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The First-Ever Hindi-Turkish Dictionary

Hindi and Turkish have a lot in common in terms of vocabulary. That is mainly because of the Arabo-Persian influence on both languages. As much as the Turkish language has been exposed to the Persian vocabulary, Indic languages have undergone the same route, it seems, through royal administrations, and religious and secular literature. The Turkish fans of Bollywood today are surprised when they encounter familiar words in Indian movies. Considering the geographical distance and the religious and cultural differences between Turkey and India, it is only natural that people are baffled at this lexical similarity.

However, in spite of this shared background, relations between the two cultures don’t seem to have made much progress. When you look for a dictionary of the Hindi language in Turkish, you can find only one available. I don’t know if there is a Turkish dictionary for Hindi speakers at all. There being no bidirectional Hindi-Turkish dictionary ever shows how the two cultures have not established contacts with each other to the extent that such works did not spark any interest in either country.

Ankara University has an Indian studies program, called “Hindoloji” within the body of the Faculty of Languages, History and Geography, which was established in 1935 and has since been one of the most prestigious schools in the field of philology in Turkey. In 1936, they also started the Indology department. I searched the internet for printed dictionaries in Turkish that could be of any use for the Indology students, but I could only find three;

  • The 135-page “Devanagari Alphabet and Sanskrit-Turkish Dictionary” printed by Ankara University in 1965,
  • Professor Korhan Kaya’s 305-page Sanskrit-Turkish Dictionary (2006)
  • Hindi-Turkish Dictionary written by Professor Sithalakshmi Kidambi and Professor Korhan Kaya, printed by the Turkish Language Institution (2009)

I have the second edition of this Hindi-Turkish dictionary, in the preface of which Mr. Kaya says it is the first Hindi-Turkish dictionary ever. How an Indology department functioned for decades with such limited material is beyond me. The lack of interest on the Turkish part is not surprising. Cemil Meriç, the author of “Hint Edebiyatı” (Indian Literature, first printed in 1964, also titled “Bir Dünyanın Eşiğinde”/On the Cusp of a World) complains about the Turkish apathy towards the Indian culture, later the indifference to his beloved work. 

In this book, he also expresses his discontent with the old generation Turkish intelligentsia’s complete disregard for Indian culture, giving the example of Abdülhak Hâmid, crowned the “Grand Poet” (Şair-i Âzam), who wrote in his diaries that he was very excited about seeing a coconut tree in real (“Hindistan cevizi” in Turkish, Indian walnut e.g. coconut) when he was appointed as the Ambassador to India in 1883. Just the coconut tree. Nothing about the Indian culture.

Although the Turkish educated class was generally ignorant of the Indian culture and language, one Turkish statesman was exorbitantly amazed at the Indian literature. The late politician, Bülent Ecevit, was a big admirer of Rabindranath Tagore. He translated Tagore’s Gitanjali from English to Turkish when he was 16, and he even learned Sanskrit and Bengali (mind you, not Hindi) when he was a clerk at the office of Turkish Press Attaché in London.

This far, I tried to talk about the lack of interest in a Turkish-Indian cultural exchange on the part of Turks.  I have no idea as to how the Turkish culture is received (or whether it is received at all) in India. The Hindi-Turkish dictionary provides a great deal of insight into India’s cultural background while at the same time breaking the ice for future works in the area.


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