On 29th August 1959, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan visited Mysore to inaugurate the All India Conference on Philosophy. Subrahmanya Shastry wrote the following verses to welcome him –
yasmin jñāte janeṣu prasarati vimalo bhrātṛ-bhāvaḥ suhṛt-tvaṃ
mānuṣyaṃ yena samyag jagati vijayate dharmam-ujjīvya satyaṃ
pāyād-vaḥ śāśvataṃ tat prarucira-sudhiyāṃ darśanaṃ bodha-pūrṇam||
May the philosophical awareness of the wise protect you! By its knowledge, the masses develop a feeling of brotherhood and fraternity. Personal contentment, social enrichment, economic prosperity, and cultural efflorescence emerge because of it. Humanism emerges victorious by revitalising satya and dharma.
śrīmad-bhārata-bhūmi-bhāga-vilasan maisūru-deśe mahān
kartuṃ bhāgya-vaśāt samāgatavate jñānin pramodena te
rādhākṛṣṇa-budhāgragaṇya tanumaḥ premṇā ca susvāgatam||
Sri. Radhakrishnan! We welcome you to inaugurate the All-India Conference of Philosophy convened in Mysore. It is our good fortune that a towering scholar like you is here with us!
The very fact that there were scholars and poets who could compose such poems and there were connoisseurs for such poetry reflects the cultured environment of those days. Everyone naturally felt that such occasion-driven compositions, if recorded in Subrahmanya Shastry’s fabulous voice filled with exuberance and vigour, would be a treat to the society.
Shastry also composed songs and poems as and when an occasion demanded. For instance, B Venkoba Rao who was working for the Archaeological Survey of India had created some paintings of Devatās and Shastry composed poems for the same. For example,
śāṃtaṃ sasmitavaktranāptasukhadaṃ śrīnaṃdisaṃsevitaṃ
kāṃtāliṃgitavāmabhāganamaḻaṃ bhūṣṭojjvaḻaṃ suṃdaram|
dāṃtaṃ dakṣiṇapāṇipadmavilasat śūlāyudhaṃ tāṃ nijai
kāṃtānaṃdamanīgè bhavya ḍamaru prodyatkaraṃ śaṃkaraṃ||
May Śiva cause us happiness! He is serene, self-controlled, ever-smiling, and blesses his devotees with joy. Nandī attends to him. Pārvatī is his better half, occupying the left portion of his body. Adorned by ornaments, he is charming. He holds a trident in his right hand and a drum in the left.
Shastry wrote an elaborate translation (along with explanatory notes) on the Āditya-hṛdaya-stotra and it was published in 1939 by Vājapeyam Govindayya. Following this, the work was republished thrice by different publishers.
Subrahmanya Shastry composed several stotras for his own joy. He also taught his grandchildren Śrīnātha-daṇḍaka for daily recitation.
It appears as though there were not sufficient opportunities for Subrahmanya Shastry’s to put his scholarship and creative to sufficient use. In other words, from the perspective of the works composed by him, it appears like his talents did not get enough scope for being known to the external world. Yet, even under the set of opportunities he actually got, he did compose a large number of works.
The major works that he brought out are –
- Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka-kathègaḻu (in two volumes)
In addition to these, he authored smaller works on anyoktis. He also helped in compiling and editing several works. Among these, Anubhava-mukuram of the poet Janna, published by the Kannada Sahitya Parishat in 1956 in noteworthy.
Shastry’s work on the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa which included ṭīkā and tātparya in the Kannada language was published between 1930 and 1940 by Vājapeyam Govindayya. Back then, there probably was no good edition of the Rāmāyaṇa available in the Kannada language. There was need for a critically-edited version in Kannada. In this background, the following idea occurred to Vājapeyam Govindayya.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Vājapeyam Kṛṣṇayya got an edition of Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa prepared by Vidvān Paṭṭābhirāma-śāstri. This must be refined and republished. The task of editing this work was assigned by Govindayya to Subrahmanya Shastry.
Shastry got some guidance for executing the work from his uncle Vidvān Moṭagānahaḻḻi Rāmaśeṣa-śāstri and Vidvān Kānakānahaḻḻi Narasiṃha-śāstri.
No sooner than he took up the task, Shastry realised the complexities involved. Firstly, the Kannada language used by Paṭṭābhirāma-śāstri was full of Sanskrit words and the common man could not understand it. Secondly, there were quite a number of printing mistakes.
