One of the most important political situations during Seshadri Iyer’s tenure was related to newspapers. In the city of Mysore, a person by name Srinivas Iyengar was running a Kannada weekly called ‘Deśābhimāni.’ That newspaper often carried anti-government critiques and commentary. I have not seen that newspaper, only heard about it. Apparently, satirical pieces often appeared in it. For example, a conversation between a villager and a city dweller. The villager is asking questions about history. The urbanite is answering him. “Initially,” he says,
“the Britishers used to be rule Mysore in the past.”
The villager asks, “Hāgādarè īga yāru āḻuttiddārè?” [“In that case, who is ruling now?”]
The city-dweller quips, “Īga Cāmappa aḻuttiddānè!” [“Now, Chamarajendra is crying!”]
(In place of the long ‘ā,’ a short ‘a’ was printed, which totally changes the meaning. This was later claimed to be a typographical error!)*
One fine day, when the mocking and jesting breached the limits of morality in one of the articles, Seshadri Iyer apparently turned red in fury. Soon after, it turns out that government officials seized the typesetting materials and took them into their custody. The newspaper shut down. The owner of the press didn’t get even the typesetting sorts and the machine back; apparently, they were dumped in some police station. Srinivas Iyengar fought tirelessly to get them back. It didn’t happen. After him, his children tried their best to procure the typesetting material. That was when I got introduced to them. Even they couldn’t regain the lost materials. Nobody came to know where the typesetting sorts and the machine went. That is how the story concluded.
The person who established the Mysore Oriental Library—a library of the East—was Seshadri Iyer. Hundreds of ancient Sanskrit treatises, unprinted and unprotected, were getting degenerated and lost in the most unpopular of places. Observing this, to save such treasures and to prevent them from getting lost, he established this institution. The most important duties assigned to the Oriental Library were the following: collection of palm-leaf manuscripts, pieces of handwritten work, and stone inscriptions; examining them, enlisting them, and preserving them by keeping them in suitable shelves with serial numbers marked; and refining the treatises useful for people and publishing them.
A great scholar by name A Mahadeva Sastri was appointed for this job. Mahadeva Sastri had translated into English many Sanskrit treatises such as Bhagavad-gītā Śāṅkara-bhāṣya and the Śāṅkara-bhāṣya on Taittirīyopaniṣad. Treatises like Taittirīya-saṃhitā and other works related to Veda and Vedāṅga that were published under his editorship are authoritative works. In this manner, by establishing such a system, the service that Seshadri Iyer has done to the śāstras and culture of the Hindus is quite memorable. However, I have heard that the system has gone helter-skelter lately.
Ban of Infant Marriages
It was Seshadri Iyer who drafted and brought into force the regulation titled ‘The Mysore Infant Marriage Prevention Regulation 1894.’ This law was enforced to end the tradition of marrying off girls below the age of eight. The significance of this social reform need not be articulated much. The fact that people have accepted it so gracefully bears testimony to its importance. When this social reform had just been introduced, there were one or two occasions of resistance to it. Thereafter, it has earned an approval from everyone.
I am reminded of a story related to this regulation to prohibit infant marriage. A schoolmaster by name Srinivasacharya married a seven- or eight-year-old girl after he lost his wife when he was around fifty-three or fifty-four years of age. The girl’s father had also been a schoolmaster who was retired. The wedding took place in Tirupati. The reason being that the laws of the State of Mysore do not apply to the Kumpaṇi State. (Kumpaṇi means Company, i.e., the East India Company. People used to call British India as ‘Company’ even though it had been a long time since the rule of the East India Company ended.) A dispute about this marriage surfaced.
1. The wedding did not take place inside the State of Mysore.
2. Even the girl had become older than the prescribed age.
In the case of that Acharya, rather than going to any courts, the government penalized him in some manner through the education department itself. Perhaps he was expelled and later retired. The interesting detail comes now. After the passage of some time, on the day of the girl and the old man’s ‘śānti-prasta,’ the Ācārya’s sister, who was a seventy-year-old woman, apparently advised her brother thus: “Śīnappa, don’t put the arecanut like that into your mouth. Your eyeballs may pop out. Ask Padma to chew it in her mouth, soften it, and spit it into yours.”
An explanation is unnecessary, isn’t it?
* * *
Amongst Seshadri Iyer’s other social reform projects, two are prominent –
1. Institution of separate schools for the educational development of the people who belonged to a category that used to be known as the Pañcamas during those days and is known as Harijans now.
2. Establishment of night schools for the benefit of people such as farmers and carpenters, belonging to the labour class, who during the day had to toil relentlessly for their livelihood.
For the year 1970, these reforms may not seem to be remarkable. But these were huge during Seshadri Iyer’s era. No other government in India had brought about such great reforms until then. For the commoners of that time, this had appeared somewhat unusual.
This is the eighth and final part of an English translation of the third chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 4 – Mysurina Diwanaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.
* There are a couple of subtleties that are lost in translation. The verb used by the villager is ‘āḻuttiddārè,’ which means ‘(is) ruling’ and is the respectful form of address. The verb used by the urbanite is ‘aḻuttiddānè,’ which means ‘(is) crying’ and it is the familiar form. The newspaper intends to say that the administration of the kingdom is chaotic and so the king is weeping; instead of saying it directly, they have resorted to such a trick.