It must probably have been the mid-1950s. There was a public event at the National High School, Bangalore. A.N. Krishna Rao was presiding over the event and a discourse was being rendered by Āsthāna-vidvān Moṭagānahaḻḻi Subrahmanya Shastry. The topic was something like ‘Namma Saṃskṛti’ - ‘Our Culture’. Introducing the speaker, A.N. Krishna Rao said - “Shastry is one of the finest scholars of this generation. He is known for his Kannada translations of Rāmāyaṇa and other works. Of late, he has enriched the Kannada people through his translation of the Kālidāsa’s Mālavikāgnimitram. Subrahmanya Shastry is also skilled in the art of Gamaka. There is hardly anyone who has not enjoyed his rendition of the Rāmāyaṇa. Just like his writings, his speech is also brilliant.’
Kengal Hanumanthaiah  had great regard for the manner in which Shastry delivered his public lectures. “Every common man should get the privilege of listening to the discourses of a stalwart like you”, he had said. Back in those days, Shastry travelled to different places and spoke on traditional Indian values and other related topics.
Subrahmanya Shastry worked for the cause of India and Indian culture for about four decades. He served the scholarly world by composing many scholarly works, teaching and spreading knowledge through various means. In 1937, he took up the job of the Chief Editor of Raṅgabhūmi, a Kannada newsletter that was aimed at promoting the theatre tradition. His close association with the Kannada Sahitya Parishat helped him work on the other newsletters and magazines published by the institution. From 1947 to 1949, he worked as an editor of Kannaḍa Nuḍi. From about 1951, he served as the editor of the Kannaḍa Sāhitya Pariṣat Patrikè. Back then promising writers were especially encouraged.
Shastry was also a member of the team of scholars that aimed at preparing a proposal to be submitted to the Saṃskṛta-āyoga, headed by Suniti Kumar Chatterjee. He gave his voice for several recordings of the All India Radio, especially for lectures and programmes in Sanskrit. He played the roles of different characters in Sanskrit dramas that were presented on various occasions. In this manner, he had secured an important place among the scholars of his generation.
Ancestors and Family Lineage
Shastry was probably born in around 1904-1905. He belonged to a family of scholars. They belonged to the Vèllāla family. One of his ancestors, who lived before the 16th Century CE was a famous literary figure and had composed the poetic work Bhāgavata-campū. His name was Umāmaheśvara and he had the honorific title Abhinava-kālidāsa. Akkaya Sūri, who has written a commentary on the Bhāgavata-campūbelonged to the Mokṣaguṇḍam family.
Moṭagānahaḻḻi that comes along with Subrahmanya Shastry’s name is a village, today located in the Magadi Taluk of Bangalore district. Today, the village is called Moṭagonḍanahaḻḻi. The village is special because of the presence of the Candramauḻeśvara Temple there. Even to this day, at the beginning of the month of Phālguṇa, a grand rathotsava takes place in the village and it is a sight to behold.
For about seven to eight generations until up to Subrahmanya Shastry, all activities of the family - education, teaching, agriculture and marriages - took place in the villages in the vicinity of Magadi, in the region that extended up to Nelamangala.
Sāmba Shastry and Śaṅkara Shastry were, respectively, the paternal grandfather and the father of Subrahmanya Shastry. His father had an older brother by name Mahadeva Shastry and a younger brother called Rāmaśeṣa Shastry. The three brothers were extraordinary scholars and āśu-kavis - extempore poets.
In the latter half of the 19th Century, there lived a scholar by name Sonḍèkoppa Nañjuṇḍa Shastry, the grandfather of the famous historian Prof. S. Srikanta Shastry. His younger brothers were Nārāyaṇa Shastry and Gaṅgādhara Shastry. The two were the students of Kuṇigal Rāma Shastry. With their teacher, they had travelled to several places in South India and participated in scholarly deliberations there (This was in about 1840-1850). Moṭagānahaḻḻi Mahadeva Shastry and Śaṅkara Shastry were the students of Nārāyaṇa Shastry and Gaṅgādhara Shastry.
Mahadeva Shastry had composed tens of stotras and songs. He had also picked up Āyurveda as a hobby (but did not pursue it as a profession). He had composed a ‘Navaratna-mālikā’ on the Mahārāja Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV. This is a verse from the collection:
श्रीमत् कृष्णमहाप्रभो तव मनःकासार सीमान्तरे
सन्तोषामृत सेवनादनुपमानन्दात्सुखं प्राणिनः
जीवन्तिस्म किरातभीतिरहिता सज्जीवनोत्कर्षता-
-श्चान्यो व्याधिगतोत्सुकात् सुचरिता साम्राज्यलाभाद्भवम् ॥
O King Krishnaraja, your subjects lived happily on the bank of your mind-lake, drinking the nectar of happiness. They had no fear of predators. Full of zest for life, they were free from maladies and lived in bliss.
Moṭagānahaḻḻi Rāmaśeṣa Stastry was a paṇḍita of Sanskrit at the Āryabālikā School and later at the Maharani College in Bangalore. Mahārāja Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV recognised him as the Āsthāna-vidvān. He was a purāṇika at the palace and was the guru of Sri Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar. He passed away in 1934.