Subrahmanya Shastry employed quite a modern language in his translation. He had made sure that in the final printed book, the original ślokas, their word to word meaning and summary of the meaning – all these were disentangled. He designed each page such that there was adequate spacing between these segments. In fact, in the version prepared by Vidvān Paṭṭābhirāma-śāstri, the author’s comments were mixed with the four Sanskrit commentaries on the epic – Govindarājīya, Taniślokī, Māheśvaratīrthīya, and Tilaka. Subrahmanya Shastry helped sort these overlapping elements and brought clarity in the presentation of the commentary. In this manner, he toiled to bring out the Bāla-kāṇḍa and Ayodhyā-kāṇḍa. Even after so much of struggle, he felt that the work was not adequately user-friendly.
For example, after Śūrpanakhā gets her nose chopped off, she rushes to her elder brother Khara. She describes Rāma and Lakṣṃaṇa using the adjectives ‘taruṇau rūpa-sampannau sukumārau mahā-balau.’ Shastry tells us why she glorifies the attributes of the men who tarnished her beauty – “It was inevitable for anyone who saw Śrī-rāma to describe his sublime qualities; both his friends and enemies naturally had the tendency to do so… or perhaps, she wanted to instigate her brother and thus described Rāma and Lakṣṃaṇa’s valour and skill at war.”
These interpretations, which are not immediately evident from the original text, are given by Subrahmanya Shastry. Thus, his writing can help not just devotees but also connoisseurs of classical literature to appreciate the original work better.
If anyone takes up the task of republishing this set of works, it will be of great use to mankind.
The Rāmāyaṇa volumes authored by Subrahmanya Shastry caught the hearts of people. Back then publication went on only when someone provided funds and booked copies for themselves. Therefore, once the copies were sold out, even those who originally financed it were unable to procure copies of the earlier volumes. There was no facility to print as many copies of a book as one desired to. Starting from getting the paper required for printing, everything was difficult back then.
In his later years, Subrahmanya Shastry had an intense desire to bring out a fresh edition of these volumes to cater to the tastes of the people of his times. But nobody came forward to take up the task of publishing the volumes. Shastry was greatly disappointed by the fact that such priceless work did not see a reprint.
After finishing the tremendous task of refining, editing, translating, and publishing an annotated edition of the Rāmāyaṇa, Shastry next took up the task of translating the Lalitopākhyāna. This got published in the Śrī Jayacāmarājendra Grantha-ratna-mālā series published by the Palace of Mysore, in 1943–44. It was probably in recognition for this work that he was awarded the title ‘Āsthāna-vidvān.’
The Lalitopākhyāna, which occurs in the Uttara-kāṇḍa of the Brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa, is a work that serves as a pārāyaṇa-grantha for many families. For Subrahmanya Shastry’s family too, the Lalitopākhyāna served as a source that provided a story and the meaning for every name that occurs in the Lalitāsahasranāma. Even to this day, people have great reverence for Devī-māhātmyā, i.e., the Durgā-sapta-śatī. This work, which delineates among other things, the stories of Mohinī avatāra, Baṇḍāsura-vadha, Girijā-kalyāṇa, Tāraka-saṃhāra, and also throws light on the Śrīvidyā-upāsana-krama is invaluable for seekers.
āsādya jetasi vahanti sadābhitṛptiṃ||
The pious reverentially read the traditional story of Lalitā, the deity radiant with wisdom. Freed from all afflictions, they attain abiding joy and contentment.
Back in the 1940s, Shastry also authored a two-part work that contained stories from the plays of Bhāsa, Kālidāsa, and a few other renowned Sanskrit poets. These were concise, authentic, lucid, and reader-friendly rendition of the story of the plays in the prose form. By going through this work, the reader can easily grasp the essence of the plays, the nature of the main plot, and important incidents well. The language used for the work is neither too complex nor too simple – it is the golden mean. Similarly, the stories given are neither too short nor too long – they touch the reader’s heart upon the very first reading.
In the work, Shastry writes, “In the backdrop of the recent linguistic developments in India, the growth of plays in regional languages has derived inspiration chiefly from the Sanskrit language. I have written this work with the intention of helping our people, students in particular, to get familiar with the stories of the Sanskrit plays.”
Having said so, Shastry also tells us the nature of his work – “It would not be out of place to mention here that I have gone through some prose renditions of the stories of plays which have been published in Kannada, English and Sanskrit languages. I have been greatly benefited by reading such works. I have tried to be careful such that the structure of the play under consideration is unharmed and have also ensured that my rendition of stories does not grow out of bounds.”
It will be evident to anyone who reads his work that Shastry has been successful in his efforts and his vow has found fulfilment. He wished to continue the work and wanted to publish two more volumes. However, the first two that he had authored were not lucky enough to find reprints and this made him withdraw his idea of bringing out two additional volumes.
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
He belonged to the Toṭapalli Family. There is a street named after him in the Halasurpet in Bengaluru.
 The author of Prākṛta-śabda-pradīpikā; he belonged to the Kalya family.
 A work that is read or recited periodically as part of the daily rituals or during certain festivals.