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Daniélou, Alain

Category: Musician or composer


Alain Daniélou (4 October 1907 – 27 January 1994) was a French writer, musicologist, Indologist, and a noted Western convert to and expert on Shaivite Hinduism. 

He is one of the very few people to have been allowed to become a Hindu. 

Generally one is born a Hindu, one doesn't become one.


Daniélou, Alain – The Way to the Labyrinth [translated by Marie-Claire Cournand]

Swami Karpatri ordered Brahmanand to perform my initiation rites as well as Raymond's. He and I, it seems, are the only foreigners who were ever initiated and incorporated into orthodox Hinduism; no other foreign names besides ours appear in the register of the Linga Raja (the great temple of Bhuvanesvar) which lists all the families that are permitted to worship the image of the god in this most holy of places.

An authority on Hinduism and renowned for his directorship of the Institute of Comparative Music Studies based in Berlin and Venice, Daniélou  was also an accomplished pianist, dancer, player of the Indian vina, painter, linguist and translator, photographer, and world traveller.

He was the director of Rabindranath Tagore’s school of music at Shantiniketan (Visva-Bharati University). And in 1949, he was appointed as a research professor at the Banaras Hindu University, a post he held until 1953.  In 1953, he joined the Adyar Library and Research Centre at the Theosophical Society Adyar near Madras (now Chennai), where he was the director of a centre of research into Sanskrit literature until 1956. In 1959, he became a member of French Institute of Pondicherry, which works in the field of Indology.


Daniélou is the author of over thirty books on Indian music and culture and received several awards for his work on music. His autobiography The Way to the Labyrinth is not only a lively read but is peppered with the names of the people he knew – Rabindranath Tagore, Ghandi, Nehru, Ravi Shankar, and a host of princesses and princes.

He was an Officer of the Légion d'Honneur, an Officer of the Ordre National du Mérite, and Commander of Arts and Letters. He was the director of the UNESCO Collection series, a series of recordings of traditional world music. In 1981, he received the UNESCO/CIM prize for music, and, in 1987 the Kathmandu Medal from UNESCO.

In 1991, he was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship the highest honour conferred by Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama.




Daniélou was born of a haute -bourgeoise French family and spent a solitary childhood in the country.

Daniélou, Alain – The Way to the Labyrinth [translated by Marie-Claire Cournand]

I was a sickly child. All the "doctors," those kindly and learned men who play the role of soothsayers in times of illness, had predicted that I would not live long. I was never sent to any of those noisy places called schools; for a boy without a future, this was considered a useless ordeal. I never knew other children besides my brothers and sisters.

Charles Daniélou

His mother, Madeleine Clamorgan, was from an old family of the Norman nobility; a fervent almost fanatical Catholic, she founded schools and a religious order, the Order of Sainte-Marie, for women teachers in civilian costume under the patronage of St. François-Xavier. His father, Charles Daniélou, was an anticlerical Breton politician who held numerous national ministerial posts in the Third Republic and served as a minister under Aristide Briand. One of his brothers was Roman Catholic prelate and Académie française member, Jean Daniélou.

It is very clear from Daniélou’s autobiography that he had no interest in Catholicism.

Daniélou, Alain – The Way to the Labyrinth [translated by Marie-Claire Cournand]

In those days my mother had close ties with Pope Pius X, through whose support she had founded a new religious order for women who wished to pursue a teaching career. Pope Pius X granted me a golden cross personally blessed by himself, and authorized the celebration of my first communion, although I was only four years old. It was a very grand affair. Even my godmother, the Baronne Pierard, with her luxurious gowns, her jewels, and a long white lock curling beneath her ear, came to Britanny for the great event; also Madame Lefer de La Motte, a defrocked Mother Superior from a Spanish order who, at the time, was the spiritual guide of many artists and intellectuals in Paris. All this left me sad and indifferent. Although I was the hero of the day, I have no recollection whatsoever of the ceremony. I already sensed that the religion of men had nothing to do with the divine reality of the world.

His relationship with his mother was very strained. She showed little affection towards him, called him the black sheep of the family and was generally very unpleasant towards him.  His father, on the other hand was a great support and remained a positive influence, he helped him develop his musical talent, supported his dancing career and largely ignored Alain’s homosexuality, meaning that it made no difference to him what Alain chose to ‘be’. 

