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Asko Parpola

Asko Heikki Siegfried Parpola
Born July 12, 1941, Forssa

Master of Arts 1963, Licentiate 1966, PhD 1968 (Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European linguistics), University of Helsinki

Emeritus professor and docent in Indology, University of Helsinki 2005–
Research Fellow 1968–72, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS), Copenhagen
Acting professor of Sanskrit and comparative Indo-European linguistics 1972, University of Gothenburg
Research Fellow 1972–74, Humanities Research Council of the Academy of Finland
Senior Research Fellow 1974–1981, Humanities Research Council of the Academy of Finland
Acting professor of comparative religion 1977, University of Helsinki
Professor of Indology (personal chair), University of Helsinki 1982–2004
Visiting scholar 1987, Churchill College, University of Cambridge 1987
Visiting scholar 1999, Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University 1999
Visiting scholar 2006, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto
Hermann Collitz Professor, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Linguistic Society of America/Stanford University 2007

Research themes
Vedic research (the Veda is India’s oldest known literature and religion)
The riddles of the Indus Civilization: writing, language and religion
The prehistory of Aryan languages in the light of archaeology and historical linguistics

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Awards and special achievements
University of Helsinki Master’s Thesis Prize 1963
First Class Knight of the White Rose of Finland 1990
Alfred Kordelin Foundation lifetime achievement award 2003
Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland
M. Karunanidhi Classical Tamil Award 2009
Honorary member of the American Oriental Society
Indian Presidential Citation of Honour in Sanskrit Studies 2015

Photo: Juri Ahlfors
Written by Asko Parpola, (Olli Siitonen ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

Kerala’s rich cultural tradition

Isolated by mountains, the densely forested state of Kerala, on the southern tip of India, has preserved its cultural traditions in all their authenticity and immense richness. In addition to well-known kathakali dance-drama, the Kerala Folk arts directory lists one hundred performance genres, of which Northern Kerala’s teyyam dance, with its amazing costumes and ordeals by fire, is particularly impressive.

Teyyam dancers, Kerala, 1997 © Jyrki Lyytikkä.

The large devotional images of gods made on the floor with colour powders are also spectacular. The tradition connected to these pictures is addressed by my students Jussi Nyblom and Salla Kokkonen in their Master’s theses. The photographer Jyrki Lyytikkä was with me recording such kaḷam paintings and other things when, in 1997, I was tracing the gods of black magic. My student Henri Schildt wrote his doctoral dissertation in 2004 on Kerala architecture: The traditional Keralan manor (2012).

a colour powder painting of the goddess Bhadrakali, Kerala 1997 © Jyrki Lyytikkä.

Kerala is one of those rare areas where the great 3000-year-old Vedic rituals have survived as a living tradition. In 1975 I participated in a project led by Frits Staal to document a two-week long soma sacrifice with its 1000-brick altar of fire. The result, in addition to a documentary film, was a 10-kilogram colossus of a book: Agni (1983). Domestic Vedic rituals have been preserved throughout India, but the traditions of the Jaiminīya school of the Sāmaveda only in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In 1983 and 1985, I documented these through photographs, video and through interviews (the majority of which are still unpublished). My wife, Marjatta Parpola, collected artefacts for the National Museum of Finland and researched cultural change from the perspective of our host family, which resulted in the book Kerala Brahmins in transition (2000). Klaus Karttunen was with us in 1985, and he completed his Licentiate degree on a manual for domestic rituals

Opening rite beginning study of the Veda, Kerala 1983 © Marjatta Parpola.


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