Reminiscences of Dr. Pandurang Vaman Kane (Part 2)

Study in Libraries

While reading several chapters of the History of Dharma-śāstra, we all noticed that Dr. P V Kane (‘PVK’) has referred to manuscripts, books, and journals available at some library in Nepal, Delhi, a corner of North-eastern India, in the heart of South India, and so forth. I was wonderstruck as to how he could go to these places simply to refer to a single manuscript. I was impressed with his keenness in not letting go of a single paper available on the subject. Even before I asked the question came the mention of PVK’s library visits during his summer vacations. I was all ears when Dr. Shantaram Kane (‘SK’) mentioned that PVK would visit libraries at far off places, sometimes combining it with family vacations and sometimes alone (like his visits to Jaipur and Tanjore).

I requested SK for more information about these library visits. He said, “Everything pertaining to the library visit and summer holidays was planned to the last detail by my grandfather. He would gather information beforehand as to the manuscripts and books available in a certain library. He would then make a fair estimate of the number of days and hours he would have to spend reading and understanding those manuscripts and books. He assessed the time it would take to write down the texts or to make notes of such manuscripts as there were no photocopying machines in the libraries those days. Also, reading a manuscript isn’t as easy as reading a published book. One would have to spend considerable time to decode the script and at certain places, the ink would have faded. The necessary tools and magnifying glasses were required to study these. Despite knowing beforehand the nature of books and manuscripts available, the library could throw surprises to him in terms of rare books or manuscripts present, which the librarian himself wouldn’t have known. My grandfather had to accommodate within his time these surprise discoveries. All preparations would be done well in advance and his travel would be worked to every detail. Within the few days he would spend at the library, he had to exhaust all the relevant material from that library, a failure of which would mean another trip to the same place and such adventures weren’t economical.”

During his regular working days in Bombay, PVK also took some time for entertainment during his busy schedule. He would occasionally watch a movie after court hours and come home to study. Another form of entertainment that he enjoyed was watching Marathi or Sanskrit plays in the evenings and for this, he would take his grandchildren along.

Signal Service to Widows at Pandharapura

After listening to all these wonderful episodes, I asked SK if there was any text or any branch of study in the area of Indian culture and heritage that PVK had not read. It appears to me that PVK had exhausted several libraries in Greater India. To my question, SK replied, “Indeed, Grandfather was a voracious reader and it is difficult to say what he had not read. I used to be amazed at how he would have information at his fingertips even on subjects that he said did not concern him!”

We began telling SK about how our friends in the Dharma-shastra study group would constantly be dumbfounded looking at the sort of obscure books that PVK had read in the course of his studies. As he was listening to us, an old memory was triggered, and SK started narrating a fascinating episode.

Once, in the Pandharapura temple, the main arcaka of the temple had declared that widows who had not tonsured their head would not be allowed inside the garbha-gha of the temple and place her head on the lotus feet of the lord. It’s a well-known fact that until recently, in Pandharapura, the devotees were permitted to embrace the vigraha of Viṭṭhala and offer their salutations. One of the devotees of the temple, a widow, aggrieved by imposition of this new rule approached PVK to understand the matter. He dismissed such a rule and said that there was nothing in the scriptures that would restrain the widow from offering her prayers because she had not tonsured her head; she had to be treated on par with other devotees. PVK was of the view that the pradhāna arcaka of the temple hadn’t understood the essence of the dharma-śāstras and his imposition of such a rule only belied his ignorance. He told the lady that he would fight her case pro bono. A suit was filed against the Pandharapura Temple Trust. When the matter reached the stage of evidence, PVK had to cross examine the pradhāna arcaka. During his cross examination, PVK asked that arcaka if he knew the name of a certain well-known scholar. The arcaka proudly said that he was the son of that great scholar. PVK asked him if the understanding of that scholar (i.e. the arcaka’s father) on the subject of temple rituals, the nature of persons to be allowed or disallowed, and so forth was proper. The arcaka said that whatever he had learnt was mainly from his father and without doubt his father’s opinion was the last word on the subject. After all these had come out in the deposition, PVK showed him a book written by his father and ascertained its authenticity from the witness. Then, he started reading out a passage in that book that clearly mentioned that widows, irrespective of the fact that they had tonsured their head or not, can be allowed inside the temples like any other devotee and gave Pandharapura as an illustration of the same. With this, the Defendant had no case and the widow was allowed to enter the garbha-gṛha. PVK had read the book written by the erstwhile pradhāna arcaka of the Pandharapura temple, which his son himself hadn’t read!

People from all walks of life would regularly call on PVK seeking explanations on some or the other topic related to the dharma-śāstras. Several religious trusts, institutions, and temples would frequent him for opinions, which he would gladly give. This also made him the undisputed scholar in the Hindu Law and his opinions were often sought by the courts. When PVK argued a matter pertaining to Hindu Law, everyone in the court including the Judge had to acknowledge a great learning experience and had little to say thereafter. PVK’s comparative analysis and original insights at the end of each chapter in History of Dharma-śāstra stands as a testimony to this fact.

To be continued...

My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Shantaram G Kane, the grandson of Dr. P V Kane, for sharing so many wonderful anecdotes about his grandfather with me and my friends. Further, he promptly reviewed the present essay, offering wonderful suggestions as well as fact-corrections. I wish to express my thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh and Dr. S L Bhyrappa for encouraging me to record the highlights of my meeting with Dr. Shantaram Kane. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his thorough editing of the essay.



Kashyap N Naik is a practising advocate at Bangalore and a light classical singer. He has an abiding interest in Indian literature, history, law, culture, and philosophy. 

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