Representations of Indian ascetics: from Johann Martin Honigberger’s memoir to early twentieth century Romanian newspapers and journals




Indian ascetics, East-European travellers, Johann Martin Honigberger, Romanian periodicals


In recent times, Indian ascetics have become pop icons due to the influence of visual entertainment media. Outside their country of origin, they are often negatively stereotyped to foster derogatory understandings of the Others and their cultures. In this paper, we will focus on representations of Indian ascetics. Starting with their early depictions in the memoir of the Transylvanian physician Dr Honigberger, we will examine their representations in Romanian newspapers and journals. In order to account for Romanian interest in ascetics from a faraway land, this paper will take into consideration the historical developments that led to the growth of European interest in them. Through a comparison between nineteenth century British (Osborne 1840) and East-European (Honigberger 1851, 1852) writings on Indian ascetics, we will try to understand whether conceptualization of Indian ascetics in Romanian-speaking territories differed in any way from that of the British colonizers in India. The paper will then move on to examine how the Romanian press conceptualized these ascetics. Evidences point to the fact that the Romanian press became interested in Indian ascetics, erroneously generalized as fakirs, from ca. 1900 to 1940. Analysing Romanian journal and magazine articles on Indian fakirs, which till now remain untranslated into English, this article will try to show how the Romanian press conceived of the ascetics of a faraway country. Our research methodology is based on text analysis, relying on a broader cultural perspective. For the purpose of this paper, we have selected a series of article samples, taking into consideration diversity in terms of regions (southern Romania and Transylvania), as well as the most relevant period (1906-1935). The interest in Indian sadhus and their doings basically emerged starting with the mid-nineteenth century. Yet over the following decades accounts have changed in terms of focus. While nineteenth century authors were primarily concerned with the physical aspects of their work, texts written in the first decades of the twentieth century suggest that journalists and writers generally looked at the more surprising and entertaining side of fakirs’ actions. Finally, the paper suggests why Romanian press lost interest in Indian ascetics after the 1940s.

Author Biographies

Ayusman Chakraborty, Taki Government College, West Bengal, India

Ayusman Chakraborty, Assistant Professor of English (West Bengal Education Service), is currently posted at Taki Government College, Taki. For his doctoral degree, Dr Chakraborty researched on the life and works of the nineteenth century colonial writer-administrator Captain Philip Meadows Taylor. He was awarded Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) in 2011 and Senior Research Fellowship (SRF) in 2014, under the West Bengal State Fellowship Scheme. In 2013, he was awarded the Sir Charles Wallace India Trust (CWIT) Research Grant to research in the UK. He is interested in British Romanticism, Colonial History, Thuggee, early twentieth century Bengali literature, and nineteenth century British expatriate literature on India. He has written one book chapter, twenty-one research articles and three book reviews till now. These have been published in various national and international journals.

Dana Radler, Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Faculty of Economic International Relations, Department of Modern Languages & Business Communication

Dana Radler completed her PhD with a thesis on Memory and Fiction in John McGahern's Works in 2015, focusing on a prominent contemporary Irish writer. Her current research topics combine memory, gender and culture in fiction as articulated components of modern societies, and occasionally aspects related to ESP practice. She has published articles in academic journals in Sweden, Poland, Turkey, India and Romania. In 2018, she was co-editor of a thematic issue of the Synergy journal (Romania), including ten contributions focusing on the theme East and West within Interdisciplinary Frames. Her first co-edited volume, entitled Panaït Istrati. Littérature et société. Panait Istrati. Literature and society, came out in 2021. At present, she is Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Business Communication at the Faculty of International Business & Economics, Bucharest University of Economic Studies.


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How to Cite

Chakraborty, A., & Radler, D. (2022). Representations of Indian ascetics: from Johann Martin Honigberger’s memoir to early twentieth century Romanian newspapers and journals. Swedish Journal of Romanian Studies, 5(2), 38–56.