Anand Coomaraswamy (1877-1947) was a Ceylonese Tamil philosopher and metaphysician, as well as a pioneering historian and philosopher of Indian art, particularly art history and symbolism, and an early interpreter of Indian culture to the West. He was born in Colombo, Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, to the Ceylonese Tamil legislator and philosopher Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy and his English wife Elizabeth Beeby. His father – a Sri Lankan Tamil Brahmin – died when Ananda was two years old, and Ananda spent much of his childhood and education abroad. Through 1932, from his base in Boston, he produced two kinds of publications: brilliant scholarship in his curatorial field but also graceful introductions to Indian and Asian art and culture, typified by The Dance of Shiva, a collection of essays that remain in print to this day. Deeply influenced by René Guénon, he became one of the founders of the Traditionalist School.
His books and essays on art and culture, symbolism and metaphysics, scripture, folklore and myth, and still other topics, offer a remarkable education to readers who accept the challenges of his resolutely cross-cultural perspective and his insistence on tying every point he makes back to sources in multiple traditions. He once remarked, "I actually think in both Eastern and Christian terms—Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Pali, and to some extent Persian and Chinese. While serving as a curator to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the latter part of his life, he devoted his work to the explication of traditional metaphysics and symbolism. His writings of this period are filled with references to Plato, Plotinus, Clement, Philo, Augustine, Aquinas, Shankara, Eckhart and other mystics. When asked what he was foremostly, he said that he was a "metaphysician", referring to the concept of perennial philosophy, or sophia perennis.
Along with René Guénon and Frithjof Schuon, Coomaraswamy is regarded as one of the three founders of Perennialism, also called the Traditionalist School. Several articles by Coomaraswamy on the subject of Hinduism and the perennial philosophy were published posthumously in the quarterly journal Studies in Comparative Religion alongside articles by Schuon and Guénon among others. Although born in the Hindu tradition, he had a deep knowledge of the Western tradition as well as a great expertise in, and love for, Greek metaphysics, especially that of Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism.
He built a bridge between East and West that was designed to be two-way: among other things, his metaphysical writings aimed at demonstrating the unity of the Vedanta and Platonism. His works also sought to rehabilitate original Buddhism, a tradition that Guénon had for a long time limited to a rebellion of the Kshatriyas against Brahmin authority.
"Alan Antliff documents (...in I Am Not A Man, I Am Dynamite) how the Indian art critic and anti-imperialist Ananda Coomaraswamy combined Nietzsche's individualism and sense of spiritual renewal with both Kropotkin's economics and with Asian idealist religious thought. This combination was offered as a basis for the opposition to British colonization as well as to industrialization.