Alain Daniélou was born at Neuilly sur Seine (Paris) on October 4th 1907.
His mother, Madeleine Clamorgan, descended from an old and noble
Norman family. She was an ardent catholic and founded a French
religious order, as well as the famous "Sainte Marie" teaching
establishments. His father was a Breton politician, an anti-clerical,
and was several times Government minister. Alain Daniélou’s brother
took clerical orders and was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI.
Alain Daniélou spent most of his childhood in the country, with tutors, a library and a piano. During these years, he discovered music and painting.
He then left France to attend an American school at Annapolis, where he earned pocket-money by selling his paintings and playing the piano at silent movie theatres. On his return to France, he studied singing under the famous Charles Panzéra, as well as classical dancing with Nicholas Legat (Nijinski’s master), and composition with Max d’Olonne. He gave recitals and exhibited his paintings.
A keen sportsman, Alain Daniélou was a canoeing champion and an
expert driver of fast cars. In 1932, he made a trip to explore the Afghan
Pamir, and, in 1934, an endurance test by car from Paris to Calcutta.
In between, he stayed with Henry de Monfreid at his fief of Obock on
the Red Sea. Between 1927 and 1932, he met Jean Cocteau, Jean
Marais, Serge Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Max Jacob, Henri Sauguet,
Nicholas Nabokov, Maurice Sachs, etc. and took part in the artistic
effervescence of the period.
Together with the Swiss photographer, Raymond Burnier, he then departed for the East, travelling in North Africa, the Middle-East, India, Indonesia, China and Japan. He finally established himself in India, initially with Rabindranath Tagore, who entrusted him with missions to his friends (Paul Valéry, Romain Rolland, André Gide, Paul Morand, Benedetto Croce) and appointed him director of his school of music at Shantiniketan.
Following this period, Alain Daniélou then retired to Benares, living in a
mansion on the banks of the Ganges (Rewa Kothi). At Benares, he
discovered the traditional culture of India, into which he was gradually
initiated. He was to stay there for fifteen years. He studied classical
Indian music with the prestigious master Shivendranath Basu, and
learned to play the vina like a professional. He also studied Hindi,
which he spoke and wrote fluently as his own mother- tongue, Sanskrit
and philosophy, with masters who were among the highest authorities