Dr. Ludo Rocher, emeritus professor and renowned Sanskrit scholar, passes away at age 90

The South Asia Studies family at Penn lost one of our beloved emeritus faculty and an eminent Sanskrit scholar, Dr. Ludo Rocher.

His dear wife Rosane, a treasure in her own right to this department, wrote to tell us that Ludo passed away peacefully in his sleep and per his wishes there will be no public commemoration.

I know we all join together at this time to send our heartfelt condolences to Rosane. We will all remember Ludo with great fondness, may his work and spirit live on in this department, and may we send comfort and love to Rosane in her time of mourning.


To learn more about Ludo's long life and his contributions to the field of South Asian Studies, please read his obituary below. The American Oriental Society has also published an obituary for Ludo, which can be read here.



Ludo Rocher, Emeritus W. Norman Brown Professor of South Asian Studies, died November 2. He was 90 years of age this year. Throughout his career, Dr. Rocher was renowned for being the most active Sanskrit scholar in the United States and a world authority on classical Hindu legal cultures.  His legacy is visible everywhere in the field of South Asia Studies, as his students (and their students) have built up South Asia Studies programs throughout the United States for the past four decades.

Dr. Rocher was born in Antwerp, Belgium on April 25, 1926. He attended the University of Ghent, where he received his M.A. in Classics with a minor in Sanskrit in 1948; his J.D. in 1950; and his Ph.D. in Indic Studies in 1952. He also studied at the University of Utrecht and the University of London, where he furthered his knowledge of Sanskrit, Hindi, Hindu and Indian Law, and Vedic Studies.

Dr. Rocher spent nine years serving at the University of Brussels from 1958 to 1967. He was Professor of Sanskrit and Comparative Philology from 1959 to 1967 and became Director for the Center for the Study of South and Southeast Asia in 1961. In 1965, Dr. Rocher became the first non-Africanist to be elected to the Belgian Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences. Prior to his appointments at the University of Brussels, Dr. Rocher was a Research Fellow at the Belgian National Foundation for Scientific Research from 1952 to 1958. 

In July of 1966, Dr. Rocher was invited to Philadelphia by W. Norman Brown, an eminent scholar of Sanskrit and Indology at the University of Pennsylvania. There, Dr. Rocher was appointed Professor of Sanskrit at the Department of Oriental Studies. Dr. Rocher served as the Chairman of the Department of Oriental Studies from 1967 to 1975, and again from 1988 to 1994. He also spent time as the Chairman of the Department of South Asia Regional Studies and Director of the National Resource Center for South Asia Studies from 1975 to 1979. In 2002, he retired and became Professor Emeritus of South Asia Studies.

Known for his academic achievement and dedication to the field of South Asian Studies, Dr. Rocher also had a rich personal life. On April 1, 1961, he married Rosane Debels, another eminent scholar of Indology and Professor Emerita of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. In June of 1972, both he and his wife became American citizens. Together, Dr. Ludo Rocher and Dr. Rosane Rocher were awarded the 2015 Prize of the Fondation Colette Caillat of the Institut of France for two books and their “lifelong, signal contributions to Sanskrit studies and the history of Indology.”

In addition to his wife of 55 years, Dr. Rocher is survived by many dedicated students who have written that he was “a model for us all as a scholar and as a teacher, but also as a human being. There are few scholars with more to be proud of, yet there are few who are so free of the affectations of pride… He is the embodiment of integrity and trust.”

Throughout his career, Prof. Rocher has authored almost twenty major books and hundreds of articles and reviews. His work has been widely acclaimed for its inspiring, uncompromising search for the truth, its boundless curiosity and innovation, and its comprehensive approach to wide ranging subjects, from Vedic and Indo-Iranian studies to the history of orientalism. Notable works include The Purāṇas, Jīmūtavāhana's Dāyabhāga: the Hindu law of inheritance in Bengal, and Studies in Hindu law and Dharmaśāstra.

Dr. Rocher received many prestigious grants during his time at the University of Pennsylvania including a Fulbright-Hays Research Grant in 1969, a NEH Translation Grant in 1986, and a grant from the American Institute of Indian Studies in 1994. He also received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1982.

As an eminent scholar and expert in the field of South Asian Regional Studies, Dr. Rocher was elected to many prestigious posts. He was elected Vice-President of the American Oriental Society from 1984 to 1985, and President from 1985 to 1986. Dr. Rocher was also elected Vice President of the American Institute of Indian Studies from 1981 to 1983, and served as Chairman to the Board of Trustees from 1984 to 1985. He was a Fellow of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, and a member of the American Philosophical Society, the Association for Asian Studies, and the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, the Vishveshvarananda Vedic Research Institute, the Kuppuswami Shastri Research Institute, among numerous other honors.