence of Professor Johann Gottfried Eichhorn.

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