B.A. Saletore: A Profile

This article is part 1 of 8 in the series B.A. Saletore

Note: This is the full text of a lecture delivered on the historical scholar extraordinaire Sri Bhaskar Anand Saletore under the auspices of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs and Prekshaa Pratishtana, which had jointly organized a lecture series titled Exemplars of Indian Wisdom from Karnataka.

Section 1: Life and Career

In Kannada, Bhasker Anand Saletore signed and printed his name as Bhaskara Ananda ಸಾಲೆತ್ತೂರು. But he is widely known as Saletore, the village he was born, in 1900. Saletore is located near the Puttur taluk in South Canara. To begin with, we can quickly examine some major milestones in his life and career.

Sri B.A. Saletore completed his early schooling in Mangalore. Then he moved to Madras, took a Bachelors in Teaching, returned to Mangalore, and taught at a Government school for about three years. After this, he enrolled for an M.A. degree at the St. Xavier's College, Bombay and quickly distinguished himself as a brilliant student. He majored in history under the direct tutelage of Father H.A. Heras, who encouraged him to pursue higher studies. Accordingly, Saletore landed in England and enrolled for a PhD at the University of London. The famed British orientalist, and scholar of ancient Indian history and epigraphy, Lionel David Barnett was his guide, who encouraged this diligent and talented student. Till the end of his life, Saletore had a very high regard for Barnett. The result of Saletore’s scholarly studies in England was the publication of his seminal, two-volume treatise titled Social and Political Life in the Vijayanagara Empire in 1931. This thesis got him the doctorate award from the University of London. Not content with it, he moved to Germany where he received a second doctorate in Political Science from the University of Giessen, Germany in 1933. He was decorated as the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung Scholar.

Saletore returned to Bombay in the same year (1933) where he stayed for some years before formally starting his career as a professor of history at Parshurambhau College in Pune in 1938. He later worked at the Lalbhai Dalpatrai College, Ahmedabad, affiliated to the Ahmedabad University.

In 1952, he was appointed as the Chairman of National Archives of India, retiring in 1957. Thereafter, he started his tenure as the founding President of the Post Graduate Department of Indian History and Culture, and finally as the director of the Kannada Research institute at Karnataka University, Dharwad.

Saletore unfortunately left the mortal world in 1963, at the relatively young age of 63 years.

***

Now, the chief difficulty that confronts a person curious to learn more about Saletore’s personality and interesting details of his career via anecdotes, etc., is the sheer paucity of information. This is sharply unlike other exemplars of Indian wisdom from Karnataka like M. Hiriyanna, Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri, D.V. Gundappa, and S.K. Ramachandra Rao about whom we have a wealth of enriching, humorous and ennobling anecdotes.

A major reason for this paucity is the fact that Saletore spent most of his working life outside Karnataka and he has not left behind an autobiography. In this context, I must offer my profuse thanks to Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy whose surprise postal deliveries have now become legendary. On several occasions, I have been pleasantly thrilled to find hard-to-locate papers and other material related to Saletore lying on my desk at home, all sent by Dr. Ramasway. I also extend my gratitude to Shatavadhani Dr. Ganesh who guided me on several valuable aspects of Saletore’s work to me. From all that material, the following are some of the major milestones of his illustrious legacy that I could cull out.

The Vijayanagara Sexcentenary Celebrations

In 1936, Saletore was invited to Hampi as a distinguished guest to participate in the sixth centenary celebrations of the founding of the glorious Vijayanagara Empire. He earned this distinction by the dint of sheer scholarship and dedication.

The backstory to this event is quite thrilling.