Daniélou, Alain – The Way to the Labyrinth [translated by Marie-Claire Cournand]


The main feature of my mother's character was her passion for "God." This enigmatic being took precedence over all her human sympathies. Her actions were ruled by his desires and commands, which she never seemed to doubt in any way, and, like a woman with a lover, she relegated her husband and children to second place. Why had she married? I have never been able to find the answer. Her relationship with her husband was highly correct but never betrayed the slightest sign of tenderness. She had six children, but probably bore them more out of duty than desire. Her love for God came before anything else; she seemed at any rate convinced that all her undertakings and notable successes were his will and for his glory…..  my mother's faith always struck me as a monstrous aberration-at any rate, a betrayal. Christians, like staunch Marxists and Fascists, sometimes come to betray their heretical friends, children, or brothers. I felt that in another time my mother, with a bleeding heart and a magnificent display of sorrow, would have delivered me into the hands of the Inquisitor.

Danielou had tuberculosis as a child, and suffered violent pulmonary attacks, bronchitis, and pleurisy. Every time this happened he was expected to die.  Despite the somewhat hypocritical nature of his mother, there is just the hint that it was the will to fight against her that kept him going. 

Daniélou, Alain – The Way to the Labyrinth [translated by Marie-Claire Cournand]

When I was about ten years old I had a particularly severe attack. After subjecting me to the tortures of cupping-glasses and poultices, the good Dr. Tolmer felt it his duty to tell my mother that all hope was gone. Mother came to my room with tears in her eyes and tenderly embraced her poor dying child for much longer than usual. Then she went to the convent chapel, which abutted the house. After a while she returned to my room, calm, tender, with a faint smile on her face. I suddenly had the feeling that this exemplary mother had offered God the sacrifice of her most cherished possession, her own son. I was filled with such anger that, to everyone's amazement, I promptly recovered.



Escaping from his family milieu, he went to Paris, where he fell in with avant-garde bohemian sexually liberated circles, among whose luminaries were Cocteau, Diaghilev, Max Jacob, and Maurice Sachs. The young Daniélou studied singing under the famous Charles Panzéra, as well as classical dancing with Nicholas Legat (teacher of Vaslav Nijinsky), and composition with Max d'Ollone. Subsequently, he performed professionally on stage.  He studied piano and singing, learning the songs of Duparc and Chausson and the Lieder of Schumann and Schubert. He started writing poems, and acquired proficiency in English and other European languages.

But all along, however fervently he plunged into various activities he felt some other destiny awaited him. After a number of journeys, some of them highly adventurous, he found his real home in India.


with Raymond

Daniélou formed a lifelong partnership and friendship with Swiss photographer [and an heir to the Nestle fortune] Raymond Burnier.  Their partnership survived separation and Raymond’s marriage of an Indian girl.  They were together off and on until Raymond died.

Daniélou first went to India as part of an adventure trip with Raymond.  They were fascinated with the art and culture. Daniélou and Burnier were among the first Westerners to visit India's famed erotic temples in the village of Khajuraho and Burnier's stunning photographs of the ancient temple complex launched the site internationally. The photographs were featured in an exhibition at the New York's Metropolitan Museum.  Together they travelled all over India towing a caravan in which they lived.  Eventually they settled in Benares – Varanasi - and lived together in a palace by the Ganges overlooking the ghats - Rewa Kothi.  During these years, he studied Indian classical music in Varanasi with Shivendranath Basu and played the veena, which he started playing professionally. He also studied Hindi, Sanskrit languages as well as Indian philosophy. His interest in the symbolism of Hindu architecture and sculpture, led to further long trips with Burnier to Bhubaneswar and Konarak. 

It was whilst he was in Benares that Daniélou met Swami Karpatri.   Swami Karpatri was a wandering monk- a sannyasi-and a man of astounding knowledge. He came to Benares from time to time and stayed there during the rainy season. He was considered the spiritual leader of a large part of northern India. Although he refused all honours, he selected the shankarachharyas, the four monks who are the spiritual leaders of Hinduism.  Daniélou went several times to the Swami Karpatri's darshana. Later, when he created the Dharma Sangh, a movement for the defense of Hinduism against modern trends, he and Daniélou had many long conversations together.  It was Swami Karpatri who ordered Brahmanand to perform Danielou’s initiation rites.

