Prof Dr.Colette CAILLAT started with classical studies in Latin and Greek, being particularly interested by grammatical and linguistic aspects. She was then almost naturally led to the study of Sanskrit, which she studied with Prof. Louis Renou (1896-1966), and Prof. Jules Bloch (1880-1953) when he replaced Renou who was in India. Although the main subject was Sanskrit, the tastes and special interests of Jules Bloch led him to entertain the students about Pali, Prakrit, Apabhramsha, modern Indo-Aryan languages, and about so many details of Indian life (the presence of Indian students in the class encouraged him to do so).
As was expected from those who passed the prestigious competitive examination known in France as "Agrégation", Mme Caillat was teaching at the same time in various secondary schools, until she could find a post at the National Centre of Scientific Research. She was then free to devote full time to Indian studies, starting with a Mémoire on nominal derivation in Middle Indian which led her to read Jain texts. Since nobody in France was proficient in these texts, Renou addressed her to Prof. Walther Schubring (1881-1969) in Hamburg. This was a decisive meeting for the subsequent years: Schubring led her firmly on the path of Jain studies and encouraged her to participate in the Critical Pali Dictionary. In India, which she visited for the first time in 1963, she had established close contacts with Prof. A.N. Upadhye, Pandit D.D. Malvania, Prof. H.C. Bhayani, Pandit Sukhlalji and Muni Punyavijayaji. She worked several times in Mysore and in Ahmedabad, at the L.D. Institute of Indology, a place she continued to visit regularly over the years.
Mme Caillat first taught Sanskrit and Comparative grammar at the University of Lyon (1960-1966). She was appointed at Sorbonne University (then University of Paris-3) in 1967, as the successor of Louis Renou who had died suddenly, and taught there until 1988, when she retired. She was elected a member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in 1987. She was a member of several academies and scholarly associations.
Her contribution to the field of Jain studies and Middle Indo-Aryan linguistics is manifold. Apart from a number of articles, her main books are the following:
1965 Les expiations dans le rituel ancien des religieux jaina, Paris, 1965 (D.Litt. thesis), translated into English as Atonements in the Ancient Ritual of the Jaina Monks, Ahmedabad, 1975 (L.D. Series 49).
1966 Drei Chedasûtras des Jaina-Kanons - Ayâradasâo, Vavahâra, Nisîha. Bearbeitet von Walther Schubring. Mit einem Beitrag von Colette Caillat, Hamburg, 1966.
1971 Candâvejjhaya, La Prunelle-cible. Introduction, Edition critique, Traduction, Commentaire, Paris, 1971.
1974-75 C. Caillat, A.N. Upadhye and Bal Patil, Jainism, Delhi, 1974-75. New edition, 2006.
1981 La cosmologie jaina. Présentation de Colette Caillat d'après les documents recueillis par Ravi Kumar, Paris, 1981. The Jain Cosmology. English rendering by K.R. Norman, New Delhi; revised and enlarged edition, New Delhi, 2004.
1985 Edition of Recueil d'articles de Jules Bloch 1906-1955, Paris, 1985.
1999 Yogîndu, Lumière de l'Absolu. Traduit de l'apabhramsha par Nalini Balbir et Colette Caillat, Paris, Payot, Rivages, 1999.
2007 co-edition, with Nalini Balbir, of the volume Jaina Studies, Proceedings of the World Sanskrit Conference, Helsinki, 2003; in the press.
In 1981, Mme Caillat, who was the head of the research group "Equipe de philologie bouddhique et jaina", organised in Strasbourg the first International Jain Symposium outside India. The Proceedings were published in 1983 (Indologica Taurinensia 11).
In 1988, a Felicitation volume was offered to her (published as Indologica Taurinensia 14).