Childhood and Education
Subrahmanya Shastry lost his father when he was just about seven or eight years old (c. 1913).
He received his early lessons in the Sanskrit language from Kāśinātha-śāstri and then joined the Cāmarajendra Saṃskṛta Mahāpāṭhaśālā in Bangalore. He studied kāvya, nāṭaka, and other genres of literature. He must have been sixteen or seventeen years of age.
It appears that Subrahmanya Shastry was more interested in sports, running around, and chatting with friends and less interested in studies. However, this never came in the way of him climbing the scholarship ladder. It also became inevitable for him to gradually take up the responsibilities of his family at quite a young age.
It was during this period that Shastry imbibed classical music too. His music teacher was Chickpet Ananta Shastry – a famous name in the music circles back then. Vidvān Ananta Shastry also belonged to the Mulakanāḍu community. His voice was known for its masculinity. He strictly adhered to traditional conventions in the presentation of his music. He had the capacity to handle even complex rhythmic patterns with ease. He usually chose expansive rāgas such as Śaṅkarābharaṇa for presentation in his concerts and introduced a lot of novelty in their elaboration. He could please his audience in no small measure. Ananta Shastry had immense respect for seniors and older people and was known for his helping nature. Although he was so generous in his interaction with the society, he was strict when it came to śāstras. Whenever he got into a debate related to tāḷa, the opponent would most certainly lose face.
We can recollect a certain detail which can reflect his character. It is not unusual for clothes to be torn at a couple of places when the laundrymen return them to their owners. Whenever Ananta Shastry intended to give his clothes, say a dhoti, to the laundry, he would ask the launderer to hold the dhoti on one end and he would hold it at the other, stretching it out. He would point out to the washerman and say, “Look, the dhoti is not torn anywhere. It should be in the same form when you return it to me after cleaning it!”
Subrahmanya Shastry learnt classical music for some time under a teacher who was such a strict disciplinarian.
In the festivals that took place at the Cāmarajendra Saṃskṛta Mahāpāṭhaśālā, Subrahmanya Shastry played the role of the main characters in the dramas that were staged. In the 1920s, he took an active role in the Amateur Dramatic Association (ADA). Responsibilities such as tuning lyrics to music and the like fell on his shoulders. He also worked as an editor for the monthly called Raṅgabhūmi, which was published by the ADA.
Shastry played the main roles in Yashodharā penned by Masti, Naciketa and Maṇḍodarī authored by C K Venkataramayya, and a few other plays. He was greatly appreciated for his acting skills. Shastry had also played the role of Cārudatta in the Sanskrit play Mṛcchakaṭikam of Śūdraka. It was staged in the Town Hall of Bangalore sometime after the 1950s. The play was probably directed by the Sanskrit scholar M P L Shastry.
In the early half of the 1920s, Vājapeyam Govindayya, a brāhmaṇa of the Mulakanāḍu community ran a book publication and sales enterprise in Chickpet in Bangalore. Subrahmanya Shastry had gained his acquaintance back then. Govindayya’s shop was also a centre that attracted several scholars and stalwarts from all over and acted as a venue where thoughts and ideas were exchanged. Govindayya was a great host to scholars.
Subrahmanya Shastry spent his free hours in Govindayya’s shop. He got himself involved in editing and reviewing the works that were getting published there. Govindayya provided him with some remuneration for his work and this became one of the main sources of his livelihood. There was another intangible benefit for Shastry over there. He gained the acquaintance of DVG and other scholars who frequented the shop.
Until about 1938—i.e. for about seventeen to eighteen years—Vājapeyam Govindayya’s shop was the main place of work for Subrahmanya Shastry.
Subrahmanya Shastry got married in the early 1920s. His wife Anasuyamma was the daughter of Sonḍekoppa Rāmasvāmi-śāstri (and the younger sister of Prof. S Srikanta Sastri.) The couple—Subrahmanya Shastry and Anasuyamma—only had one child, a daughter by name Lalitamba. In 1939, Shastry got his daughter married to Srinivasa Murthy, the son of Narayana Shastry, who belonged to the Gollapinni family. They lived in the Halasuru (Nagartara) Pete in Bangalore. The Gollapinni family was known to have performed several yajñas and yāgas and was also known for helping others conduct such rituals. They performed and got others to perform several Vaidika-karmas (Vedic rituals). The family had given birth to several artists and connoisseurs. In the later days, Srinivasa Murthy rose up to a high position in the coffee board and worked until his retirement. The couple had three sons (Ashwattha, Sanatkumara, and Shivasvami) and a daughter (Nirmala). Among them, the youngest, Shivasvami settled in Bangalore and the other three migrated to the US.
