Founded in 1962 the South Asia Institute (SAI) is an integral institution of Heidelberg University - one of the oldest universities in Europe and the oldest in Germany. The SAI founders' aim was to create an interdisciplinary forum of research, teaching, international academic dialogue, and cooperation in the field of South Asian studies (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka). With the growing public awareness of the South Asian subcontinent, it was felt to be necessary to combine the philological and historical disciplines of the humanities with more 'applied' ones, such as development economics, political science, geography and medicine in order to study both historical and contemporary conditions and changes. Students enrolled at the SAI are thus taught across a great variety of disciplines.
A library accumulating the most comprehensive specialist collection of publications pertaining to South Asia in Germany was further initiated. It currently consists of over 260,000 publications. Next to books and journals it also includes a large number of electronic media.
In order to improve research facilities, academic networks, and institutional exchange the SAI operates four branch offices in South Asia, that is, in Colombo (Sri Lanka), Delhi (India), Islamabad (Pakistan), and Kathmandu (Nepal).
As a consequence in 1987 the first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a SAI Kathmandu Office with a permanent German representative—at that time closely related to the Nepal Research Centre (NRC) and the Nepal German Manuscript Preservation Project (NGMPP) —was signed by the vice-chancellors of both Heidelberg University and Tribhuvan University (TU). The MoU has been renewed on a five-years term ever since.
The Kathmandu Office cooperates with local and regional partners in many different research fields. Close links exist with such institutions as the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS), Martin Chautari, and the Social Science Baha, who now publishes the “European Bulletin of Himalayan Research” (EBHR), edited on a rotating basis between France France (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, CNRS), Germany (South Asia Institute), and the United Kingdom (School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS).
Current activities of the SAI Kathmandu Office include:
- Networking, communication, and joint programs (conferences, workshops, exhibitions) with regional academic and cultural institutions
- Comprehensive literature and research reference collection in English, Nepali, and other regional languages
- Support, guidance, and counseling for researchers and students from Germany and Nepal (fieldwork and internships)
- Academic exchange programs (up to the present several scholars and students from Nepal visited the South Asia Institute in Heidelberg and other German universities, often with the support of DAAD or Humboldt fellowships)
In April 2014, the SAI Kathmandu Office received the extensive library of the Nepal Research Centre. It consists of approximately 6000 entries and is open for research and self-study. A monthly lecture series held at Dhokaima Café (Yalamaya Kendra) was launched in December 2014.
In March 2015, the SAI Kathmandu Office moved to new premises at Kupondole Height. It is now situated a five-minutes foot walk from the British School, just behind the Greenwich Village and Summit Hotels. It hosts a small guest room for visiting scholars and students.
The SAI Kathmandu Office if is a member of the European Consortium for Asian Field Study.