Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan (Hindi: राहुल सांकृत्यायन) (April 9, 1893 - April 14, 1963) who is called the Father of Hindi Travel literature was one of the most widely-traveled scholars of India, spending forty-five years of his life on travels away from his home. He became a buddhist monk (Bauddha Bhikkhu) and eventually took up Marxist Socialism. Sankrityayan was also an Indian nationalist, having been arrested and jailed for three years for creating anti-British writings and speeches. He is referred as the Greatest Scholar (Mahapandit) for his scholarship. He was both a polymath as well as a polyglot.
He was born Kedarnath Pandey on 9 April, 1893 to an Orthodox Hindu- Brahmin family in Azamgarh district, in Eastern Uttar Pradesh. His father, Govardhan Pandey, was a religious-minded farmer, a typical profession of Bhumihar Brahmins, from the village Kanaila of Azamgarh district in Uttar Pradesh. His mother, Kulawanti, used to stay with her parents at the village of Pandaha, where Kedar was born. He was the eldest of four brothers. He spent part of his childhood in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states of India. As his mother died at the age of twenty-eight and his father at the age of forty-five, he was brought up by his grandmother. His earliest memories as recorded by him were of the terrible famine in 1897. At age 9, he ran away from home in order to see the world, but later returned.
Sankrityayan only ever received formal schooling at a local primary school, though he later studied and mastered numerous languages independently, as well as learned photography.
His travels took him to different parts of India, including Ladakh, Kinnaur, and Kashmir. He also covered several other countries including Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Iran, China, and the former Soviet Union. He spent some years of his life in the "Parsa Gadh" village of Saran District in Bihar.The entry gate of that village is named as "Rahul Gate". While traveling, he mostly used surface transport, and he went to certain countries clandestinely, like Tibet where he went disguised as a Buddhist monk. He made several trips to Tibet and brought from there valuable manuscripts of Pali and Sanskrit, several books and paintings. Most of these formed a part of the libraries of Vikramshila and Nalanda Universities and were taken to Tibet by fleeing Buddhist monks during 12th century and onwards when the invading Muslim armies had destroyed these universities. Some accounts state that Rahul Sankrityayan employed twenty-two mules to bring back the loads of part of these materials, from Tibet to India.
In honour of him, Patna Museum, Patna, has a special section, where a number of these and other items have been displayed.
Sankrityayan was a multilingual linguist, well versed in several languages and dialects, including Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, Bhojpuri, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Tamil, Kannada, Tibetan, Sinhalese, French and Russian. He was also an Indologist, a Marxist theoretician, and a creative writer. He started writing during his twenties and had written around 150 books and dissertations covering a variety of subjects, including sociology, history, philosophy, Buddhism, Tibetology, lexicography, grammar, textual editing, folklore, science, drama, and politics, many of which were unpublished. He had translated Majjhima Nikaya from Prakrit to Hindi.
One of his most famous books in Hindi is named Volga se Ganga, meaning “(A journey) from Volga to Ganga” and is an attempt to present a fictional account of migration of Aryans from the steppes of the Eurasia to regions around the Volga river; then their movements across the Hindukush and the Himalayas and the sub-Himalayan regions; and their spread to the Indo-Gangetic plains of the subcontinent of India. The book begins from 6000 BC and ends in 1942, the year when Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian nationalist leader has given a call for quit India movement. The book is remarkable for its historical elements interwoven with fiction. This book has been translated by K.N.Muthiya-Tamilputhakalayam in Tamil language as Valgavil irundu gangai varai and is still considered a bestseller and also translated in Telugu it inspiried many Telugu people."Volga muthal Ganga vare",the Malayalam translation of this book,became immensely popular among the young intellectuals of Kerala and it continues to be one of the most influential and one of a kind hi"storic" book of its times. More than ten of his books have been translated and published in Bengali. Mahapandit was awarded Padmabhushan in 1963 and Sahitya Akademi Award in 1958 for his book Madhya Asia ka Itihaas.
He maintained daily diaries in Sanskrit which were utilized fully while writing his autobiography. In spite of profound scholarship, he wrote in very simple Hindi, so that a common man could follow. He wrote books of varied interest. He was aware of limitations of Hindi literature and singularly made up the loss in no small measure. He wrote 146 books, some of which are voluminous. Many works remain unpublished. The well known historian Kashiprasad Jaisawal compared Rahul Sankrityayan with Buddha. Rahul's personality was as impressive and memorable as are his achievements. He travelled widely and wrote in five languages-Hindi, Sanskrit, Bhojpuri, Pāli and Tibetan. His published works include autobiography, biography, travelogue, sociology, history, philosophy, Buddhism, Tibetology, lexicography, grammar, textual editing, folklore, science, fiction, drama, essays, politics, and pamphleteering.