Even during the times Subrahmanya Shastry was distressed with unpredictable income, which was meagre, it was his well-cultured family that gave him great solace. His wife Anasuyamma and daughter Lalitamba were known in their friends’ circle (and among literary giants) for their extremely selfless nature, nobility of character, and care for guests and people of the family. Anasuyamma passed away in 1972 while Lalitamba passed away in 1976.
Since 1938 Subrahmanya Shastry worked as a teacher of Kannada and Sanskrit at the St. Theresa Convent at Chamarajapet. The college management had great reverence for Shastry.
In the early years of the 1940s, Subrahmanya Shastry was recognised as the Āsthāna-vidvān by Sri. Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar. This paved a path for his translation of the Skānda-mahāpurāṇa.
Before I start listing the complete works authored by Subrahmanya Shastry, I must draw the reader’s attention to a practice that existed back then. It was a tradition to compose a padya-mālikā (a garland of verses) to commemorate an important event. Events such as an audience with the Mahārāja, meeting the Dewan, and the inaugural ceremony of a public service body could merit the composition of poems and their recitation at the event. All āsthāna-vidvāns considered it a privilege to compose poems for such occasions and did so with great joy. Literary critics of today might ridicule this practice. However, in the centuries before India became independent, this was a much-appreciated custom. Haven’t several inscriptions and epigraphical records been inspired in this manner?
It appears as though no one desired to record these poems for eternity. Therefore, such compositions went into oblivion right after their conception.
Subrahmanya Shastry and his ancestors had composed such poems on several occasions. If they had desired to compile them all, it would probably fill several volumes! It was an unspoken expectation that such scholars should compose poems not just to commemorate events related to the royalty but for public ceremonies and celebrations as well. There was also a trend of composing poems for celebrations at educational institutions. Scholars felt that their learning found its best manifestation only when they were constantly interacting with the society. Since the conventions of the past might largely be unknown to the current generation, the following illustrations may throw some light –
Starting from the days of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, Subrahmanya Shastry rendered his service to the society by composing poems on different occasions.
On the occasion of the śaṅku-sthāpanā of the electric power station at Shimsha, Shastry composed the following poems in Sanskrit–
śiṃṣāyā vimalair-jalaiḥ kalayituṃ vidyut-pradaṃ sāgaram
śaṅku-sthāpanam-ātanoti kṛpayā sarva-pramodotsavam||
King Krishnaraja rules over the princely state of Mysore, a renowned province in India. He hails from the dynasty of Yadus. He lays the foundation stone to generate electricity from the waters of the river Shimsha!
vāpī-kūpa-taṭāka-ramya-racanā rājya-śriyaṃ puṣyatī-
tyetāṃ vācam-udāra-dhīra-titarāṃ sammānayan saṃprati|
saṃsthāpyādbhuta-sāgaraṃ prakurute sāhyaṃ janānāṃ mudā||
King Krishnaraja has paid heed to the traditional dictum, ‘The construction of various water-bodies brings prosperity to a State,’ and has helped his subjects by building a reservoir against the river Shimsha.
Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar inaugurated the new building of the Sahakāra Jamīnu Aḍamāna Bank [a Co-operative Bank] on 19th July 1944. For the occasion, Subrahmanya Shastry wrote the following poem –
jayacāmorvipa ninna pāṇivaradiṃdāraṃbhasaṃraṃbhamaṃ
dayègaidī aḍamāna bhavyabhavanakkānaṃditasvāṃtadiṃ|
jaya mòṃduttidu nāḍinòḷ baḍajanargāvāguḷuṃ sāhyamaṃ
nayadiṃ nīḍutè bāḷalèṃdu parasai vardhikkidèṃdè diguṃ||
O King Jayachamaraja, you have now inaugurated this agricultural bank meant for the benefit of the poor. We request you to bless it with success!
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
 A community of Telugu-speaking smārta-brāhmaṇas.
 Rhythmic cycle in Indian classical music.