Daniélou, Alain – The Way to the Labyrinth [translated by Marie-Claire Cournand]


The period preceding the initiation ritual is quite long, since it involves all kinds of preparations: fasting, acts of purification, and ritual baths. First, all one's hair is shaved off, except the eyelashes and eyebrows. A skillful barber begins by shaving the head, then all other hairy areas, even in the most hidden corners. After taking a bath in the sacred waters of the Ganges, the future initiate must perform certain puja rites (veneration of a god) and yoga exercises.

On the day favoured by the stars, Brahmanand took me to an isolated spot in the forest near the Ganges, carrying flowers, fruit, holy water, offerings, as well as the ritual fire. It was here that the ceremony took place.

Shiva is the god of the universe, the ruler of all living things, trees and animals as well as men. In temples devoted to his worship he is represented as an erect phallus, source of all life, but also symbol of pleasure and sensuous delight, the earthly image of the state of godliness. Shiva is Sat-Chit-Ananda -  Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss. Men build sanctuaries to honour him, but his true temple is nature, especially the forest, where he sometimes appears in the form of a naked, priapic adolescent. Shivaist initiation rites always take place in the forest, never in a temple. Here at last was the god I had vaguely sensed in my childhood and had secretly been searching for all my life.

Brahmanand made me sit on the ground, facing westward, while he sat across from me facing east. I then had to perform a puja for my initiator, worshipping him like a god with flowers, holy water, and an oil lamp lit by a flame we had brought with us, all the while pronouncing ritual formulas. Then Brahmanand, holding his hands over my head, spoke the words of initiation. He whispered into my ear the mantra, the sacred and secret formula I was to repeat all through my life, and revealed my secret name and the new name I was to be known by in the society of men. After this he performed a puja for the new initiate. From then on my new name would be Shiva Sharan (He who is protected by Shiva).

All this was very simple, like a kind of game, with no drama or apparent mystery. I passed from one state to another almost without knowing it; but little by little I realized that I was no longer quite the same, that life had a new basis, new purposes, goals, and duties-that I had finally become what I had been meant to be all along.

We walked back to the holy city and I went on living as before-outwardly, at any rate-studying, performing rites, making love, and going on long journeys in search of forgotten temples in the forests of central India and the deserts of the west.



Daniélou returned to Europe in the 1960s.  He was appointed an adviser to UNESCO's International Music Council, which led to a number of recordings of traditional music such as Unesco Collection: A Musical Anthology of the Orient, Musical Atlas, Musical Sources and Anthology of Indian Classical Music - A Tribute to Alain Daniélou. In 1966, he became the founder and director of the International Institute of Contemporary Music in Berlin, where he remained till 1977; he also remained the director of the Istituto Internazionale di Musica Comparata in Venice from 1969 to 82.

Alain Danielou (Shiva Sharan), musicologist and oriental scholar: born Neuilly-sur-Seine 4 October 1907; died in Lonay, Switzerland on 27 January 1994.


  • While the Gods play, Shaiva Oracles and Predictions on the Cycles of History and Destiny of Mankind
  • Gods of Love and Ecstasy, The Tradition of Shiva & Dionysus, Omnipresent Gods of Transcendence
  • The Hindu Temple; Deification of Eroticism
  • Music and the Power of Sound
  • A Brief History of India (Inner Traditions, 2003)
  • The first unabridged translation of the Kama Sutra
  • Virtue, success, pleasure & liberation: the four aims of life in the tradition of ancient India
  • Ragas of North Indian Classical Music
  • The Way to the Labyrinth: An Autobiography.
  • The Myths and Gods of India, Hindu Polytheism
  • Yoga, The Method of Re-Integration - 1949, based on Sanskrit texts
  • Yoga, Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe
  • Fools of God
  • Song-poems - Rabindranath Tagore, Texts in English, French and Bengali & Melodies
  • The Congress of the World With miniatures of tantric cosmology
  • Sacred Music, its Origins, Powers and Future, Traditional Music in Today's World
  • The situation of Music and Musicians in the countries of the Orient
  • Introduction to The Study of Musical Scales
  • Northern Indian Music: Vol. One, Theory, History and Technique
  • Northern Indian Music: Vol. Two, The Main Ragas
  • The Phallus, Sacred Symbol of Male Creative Power
  • India, a civilization of differences: the ancient tradition of universal tolerance
  • Shiva And The Primordial Tradition: From the Tantras to the Science of Dreams
  • Hindu Polytheism
  • The Ankle Bracelet


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