Libmonster ID: IN-1255

T. N. ZAGORODNIKOVA, Candidate of Historical Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences

L. N. Tolstoy Keywords:M. K. Gandhi, Yasnaya Polyana, Taraknath Das, Baba Premanand Bharati, "Letter to a Hindu"

"My dear Sir!..

A close friend of mine is afflicted with leprosy. Many medications have been tried, both local and European (including hydrotherapy), but none have shown any tangible results. Some people think leprosy is incurable, and I'm afraid I'm slowly coming to the same conclusion from my own experience. At the present time, at least, it seems to me that there is no salvation either in nature or in human capabilities. In this state of despair, your name popped up in my mind, as someone whose wide range of contacts and knowledge will help, if possible, give me information about the person who knows and can perform such treatment. This, of course, is a huge blot on the vaunted progress of science in the twentieth century, if this disease really negates all the efforts and persistent research of the best minds. Can I hope to get an answer? ... " 1

Such a letter, or rather a cry for help, arrived in the winter of 1905 in Yasnaya Polyana to Leo Tolstoy from Pune (India). Why was such a request addressed to Leo Tolstoy, a Russian writer, philosopher, and religious figure, but a very distant person from science?

Leo Tolstoy's work and teaching were widely known in India. Since the 1980s, translations of all his works into European languages, including English, appeared almost immediately after their publication in Russian. How and when they reached India, and whether they all did, it is hardly possible to determine now, but a significant part of the reading public in India was familiar with the name of Leo Tolstoy and his views, not only from translations of his works and their individual editions, but also from numerous publications in Indian newspapers and magazines. Often, newspapers prefaced a quote or excerpt from the works of a Russian writer on the topic covered in a particular article. It did not look like an epigraph, but a separate paragraph, entitled: "Leo Tolstoy on...", and encouraged reading his works. The writer's works of fiction were less popular than his articles on moral, ethical, philosophical, religious topics, as well as short stories "for the people". Leo Tolstoy is one of the Russians whose name was not only known in India, but whose authority as a person close to the Indians in spirit, in his life position, was enormous. And this prompted some Indians to directly address their questions, requests, doubts and problems to the Russian sage.

The 19th and early 20th centuries are a period when a significant part of communication between people took place in writing, whether it was an invitation to dinner with a neighbor or an entire philosophical treatise. Correspondence of people of art, science, and military figures is a fascinating read. This is a piece of an era, seasoned with an individual attitude to it, and all sorts of details, "little things of life" that slip here and there, paint the image of the author and addressee of letters, and are also an excellent historical source for subsequent generations of researchers. Letters from cultural figures were usually published in the latest volumes of their collected works, but, in our opinion, the letters that came to their address were no less interesting and informative.

The epistolary legacy of Leo Tolstoy is huge: in the 90-volume Jubilee Collection of Works 2, it occupies 30 volumes (59-89 vols.), and more than 50 thousand letters addressed to him are kept in the Manuscripts Department of the State Museum of Leo Tolstoy (OR GMT) in Moscow.

In the last years of his life, he received up to 30 letters a day, about 9 thousand of them came from foreign countries. In this ocean of correspondence, 54 letters from 26 Indians and 23 replies to them are an insignificant number, but a careful study of this complex of Tolstoy's correspondence can give a lot to a researcher of Russian-Indian relations and the history of India at the end of the XIX-beginning of the XX century.

Indian letters came to Russia from all over the world: from Great Britain, South Africa, Canada, and the United States. Some of their authors have lived outside India for a long time, but all their letters are somehow connected with the problems of their homeland.

The most famous correspondence is between Leo Tolstoy and M. K. Gandhi. Lev Nikolayevich's last letter of September 7, 1910, was practically a blessing from an elderly sage to a nationalist who was beginning his political career, a fighter for Indian independence.

Gandhism-the religious and philosophical teaching of Mahatma Gandhi, the banner of the national liberation struggle of the Indian people against colonialism-was created under direct influence

page 69

ideas of Leo Tolstoy. This was recognized by M. K. Gandhi himself, and it is not forgotten in India. In 2010, a translation of the correspondence between Leo Tolstoy and M. K. Gandhi into the South Indian language Malayalam was published. But Gandhi was just one of 26 Indians who sent their letters to Yasnaya Polyana.

Another world-renowned Indian correspondent for Tolstoy was Taraknath Das, a radical nationalist who was forced to emigrate from India for his activities. His letter ended with an impassioned appeal: "With your literary works, you have brought great benefit to Russia. We implore you, if only you will have time to write at least an article about India and express your opinion about India. On behalf of millions of starving people, I appeal to your Christian soul to take up this task 3.

In response to this and other requests contained in the letters, the famous "Letter to the Hindu"was written in 1908. The Russian philosopher expressed in it his understanding of the reason for the enslavement of the Indian people by the British-the lack of true religious consciousness. A translation of the Letter into English was published by M. K. Gandhi in the January 1910 issue of the Indian Opinion magazine. Each section "Letters" was preceded by an epigraph from the book "Shree Krishna. The Lord of Love (New York, 1904) by another Tolstoy correspondent, Baba Premanand Bharati, an Indian.

The Life of Krishna (Hindu Tales), a book that included the legend of Krishna, his sayings selected by Leo Tolstoy, and his own preface, was prepared for publication by the Moscow publishing house Mediednik, but the book was never released. Baba Premanand Bharati (Surendranath Mukherjee), a Krishnaite who was one of the first people to come to the United States to spread the love of Krishna, highly valued his association with the Russian philosopher.

Not all of Tolstoy's correspondents can be identified, and not all of his letters are interesting or informative: some of them congratulate you on your anniversary, some of them ask you to send a photo or autograph, or just send money.

Lev Nikolayevich did not remain indifferent to the cry for help from Pune. According to the memoirs of the Tolstoy family doctor Dusan Petrovich Makovitsky, the conversation started on January 20, 1905. He wrote down the words of Tolstoy: "A Hindu wrote to me, he has a friend who has contracted leprosy (leprosy). He asks if I know who can take over the treatment"4. Really, what could he have done? A cure for leprosy has not yet been invented.

On the envelope of a letter from Pune, there is no L. P. Tolstoy's sweeping flourish " BO " - "no answer" (this is how letters that were not supposed to be answered were marked). Apparently, D. P. Makovitsky read the letter and wrote down its brief content: "Asks L. N. cha if he knows anyone who knows how to treat leprosy (leprosy). A. B. Kothatkar Poona City India". There was no answer to this letter, and it could not have been; it has been preserved in the archive for us, historians and literary critics, as evidence of the great popularity and authority of the Russian writer, philosopher, and religious thinker.


1 OR GMT, f. 1, on. 2, N 223/44, l. 1-2.

2 Tolstoy L. N. Polnoe sobranie sochineniy [Complete collection of works]. Anniversary edition. In 90 volumes, M.-L., 1928-1958.

3 ORGMT, f. 1, op. 1, N 1295, l. 1-3.

Makovitsky D. N. 4 In Tolstoy's Works (1904-1910). Yasnopolyanskiye zapiski, Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1979. Literary Heritage, vol. 90, Book 1, p. 145.


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