It all began five years earlier, in 1931, the year that Saletore earned his doctorate. The idea for the celebration was initiated by P.N. Bengeri, a scholar from Hubli. Accordingly, an association named Vijayanagara Empire Sexcentenary Association was formed at Dharwad in 1933. Its aims were ambitious. Over the next three years leading up to the actual celebration at Hampi, the Association would bring out various publications in different languages highlighting the multi-faceted accomplishments of this grand Hindu Empire. Simultaneously, it would conduct seminars and conferences and cultural events in various parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra, extolling the “best days of the Vijayanagara Empire.” The climax would be fittingly unveiled in Hampi, the capital.

Thus, the first conference was held at Hubli in 1933 under the presidentship of DVG, the second in Raichur in 1934 under the presidentship of M.S. Sirdar, and the third in Bombay in 1935 under the presidentship of Bhasker Anand Saletore.

From December 25, 1936 onwards, a massive cultural and historical exhibition was held in Hampi spread over several days. Some of its prominent attendees and well-wishers included the Rani of Anegondi, the Raja of Sawantwadi, K.P. Puttanna Chetty, C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, C.Y. Chintamani, M.R. Jayakar, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, and Mirza Ismail.

Its culmination was the publication of the invaluable Vijayanagara Sexcentenary Commemoration Volume under the joint auspices of the Vijayanagara Empire Sexcentenary Association and the Karnataka Historical Research Society, Dharwad. It is a majestic volume of 500 pages, and still remains a collector’s prize both for the scholar and the layman, containing a wealth of thirty-two essays on Vijayanagara. Its topics span an extraordinary range: art, sculpture, literature, music, politics, war, society, economics, Krishnadevaraya, and more importantly, suggestions for future scholarship and research on Vijayanagara. Authors were drawn from a galaxy of stalwarts including C. Hayavadana Rao, S. Krishnaswami Iyengar, S. Srikantaiah, Raghavacharlu, G.H. Khare, G.S. Dikshit, M.H. Krishna, S. Srikanta Sastri, V. Raghavan, and last but not the least, B.A. Saletore.

Other Milestones

The next milestone in Saletore’s career was in 1953 when he represented India at the Congress of Archives held in The Hague.

Then, in 1957, he was appointed as the President of the Conference on Indian History held at Dharwad. This was also the year when he became the founding president of the newly-established chair of Indian History and Culture at the University of Dharwad. His presidential address on the occasion still remains a masterclass in developing a perspective on Indian history, as we shall see later.

The other great legacy of Saletore was his distinctive eminence as a teacher, in the tradition of a Guru. It is said that one of the hallmarks of a good teacher is his flair for making learning effortless. This reminds us of Ananda Coomaraswamy’s memorable phrase that “from the earliest times, Indians have thought of the learned man, not as one who has read much, but as one who has been profoundly taught.” And so were Saletore’s students profoundly taught. Among others, two eminent names come to mind: the first is Dr. G.S. Dikshit who continued and made precious contributions to Vijayanagara research following Saletore’s path; the second is the late Suryanath Kamath, perhaps the last iconic historians of Karnataka chiseled in the mould of his Guru. Smt. Jyotsna Kamat, another direct disciple of Saletore gives us a superb anecdote regarding his teaching method in the classroom:  

I had the unique privilege of being his student in M.A. He was a wonderful orator, though not a teacher in the conventional way. His lectures would be full of anecdotes and scintillating humor though not necessarily confined to the subject of study. He was in Germany when Hitler came to power and he used to tell us how his teacher was the first to be jailed. Hitler's public meetings which he attended were dramatic and electrifying. Saletore laid great stress on the military and material strength to be developed by any country. He used to make passing references that India currently was not strong militarily and for a weak nation, the ideology of democracy may spell danger. Pat came Chinese aggression in 1962 and we could see how prophetic our professor was.

The note on the Chinese aggression of India reminds me of an anecdote about Saletore that Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy once told in his inimitable narrative style. Throughout his working life, Saletore was a staunch and unafraid critic of Nehru, and regularly warned his students about Nehru’s serial blunders. In Dr. Ramaswamy’s words, “he went hammer and tongs against Nehru…he used to bury him alive.”

To be continued

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Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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