Rāmaśeṣa Shastry translated Śrīmadbhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa into Kannada. He has provided word to word meaning and tātparya (summary) of the verses. Additionally, he had translated the Sanskrit play Mudrārākṣasa, Mukundānanda Bhāṇa and other literary works into Kannada. He composed several traditional songs that are used in wedding ceremonies even today. He had translated the Hitopadeśa into Kannada back in 1895. The original Anuṣṭup verses had been effortlessly transformed into kanda-padyas in Kannada. The following is an example:
काव्यशास्त्रविनोदेन कालो गच्छति धीमताम् |
व्यसनेन तु मूर्खाणां निद्रया कलहेन वा ||
ಗಳೊಳೇ ಕಳೆದಪುದು ಪೊಳ್ತು ಗಾವಿಲರ್ಗೆಂದುಂ ।
ವಳಲಿಂ ಕಲಹಂಗಳಿಂದಮಲಸಿಕೆಯಿಂದಂ ।।
The wise spend their time by engaging with literary and scholastic activities, while the fools while away their time in addiction, fights, and lethargy.
Śaṅkara Shastry, the father of Subrahmanya Shastry had immense scholarship in the areas of classical literature, grammar, poetics, vedānta and purāṇas. When he started explaining the meaning of a śloka, listeners would invariably be awestruck at his authority and skill. He was an āśu-kavi. He could compose poems spontaneously on any topic in any chandas. He had a great memory and excellent acumen in analysis. However, he was not used to writing complete works. The works he probably authored are Indrasabhā, Pāṇḍava-vijaya, Sānanda-gaṇeśa, Uṣā-pariṇaya and a few other plays for drama companies. He composed them as per the request of the Gubbi Company and a few other drama companies.
Pāṇḍava-vijaya was one of the most famous plays of the Gubbi Company and had captured the hearts of the audience. It was filled with episodes which entertained the spectators very well.It contained the episodes from the Mahābhārata, such as the ajñāta-vāsa of the Pāṇḍavas - living incognito in Virāṭa’s kingdom, Bhīma, who was in the disguise of a cook and his cooking - the grandeur of meals, etc. Gubbi Veeranna, in his autobiography - Kalèye Kāyaka - has described the manner in which the play had won the hearts of the people.
In about 1911 on his way back from Kaladi, Sacchidananda Shivabhinava Nrisimha Bharati Svāmī, the Jagadguru of Sringeri visited Bangalore. Śaṅkara Shastry offered him a garland of verses:
क्वापि न दृष्टो न च श्रुतोऽपि मया।
भवाब्धितीर्थं विलीयते चित्रम् ॥
Translation: I have never seen or heard of water drying up when more water is added to it. However, now when I receive this tīrtha from the Jagadguru, the bhavābdhi - the worldly ocean gets dried up! What a surprise!
The audience loved the verses and asked Shastry to repeat them. The Jagadguru was pleased, nodded his head and exclaimed “ಲೆಸ್ಸುಂದಿ ಲೆಸ್ಸುಂದಿ” (“Is good, is good” - in Telugu).
Śaṅkara Shastry was a scholar at the school run by Daṇḍina Rao Bahaddūr Arcot Narayanaswamy Modaliyar. Śaṅkara Shastry’s discourses on the Rāmāyaṇa, Bhāgavata and other purāṇas were usually organised in the Nagartapet, Rameshvara Temple in Chamarajpet and in the house of Caubinè Subba Rao in the vicinity of this temple. At some places, Rāmaśeṣa Shastry performed the gamaka-vācana and this would be followed by Śaṅkara Shastry’s vyākhyāna - scholarly exposition, bringing out poetic nuances. Rāmaśeṣa Shastry had a very melodious voice. Śaṅkara Shastry was an expert in śāstras and possessed excellent oratory skills. This way such pravacana-goṣṭhis were sources of great excitement to the society back then. It was like a festival for people.
Subrahmanya Shastry’s childhood was in the scholarly environment. Back then, Chamarajapet in Bangalore was a treasure chest of scholars and this is where he had taken residence. Chappalli Vishveshvara Shastry, Hariyācārya, Venkataramanaiah of Channarayapattanna, Hosakote Venkatarama Shastry and others lived in the vicinity of Śaṅkara Shastry’s house.
Śaṅkara Shastry probably had three sons and two daughters. The eldest son seems to have passed away at a very young age. The children who survived were - Mahalakshmi, Subrahmanya Shastry, Parvati and Rama Shastry.
To be continued...
The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Full form of the article is a part of 'A Tapestry of Pen Portraits' published by Prekshaa Pratishtana in December 2020. The original monography by the author was published by Mysore Mulakanadu Sabha, 2001
 Gamaka is a performing art that involves vācana - melodious rendition of poems composed by classical poets accompanied by vyākhāna - creative commentary.
 The second Chief Minister of Karnataka (then, Mysore State)
 A Telugu-speaking family lineage of South India
 Modern Kālidāsa
 Sir M Visvesvaraya, the fame Indian Engineer of the 19th-20th Century belonged to this family as well
 The last month of the Hindu calendar
 A Chariot festival