The Berkeley Hindi Initiative

Hindi Yesterday – कल

Headshot of AgyeyaThe extraordinary legacy of Hindi at UC Berkeley begins in the 1950s, when renowned linguist, Prof. John J. Gumperz introduced Hindi instruction at Berkeley. Gumperz wrote extensively on South Asian sociolinguistics and also produced the first widely used Hindi-Urdu readers and instructional materials in the US. On Gumperz’s invitation one of modern Hindi’s pioneering and towering figures, Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayan, known by his nom de plume Agyeya, began teaching Hindi literature at Berkeley in 1961.

Headshot of Usha JainBy 1964, on Agyeya’s recommendation, the university hired a 21-year-old Usha Jain as Hindi instructor. Thus began a distinguished 44-year career in which Usha Jain introduced thousands of Berkeley-based students to Hindi and authored a number of definitive grammar and course books that are still in use at schools and universities around the world. Many of the current Hindi professors in the United States were her students. Agyeya also mentored Charles Roadarmel, who became Berkeley’s first tenure-track professor of Hindi. Working together they produced some notable translations, including of Premchand. Following Agyeya’s return to India in 1970, Berkeley hired Dr Karine Schomer. She served as professor of Hindi between 1974-1984 and is best known for her pathbreaking book  Mahadevi Varma and the Chhayavad Age of Modern Hindi Poetry (1983). Linda Hess, tenure-track professor of Hindi from 1986-1994, translated and published the Bijak of Kabir thus introducing a new generation to the timeless beauty and wisdom of Kabir.

Headshot of Vasudha Dalmia

Berkeley’s next professor of Hindi, Vasudha Dalmia, joined in 1998. Building on the already strong tradition of Hindi teaching and research, Vasudha Dalmia developed a robust graduate program that culminated in her students taking up top professorships in North America, Europe and India. In this way, Berkeley’s Hindi paramparā flourishes the world over. Vasudha Dalmia has published widely in literary, historical and religious studies. Her monograph The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions: Bhāratendu Hariśchandra and Nineteenth-century Banaras is a true classic and cherished by scholars of many disciplines. Professor Dalmia retired in 2012 and yet remains actively engaged with Berkeley’s Hindi program through advising, philanthropy and as a member of the Hindi Board of Trustees. Following Professor Dalmia’s retirement, Vasudha Paramasivan—whose work primarily focused on Śrī Rāmacaritamānasa of Tulsidas—occupied the Hindi Literature position until 2019.

Hindi Today – आज 

Headshot of Rahul Parson

Each year, Berkeley’s Hindi program benefits approximately 90 undergraduate students. These students come from a variety of backgrounds, including heritage learners from across California and the United States, international students (mostly from South Asia), and students interested in some aspect of Hindi’s cultural, religious or historical traditions. The latter often are graduate students who will go on to careers in academia, journalism, public health, or public policy.

Headshot of Nora Koa

Today, Berkeley continues the finest traditions of Hindi language and literature training in North America with two recent additions to the silsilā. Dr. Nora Koa (hired in 2018), has taught in Europe, India, and now Berkeley, and maintains an active research profile focused on early modern languages and literatures of North India, and modern Theravada Buddhism. In 2021 Berkeley hired Dr Rahul Parson to teach the content courses in Hindi Studies. Rahul Parson, himself a product of the UC Berkeley combination of Usha Jain and Vasudha Dalmia, splits his research interests between contemporary Hindi novels (particularly women’s writing), Braj Bhasha poetry, and seventeenth-century Jain literature. Together, Parson and Melnikova endeavor to bolster all things Hindi at UC Berkeley through translation projects, conferences, and special events.

Hindi Tomorrow – कल 

In order to safeguard this august legacy, and continue our vital work, we are turning to the community of Hindi lovers and well-wishers. The Institute for South Asia Studies at Berkeley invites contributions to support Hindi Studies and related activities on campus. There are several ways to get involved. Foremost among them is through our recently created Board of Trustees for the Hindi Studies program. By joining the Board of Trustees for Hindi Studies, one joins a team of committed alumni and supporters who recognize the importance of preserving Hindi language studies for current and future generations of students. Donor generosity ensures Hindi’s continued instruction at Cal and helps us in our ongoing efforts to grow other parts of our Hindi-related ecosystem, especially the Dalmia Fund (which supports graduate fellowships and training), the Premchand Research Scholarship (which supports a single student in Hindi-focused research or archival work in India every summer), and our regular stream of Hindi-related talks and public events on campus. Board members will be presented with an annual report on the state of Hindi instruction by our Hindi professor, Dr. Rahul Parson, and our Hindi lecturer, Dr. Nora Melnikova. They will be invited to return to campus to meet some of our Hindi-studying students, attend a Hindi class (or more, if they’d like), and be hosted, along with the other trustees, for lunch at the Berkeley Faculty Club. Board members will be publicly acknowledged for their generous support in our monthly e-news digest, Aaj Kal, as well as in our annual newsletter, Khabar.