V.S.Srinivasa Sastri (Part 11) - Tradition and Contemporary Science

Tradition and Contemporary Science

Though Srinivasa Sastri had great respect for our śāstra-s and tradition, people who knew him thought that he had some disdain for ordinary scholars. Once Sastri was supposedly quite harsh in his speech at a scholarly assembly in Bangalore. He delivered the talk at the assembly hall in the Kannada Sahitya Parishat, Bangalore. The talk was organised by Sastri’s friend D. Venkataramayya.

During the talk, for some reason, Sastri seemed to have got annoyed with traditional scholars. "Have such scholars understood the śāstra-s in detail?  Most of their learning has merely been through imitation – they have only parroted their teachers. They have just rehashed everything that has been passed on to them without much thought. They do not keep in mind the current circumstances and the needs of the time. People today have developed different kinds of impressions and there is a lot of fresh knowledge that modern science has given them. None can brush aside the new scientific developments as meaningless or faulty. There are many valuable aspects in these new developments. Due to the flood of new knowledge coming into the world, the perspective of man has been changing and such changes are neither artificial nor do they go against satya and dharma. Thus, we must understand the current nature of the world and adapt our traditional thoughts and practises to suit the present context. We will need the assistance of Sanskrit scholars in this endeavour. What are the difficulties the world is facing today? What are the current requirements for the well-being of people? What is the goal of modern thinkers? Where are they heading to? – If our scholars do not understand these aspects, how can they be of any help to us? Thus, the traditional scholars must have a broad-minded approach in understanding today’s world."

This was the substance of his talk. However, there seemed to be some force in the rendering of his thoughts. Sastri commented upon the shawl that the traditional scholars wrap around their heads, the colour of their shawls, the remuneration they get, the bracelets they wear and the nature of their speech – these were brought in some context and caused a lot of displeasure to the traditional scholars.

After the lecture, when it was just the two of us together, I gave some feedback to him about his lecture in a subtle manner. I told him how some people were hurt. Sastri’s reply was a mixture of some justification about his talk and some repentence. One could not refute the core points of his lecture. “Should we not point out the deficiencies evident before our eyes? Is it right on my part to say that everything is nice and fine, with an artificial smile on my face? I did not see that my outpour would hurt others. If someone has been hurt because of the opening up of my mind, I will certainly repent for it. Also, it is only right on my part to seek pardon from the people who might have got hurt because of me!” After telling me this, he conveyed his repentance to D.Venkataramayya in clear words.


Magnanimous by Nature

I have narrated elsewhere (in ‘Vaidika Dharma-sampradāyastharu’, pages 134-135) the events that followed this. A few of us had gathered in D. Venkataramayya’s house for a marriage feast. While we were relishing the tāmbūla, one of our friends probably wanted to please Srinivasa Sastri, as the latter was one of the primary guests at the event. To do so, he started speaking ill of the traditional purohitas and scholars; the purohitas are usually not aware of the meaning of the stotras that they chant, he said. Sastri could not tolerate this. He got agitated and replied to the friend – “Sir! How much do you pay your barber each time? Quarter of a rupee, right? And what do you pay the purohita? Just the same, isn’t it  - quarter of a rupee! While you don’t expect any great scholarship in the barber, how can you expect the same from a purohita, for you pay both of them the same? If you are so dedicated to our tradition, tell me how much time do you spend in contemplating upon your mata and on śāstras?

The friend who had spoken ill about the traditional scholars now had no face to show.


Sastri – an Epitome of a Sahṛdaya

One word that can describe the nature of Srinivasa Sastri is ‘sahṛdayatā’ (the heart of a connoisseur) . In the terminology of Indian classical literature,  a sahṛdaya is someone who can understand and appreciate all the nuances of an art form. He/ She can grasp the details of rasa very well. A person who comprehends the subtilities of an art form, the human nature portrayed thereof and brings it to his own direct experience is called a sahṛdaya or a hṛdayamanta.

One can categorise people who have gained reputation in the world into two categories – the intellectuals and the ones rich at heart. It, however, does not mean that those with a sharp brain have no heart and those with a rich heart have no brains. People belonging to both the categories are sharper than the others both at head and heart. Yet, in some, the brain overrules the heart. In some others, though it is the brain that it sharp, finally it is the heart which plays a decisive role.

From this perspective, I feel that Sastri belonged to the category of men with a rich heart.


An Incident Connected with Letters

Once, Sastri wrote to me telling me of his intention to stay in Bangalore for a while and asked me to look for a house. I enquired around and found three to four houses. I wrote in detail about those houses I had found. One of those houses had the following description – “The house lies close to Lal Bagh. A few of your friends such as Dr. B.K. Narayana Rao and S.G. Shastri reside in the vicinity of the said house. The house has spacious rooms. There is a large living room you can sit and work. It has a fully-fledged kitchen and other facilities. There is a deep well within the compound which provides sweet and clean water. A little away from the main house lies an outhouse. The building is strong and clean. There is a portico in front of the house. It is nice to have friendly meet ups in the portico in the evenings.

We, however, have to keep certain circumstances in mind. The person who built this house is a friend of mine. A couple of weeks after he performed the house-warming ceremony, my friend, who went to fetch water from the well was pulling out the pot. Some length of the rope which was tied to the pot lay near his feet. To his misfortune, his leg got entangled in the rope and he lost balance. The weight of the water in the pot pulled him downwards into the well. He fell into the well and lost his life. The house is now considered by everyone as an ill-fated one. People fear moving into the place.

Yet another thing, my friend was an engineer. He was born to a good family. His father was a Sanskrit scholar. With the passing away of my friend, not only was the family in trouble, but the loans that he had drawn for constructing the house was also on their head. The house has been put under mortgage at the Co-operative Bank. I enquired about it at the Bank. One of my friends there told me: ‘The family needs to run on the rent that this house fetches. There is no other means of livelihood for them. The rent is of sixty rupees, half of which goes for paying the loan back. We give the rest for the family’s maintenance. If you can meet our director and speak to him, he can probably bring the rent down by a bit.”


Sastri’s Reply

Sastri wrote back to me on the very day this letter reached me. His reply was as follows:

“Sir! Your letter has put me into some embarrassment. You want to know my opinion! Don’t you know my heart? You also say that the family is in a difficult state. Don’t you think it is our duty to help them however much we can? You have told me (in your letter) that the house itself has been considered to be ill-fated. I am sick and if I stay alive in that house, the bad fame that it has got will also get erased in no time. In case I breathe my last there, the house will not get a bad name anew! Thus, I suggest that you go with this particular house. You don’t need to meet any director or request them to decrease the rent. If they bring down the rent, the proportion that the family gets will go down as well, isn’t it? If once the rent is brought down, all future tenants will seek the house at a lower price, right? They should not decrease the rent for my sake, at any cost. Let the house owners stay right there in one part of the house. You have mentioned that they belong to a family of vaidikas and they were scholars too. It is good to be in the company of such people. and we should gain their friendship. It is going to be beneficial… “

We zeroed down on this particular house and also reserved it. Sastri and his family were happy staying there. I remember that about three to four summers passed that way.

To be continued...

This is the eleventh part of the English translation of the Second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 6) – Halavaru Saarvajanikaru.




Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

Prekshaa Publications

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इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


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