Moṭagānahaḻḻi Subrahmanya Shastry - Kannada Translations

Subrahmanya Shastry seemed to have had quite a long relationship with the Skānda-mahā-purāṇa. This was probably the earliest of the works he had taken up. He had started working on a prose rendition of the Skānda-mahāpurāṇa running to twelve volumes back in 1928. In the edition thus published, the original text was not given and only the translation was given in the form of running prose. He has dedicated the work to his father, Moṭagānahaḻḻi Śaṅkara-śāstri.[1]

In the preface to the Kedāra-kāṇḍa of the Skānda-purāṇa, which was released on 6th September 1927, he says the following – “The country of Bhārata seems to be sliding downhill because of the British atmosphere. It has forgotten all its ancient ārya-dharma and is retaining its glory only because of the stories of the past. It is because of the English that Indians forgot the ārya-dharma and the purāṇas, which are in the Sanskrit language. They are not understood by anyone today. Of late, i.e., in the recent decades where Kannada is again rising up, there are several who have authored the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata in the Kannada language. However, none of them seem to have attempted to bring the Mahā-purāṇas into Kannada. Therefore, I would like to work to the extent possible for the sake of the Kannada language and for the country. I have taken up the translation of the Skānda-purāṇa, which talks about the greatness of Śiva and I hope to bring it out in the Kannada language with his blessings.”

The first volume ran to 254 pages (in Crown ⅛ size) and was priced at one and a half rupees. The next volume came out after two years, i.e., in 1930. The second volume that contained sections from the Kaumārikā-kāṇḍa was published by the Universal Power Press headed by G B Srikanthayya under the series Śaṅkara-vilāsa Grantha-māla. It ran to 350 pages and cost two and a half rupees.

Only two volumes found light of the day among the twelve that were planned. Publishing books was quite an adventure back in the day. It was not easy to publish a series of books running to several volumes.

The Skānda-mahā-purāṇa has a special place in the eighteen major purāṇas of India. There is also an upa-purāṇa named Skānda and here, we are specifically referring to the bigger one, the ‘Mahā-purāṇa.’ This purāṇa, which runs to eighty-one thousand ślokas, is bigger than every other purāṇa; it consists of seven kāṇḍas, viz. Māheśvara, Vaiṣṇava, Brāhma, Kāśī, Āvantya, Nāgara, and Prabhāsa. The purāṇa talks about the glory of Śiva, several tīrtha-kṣetra-māhātmyas and the deeds of many major and minor devatas.

It is only in the years after 1944 that Subrahmanya Shastry’s dream of publishing the entire mahāpurāṇa actually bore fruit. It was due to the grace of the Mahārāja of Mysore that the entire Skānda-mahā-purāṇa came out in the Śrī Jayacāmarājendra Grantha-ratna-mālā between 1944 and 1958. Back then a volume was priced at about five or six rupees.

Even if we disregard, for a moment, the complexity of the content matter, the magnitude of the work itself amazes the common reader. It gave Subrahmanya Shastry great pleasure that he was able to achieve such a tremendous task.

Subrahmanya Shastry’s wife’s elder brother, S Ramachandra Shastry as well as K Narasimhacharya helped him at various stages of the preparation of the book.


Subrahmanya Shastry also translated Kālidāsa’s play Mālavikāgnimitra under the title Karnāṭaka-mālavikāgnimirta-nāṭakam. This was published by the Karnataka Sangha of Central College, Bangalore in 1952. The encouragement and support provided by Shastry’s friend G P Rajarathnam is memorable. It is sad and surprising to see that this beautiful translation has not been reprinted.

Shastry has translated the original poems into vṛttas and kandas in the Haḻagannaḍa and the prose passages into pristine prose of Hosagannaḍa. Scholars such as Bellave Narahari Shastry, D L Narasimhachar, L Gundappa, M R Srinivasamurthy, and V Sitaramaiah provided him with valuable suggestions for the translation.

“Translation is as easy as walking on a double-edged sword. If there is an extra word here or a word missing there, it is the shortcoming of the one who walks – me. I am always ready to rectify the faults that people may find in my translation.” These are his words in the ‘Arikè’ (‘Author’s Submission’) of the work. These words bear testimony to his dedication and humility.

