‘LP Tessitori’s contribution in chronicling the language and literature of Rajasthan, and in Indian archaeology is unparalleled’

Eminent journalist Om Thanvi discusses how the Italian Indologist and linguist shone a spotlight on the documentation of Rajasthan’s rich bardic lore and prehistoric ruins of Kalibangan in the dialogue series organised by the Raza Foundation.

New Delhi, Sept 14: What Luigi Pio Tessitori managed to accomplish in his tragically short life is perhaps the work of a lifetime. The Italian Indologist and linguist’s painstaking research accumulated a wealth of data on Rajasthan’s folk literature and paved the way for the discovery of the Indus Valley Civilization site of Kalibangan, according to leading journalist Om Thanvi.

At a talk organised by the Raza Foundation as part of its Art Matters series last evening, Thanvi, known for his travelogues, critical essays and environmental engagements, spoke of “Kalibanga Ka Anveshi”, in a biographical sketch that shone a light on the many dimensions of Tessitori’s scholarship.

Not many Indians know of this quiet and erudite young man, who developed a fascination for Indian languages during his student days in Italy, came to India in the early 20th century and made extraordinary contributions to academic research in Indology in mere five years of his stay before his untimely demise at the age of 32, due to Spanish influenza in 1919.

Thanvi explained how Tessitori’s journey from Italy to India in 1914 was fuelled by his deep scholarship in Indian languages such as Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit, he had mastered at the University of Florence. Invited by George Grierson (who conducted the Linguistic Survey of India), the young Italian undertook the ambitious task of documenting the oral and written chronicles of the states of Jodhpur and Bikaner, as a scholar of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta. 

Tessitori’s demanding explorations of Rajasthan’s bardic traditions were also stimulated by the idea of reconstructing the region’s history through them. “It was a mere five and half years that Tessitori spent in the Rajputana region. In this short span, his work in the fields of Dingal and Pingal, ancient languages used in Rajasthan’s folk literature, was phenomenal. He worked hard to accumulate and verify several folk manuscripts from remote corners of the region,” said Thanvi.

The Indologist’s linguistic investigations led him to come out with the critically-edited and authentic version of the poem Krishan Rukmani Ri Veli by Prithvi Raj Rathod, an important writer of Charan style. “In his commentaries, Tessitori recognised that Krishan Rukmani Ri Veli occupied a superior position in the Rajasthani literary cannon,” he said.

Thanvi discussed how Tessitori’s work with Sir John Marshall of the Archaeological Survey of India opened new frontiers in the discovery of the Indus Valley civilisation sites in the state, at a later date.  Despite not being a trained archaeologist, Tessitori undertook several taxing expeditions on a camel, across the rough terrains of Rajasthan, notably Kalibangan, to survey its ancient mounds or theris and study inscriptions.

“If one thinks about it, Tessitori had already discovered Kalibangan, an Indus Valley civilisation site, even if he was not able to come to a conclusive decision. He even noted in his report that these ancient mounds contained ‘vestiges of a very remote, if not prehistoric antiquity,’” said Thanvi.

Thanks to Tessitori’s work, today we know Kalibangan as a major site of the Indus Valley Civilisation characterised by its unique fire altars and the world's earliest attested ploughed field.


In the words of the Raza Foundation’s Managing Trustee Ashok Vajpeyi: “Raza is not only a name of an iconic artist but also an inspiring source of dreaming and imagining the true place, the future location of arts in our times.  The Raza Foundation is a way of dreaming, changing and transforming: it is an institution which believes that in our dreams begin our responsibilities.”

The Raza Foundation through its various fora such as ‘Art Matters’, ‘Art Dialogues’ and many annual memorial lectures endeavors to make the critical and the public come together in creative interactivity. Its various journals in Hindi and English also aim at discovering a discerning audience, a vulnerable readership for both the latest in the arts as well as the more enduring.

There is perhaps no single institution other than Raza Foundation which covers so many diverse forms of creative expression in our times, namely visual arts, poetry, classical music, classical dance, cinema, architecture, photography, crafts and ideas. Apart from direct interactions through talks, seminars, panel discussions, festivals, publications etc., the Raza Foundation supports a lot of innovative or preservative initiatives taken by other individuals and institutions.


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