In Memoriam: Prof.dr. Henk Bodewitz (1939-2022)
On August 18, 2022, Henk Bodewitz, distinguished Indologist and emeritus professor of Sanskrit at Leiden University, passed away in his hometown of Utrecht.
Between Utrecht and Leiden
Hendrik Wilhelm Bodewitz was born in Gramsbergen in 1939. He studied Classical Languages and Indo-Iranian Languages and Cultures at Utrecht University, where he completed his PhD research in 1973 under the renowned Indologist Jan Gonda. From 1966 to 1968 he was assistant professor at Utrecht University, and from 1969 to 1976 associate professor at Leiden University. In 1976 Bodewitz returned to Utrecht. He was appointed professor of Sanskrit and Indo-European Languages, succeeding his teacher Gonda. He held this position until 1992, the year in which Indology in Utrecht was merged with Leiden. The merger led to his return to Leiden University, where he was appointed professor of Sanskrit, from 1992 to 2002. Thanks to Bodewitz, the study of South Asia, in particular that of Sanskrit and the ancient cultures of South Asia, is still flourishing in Leiden.
Henk Bodewitz’s scientific work was devoted to the study of Vedic literature and the culture expressed in it. His dissertation, entitled Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa I, 1-65: translation and commentary, with a study: Agnihotra and Prāṇāgnihotra (1973), concerns, as the title suggests, a detailed philological study of a Vedic text on the fire offering (agnihotra). The strong philological character of Bodewitz’s work is also apparent from titles such as The daily evening and morning offering (Agnihotra) according to the Brāhmaṇas (1976), The Jyotiṣṭoma ritual: Jaiminīya Brāhmaṇa I, 66-364 (1990), and Kauṣītaki Upaniṣad: translation and commentary with an appendix Śāṅkhāyana Āraṇyaka IX-XI (2002). Particularly striking is the attention to detail, and the empathetic nature of his work, based on the conviction that Vedic culture should be understood first and foremost from within, without an imposed theoretical framework from the outside. This also comes through in his last work, a collection of previous studies on Vedic cosmology and ethics (Vedic Cosmology and Ethics, 2019), published by Brill in the Gonda Indological Studies.
Director and Editor
Besides being an academic and teacher, Henk Bodewitz was also a committed director and editor. For several years he was dean of the Faculty of Arts at Utrecht University and chairman of WOTRO Science for Global Development (NWO). In 1987 he was appointed as a member of the Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW), where he also performed board work. From 1990 to 2002, Bodewitz was editor of the renowned Indo-Iranian Journal. He also founded the Gonda Indological Studies book series in 1993. Both are still connected to Leiden University.
Henk Bodewitz had a strong personality, a good dose of humor, and he did not mince his words. A quote from his farewell speech as professor of Sanskrit at Leiden University (De late ‘ontdekking’ van het Sanskrit en de Oudindische cultuur in Europa, 2002) is illustrative: “someone who has continuously switched from one side to the other with the flexibility of an Afghan (from Utrecht to Leiden, from Leiden to Utrecht, from Utrecht to Leiden) should not complain.”
Henk Bodewitz died in Utrecht, three weeks after his wife Janneke. They are survived by their two children, Jord and Wanda, and two grandchildren, Soesja and Kai.
A biography with bibliography can be found on the website Dutch Studies on South Asia, Tibet and classical Southeast Asia, which can be accessed via this link.
Text: Peter Bisschop, Professor of Sanskrit and Ancient Cultures of South Asia, Leiden University