In one of his rare interviews, given to Mare, Weekly Magazine of the University of Leiden (7-11-2002), on the occasion of his Valedictory Lecture, Hendrik (Henk) Wilhelm Bodewitz defined his own professional career as moving to and fro between Utrecht and Leiden “with the flexibility of an Afghan.” This oneliner is worth quoting, since it illustrates two features that characterize Henk Bodewitz as I know him: his professorship in Leiden without renouncing his loyalty to Utrecht, and his humour.
To begin with the second. Though Henk counts among the best students of J. Gonda (Utrecht) and served under F.B.J. Kuiper (Leiden), the two giants of Dutch indology of the 20th century whom he eventually succeeded, he surpassed both by adding humour to the serious business of the teaching of Sanskrit and Vedic religion. Aṭṭahāsa reverberated through academic meetings and in formal gatherings when Henk performed. And just as in the case of his divine counterpart Śiva Aṭṭahāsa, this laughing occasionally has a sardonic ring. Meetings with Henk Bodewitz are clear of tedium and this unique quality has brightened up academic events that were anything but frivolous.
This brings me to the first point. In 1973, while he was associate professor at Leiden University, Henk earned his doctorate under Jan Gonda in Utrecht, where he earlier had studied Sanskrit. His thesis, Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa I, 1–65, was published by Brill (Leiden) in the series Orientalia Rheno-Traiectina. In 1976 he succeeded Gonda to the chair of Sanskrit and Indo-European linguistics at the University of Utrecht. Henk published his study, The daily evening and morning offering (Agnihotra) according to the Brāhmaṇas (Leiden: Brill 1976), and established his reputation as a foremost scholar in the field of the Vedic Brāhmaṇa literature. It was in this capacity that I met him at cheerful indological meetings, such as the IVth World Sanskrit Conference in Weimar in 1979, where I came to know him better (and he me).
Soon these academic meetings, however, were overshadowed by the pending reorganization of Sanskrit studies in the Netherlands. Henk became dean of the Faculty of Arts, 1980–1982, and again in 1984–1986. In that office he conducted negotiations on behalf of Utrecht, not only regarding Sanskrit, but also regarding other disciplines of the humanities whose continued existence had become subject to horse trading. These were hard and difficult years. They required not only the flexibility of the Afghan, but also his persistence.
In the 1980s, despite their turmoil, Henk Bodewitz published more than a dozen articles, while the academic tug-of-war entered its end-game. The Sanskrit final was played this time, not between Germany and the Netherlands under their captains Thieme and Gonda—one of Henk’s favourite sketches—but between the universities of Leiden and Utrecht. Utrecht was about to win, when Leiden scored in the last minute; the political decision was taken that Utrecht’s Sanskrit department should merge into that of Leiden. In 1992 Henk became professor of Sanskrit at the University of Leiden.
The new order of the Dutch Sanskrit world offered new opportunities. In the very year that Utrecht indology moved to Leiden, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences established the J. Gonda Fund, the legacy of Jan Gonda who had died in 1991. Henk, who is a member of the Royal Academy since 1987, became its chairman. Together we developed the plan to start a new indological series under the auspices of the Gonda Foundation; this became the start of the twin series, Gonda Indological Studies (GIS) based in Leiden under the editorship of Henk Bodewitz and Groningen Oriental Studies, which had been founded by me in Groningen in 1986. To date 18 volumes have appeared in the GIS and it might be appropriate to say that the Gonda Foundation proved to be a boon in a period in which Sanskrit studies in the Netherlands went through a financially and structurally difficult patch.
As a Vedic scholar of distinction, Henk Bodewitz continued his Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa studies, which resulted in The Jyotiṣṭoma ritual: Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa I, 66–364 (Leiden: Brill 1990), followed by another stream of articles. A selection of these essays the reader will find in this book, but it should be noted that books and articles are just one part of Henk’s contribution to the world of Sanskrit studies.
Henk loves polemics. This characteristic was brought to bear in the years of academic trouble, not to everyone’s delight, and it finds lasting expression in dozens of scholarly reviews. These reviews have appeared in a wide range of learned periodicals, among which the Indo-Iranian Journal, the journal of which Henk was one of the editors-in-chief during the period of 1990 to 2002—first together with its founder J.W. de Jong, since 1996 with the latter’s successor O. von Hinüber.
After his retirement in 2002 Henk Bodewitz remained professionally active and loyal to his students and former colleagues, whom he has helped in numerous ways.
I myself had the honour of launching another of his books at the occasion of his academic farewell in the Great Auditorium of the University of Leiden: Kauṣītaki Upaniṣad, translation and commentary (Groningen: Forsten 2002). A verse in this Upaniṣad had been the subject of Henk’s very first article (1969), “Der Vers vicakṣaṇād ṛtavo”; the following 33 years of Vedic study allowed him to improve significantly on the existing interpretations of this intricate text.
Henk Bodewitz’ interest shifted in later years from Vedic cosmology to ethics, as the essays included in this book show. The concluding paper of this volume, “Vedic terms denoting virtues and merits,” appeared in Asiatische Studien / Études Asiatiques in 2013. I am grateful to the three former colleagues and students of Henk Bodewitz for having taken the initiative to collect a selection of his articles. It is a worthy tribute to a sukṛ́t, a scholar who has acquitted himself well of his duties and deserves the fruit of his merit.
Hornhuizen, June 12, 2018