V Si. has fondly recollected the kind of conversations that they had when Shastry was in the process of translation – all their discussions were filled with concepts related to kāvya and śāstra. He has also appreciated Shastry’s heart that was well-groomed for literature. It is a treat to see the manner in which Shastry has translated profound verses from the original into Kannada. Anyone who pays special attention to the following verses in particular will get to know how fine his skill at translation was.

I quote two verses here. Gaṇadāsa, praises the art of nāṭya using the following words.

devānām-idam-āmananti-munayaḥ kāntaṃ ṛtuṃ cākṣuṣaṃ

rudreṇedam-umā-kṛta-vyatikare svāṅge vibhaktaṃ dvidhā||

traiguṇyodbhavam-atra loka-caritaṃ nānā-rasaṃ dṛśyate

nāṭyaṃ bhinnarucer-janasya-bahudhāpyekaṃ samārādhanam|| [Sanskrit Original]

The Sanskrit original is in the Śārdūlavikrīḍitam meter. Shastry translated this in the allied Mattebhavikrīḍitam meter in Kannada as follows:

suravṛṃdakkidu ramyacākṣuṣamakhaṃ tānèṃbarā maunigaḷ

haranuṃ gauriyanappidaṃgadòḷidaṃ dvaividhyadiṃ toridaṃ|

nèrè nānārasamāṃta lokacaritaṃ traiguṇyajaṃ torkumī

tèradiṃ nāṭyamanāḍè bhinnarucigaḷgekaṃ samārādhanaṃ|| [Kannada Translation]


The sages regard this, nāṭya, as a veritable visual feat to the eyes of the deities; Rudra, whose body blended with that of Umā divides this into two flavours – uddhata and sukumāra in his own body; Nāṭya captures the life of the world arising from the three primary qualities - sattva, rajas and tamas and is distinguished by the presence of various rasas. Nāṭya is the chief means of entertainment for people of variegated tastes.


The following verse describes afternoon and occurs in the second act of the play:

patrac-chāyāsu haṃsā mukulita-nayanā dīrghikā padminīnāṃ

saudhāny-atyartha-tāpād-valabhi-paricaya-dveṣi pārāvatāni|

bindu-kṣepān-pipāsuḥ parisarati śikhī bhrāntimad-vāriyantraṃ

sarvair-usrais-samagrais-tvam-iva nṛpa-guṇair-dīpyate sapta-saptiḥ|| [Sanskrit Original]

The original which set to the Sragdharā meter was translated into Kannada set to Śārdūlavikrīḍitam as follows:

vāpīpadmalatā palāśa neLalgoṃḍaṃce kaṇmucciral

tāpandāLade sūrgaLaṃ toreduvī pārāvataṃ saudhadhoL

āpoyantrade bīLva nīrpaniyanīṃṭal navil sārvudiṃ

tī pūṣaṃ prakharāṃśuviṃ nṛpaguṇaṃdāLdoppuvaṃ ninnavol || [Kannada Translation]

The hamsas rest under the cool shade of the leaves of the lotus plants with their eyes partially closed; pigeons have abandoned the sloping roofs of the palatial buildings due to the extreme heat; a peacock goes around the fountain, desirous of drinking droplets of water; the sun is radiant as he casts his vertical rays just as you are with your royal qualities.


The following words that were said about his translation do not seem to be an exaggeration at all – “His intention was that the translation should capture the essence of the prose and the verses alike, without excessive usage of words; he wanted his writing to be concise, precise, and lucid at the same time. He would go through his writings again and again and did not publish them until he was completely satisfied with the work. He never succumbed to the desires of getting his works published. Words won’t suffice to talk of the beauty of the kanda, vṛtta, and prose passages that he authored. His language was an optimum blend of Sanskrit words and pleasing Kannada words. It was a confluence of ancient and modern thought. These and other qualities make his writings remarkable.”[2]


His work Karnāṭaka-mālavikāgnimitra-Nāṭakam stands as a testimony for his prowess in capturing the intent of the poet accurately in Kannada prose. It also reflects his ability at composing independent verses.

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

[1] Śrī-rājarājeśvarī-varaprasādā-sādita digaṃta-kīrti sampannarāda, abhinava-kāḷidāsa-vaṃśodbhavarū prasiddha kavigaḷū āda tīrtharūpa moṭagānahaḷḷi śaṃkaraśāstriyavarigè.

[2] Editorial, Prabuddha Karṇāṭaka, Vol. 43, No. 4




Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of stalwarts like D. V. Gundappa, Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, V Sitaramaiah, and others. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and served as the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs for many years.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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