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Balliol names building after first Oxford DPhil student

Balliol College has named a new building after Dr Lakshman Sarup (1894–1946), the first student at Oxford to submit for a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) degree. Sarup was awarded the degree by Balliol in 1919 on the topic of Yaska’s Nirukta, the oldest Sanskrit treatise on etymology. Oxford began offering the DPhil degree in 1917, taking inspiration from research degrees in Germany, and Dr Sarup was one of two students to enrol for a doctoral degree in its inaugural year, the other being New Zealander James Gatenby.

Originally from Lahore, India, Sarup began his studies in his hometown, receiving an MA in Sanskrit from Lahore’s Oriental College. He travelled to Oxford on an Indian state scholarship in 1916, not leaving until 1919 when he completed his thesis.

The thesis itself examined the contribution of ancient India and ancient Greece to modern linguistics, establishing that the Nirukta was written between 700 and 500BCE and is still crucial to our understanding of modern linguistics. Arthur Macdonell, one of the foremost scholars of his day, as well as Boden Professor of Sanskrit and a fellow of Balliol, supervised Sarup’s thesis.

With the conclusion of his Oxford studies Dr Sarup’s trailblazing career continued. He travelled Europe for research after the end of the First World War, spending time in both Paris and Strasbourg.  Sarup’s interests varied, and as well as his work on Sanskrit, he also translated two of Molière’s plays into Hindi. For this, he was recognised by the Académie Française, the first Indian to receive that honour. In 1920, he was appointed Professor of Sanskrit Literature at Punjab University and later, in 1942, was appointed Principal of the Oriental College of the University of Punjab. He was the first Indian to hold that position and retained it until his death in 1946. As well as being a keen scholar, he was an accomplished sportsman, earning a Blue for captaining the University cricket team during his time at Balliol.

The building, block C1 of the Master’s Fields, is one of a number of new buildings named after Balliol ‘greats’. All of Balliol’s newest buildings have been named after historic Balliol alumni and academics who reflect the diversity, values and history of the College.

Other figures include: Lord Bingham of Cornwall, former lord chief justice; Baruch Blumberg, master of Balliol 1989–1994 and Nobel Prize for Medicine winner in 1976; Dr Carol Clark, the first woman to be appointed a fellow of Balliol, and the first woman to be a fellow of any of the formerly all-male Oxford colleges; Aldous Huxley, the writer of Brave New World, and Sir Sereste Khama, the first president of the Republic of Botswana and a crucial player in Botswana’s independence from imperial rule. 

Image: Vignesh Iyer

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