S Srikanta Sastri (Part 1)

Recent research has debunked the theory—built on philological grounds—that the Aryans came to India from Central Asia or elsewhere and settled here. The person who sharply criticized the ‘Aryan Invasion’ Theory of European scholars even before the decades of 1940–1950s is the renowned historian Dr. S Srikanta Sastri.[1] In spite of erudite scholarly circles discarding the ‘Aryan Invasion’ Theory, owing to the idiosyncrasies of our system of education, this absurd notion continues to be included in our textbooks and taught in our classes; that is a different story. For several decades, Srikanta Sastri would tell his students, “To obtain marks in the examination, write it as it’s given in your textbooks. But don’t believe the ‘Aryans came from outside’ theory. The fact is that the āryas are natives of this land.” Thus he would instruct them!

Sòṇḍekòppa Srikanta Sastri (5th November 1904–10th May 1974) taught ancient history to graduate students for over three decades at Maharaja’s College, Mysore. He wrote tens of scholarly treatises in Kannada and English; he attained mastery over many a subject. Sastri’s expansive knowledge of Sanskrit and other Indian languages as well as a few European languages resulted in making his research more extensive and profound. Similarly, his deep study in various (allied) fields like archaeology, epigraphy, Vedic literature, architecture, sculpture, astrology, and astronomy gave him a more holistic comprehension of history. As a result of this, Sastri’s treatises like Bhāratīya Saṃskṛti (‘Indian Culture,’ 1954), Prapañca Caritrèya Rūparekhègaḻu (‘Outlines of World History,’ 1957), The Sources of Karnataka History (which he wrote as early as 1927–28), and other research volumes are of immense value even today as source books.

Graduate students who had chosen to study German or French in addition to history would also take Sastri’s help in their learning those languages.

Sastri’s personality was one that was refined and cultured by the constant companionship of several learned elders. Every morning Prof. A R Krishna Sastri would get Srikanta Sastri and his classmates to wake up in the morning and take them to a gymnasium, ensuring that they get their daily dose of physical exercise; Sastri often reminisced this as well as the devotion to teaching he saw in greats like A R Krishna Sastri and Rāḻḻapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma. It was Krishna Sastri who inspired Srikanta Sastri to write the classic Bhāratīya Saṃskṛti. This book was written as a result of several years of sustained effort.

Multifaceted Scholarship

Although Sastri was renowned as among the foremost historians of his generation, he had expanded his scope of work to include many other fields including literature, contemporary politics, political theory, and so forth. Just to give an example: the essay Geopolitics of India and Greater India that Sastri wrote in 1943 (Forty-seven years later, in 1989, the good fortune of publication was bestowed on that essay!)

That he never got attached to a particular ideology or school of thought and evaluated varied principles and conclusions purely based on their merits accentuates Sastri’s intellectual integrity. He did not reject the fundamental human elements of Marxism; however, he advocated the nationalism of Gandhi. To bring about homogeneity across the country, making everything uniform and equal, is neither necessary nor possible; if the State grows more intent in the quest of mechanically bringing about uniformity across the country, democracy will be impaired. This was Sastri’s opinion. “Too close an embrace of the State might result in abandoning democracy,” are his words. This astute observation of Sastri, made more than sixty years ago, has been proved by history in the period following India’s independence.

In any sort of international coalition, if the various nations that are a part of it have to be spirited and pro-citizen, it is inevitable for them to embrace socialistic principles; Sastri has said, “Only a thorough socialistic bias given to the government will provide it with an organic and dynamic quality and make it truly democratic.”

How logical—and prescient—was Sastri’s analysis that ‘Japan can easily build an oriental co-prosperity sphere in Eastern Asia’ was shown by the rise of Japan’s prosperity in the decades following the war.

When politics aligns itself to the geographical specialties of a certain land, the country becomes stronger and more influential; thus, when a geographically united country is divided on political lines, all the divided segments can become individually weak; in this backdrop, Sastri forcefully resisted the partition of India. He said, “An important consideration is the necessity to maintain the unity and compactness endowed by nature and culture. The attempt to vivisect India into Pakistan, Sikhistan, Azad Panjab, Dravidastan, etc. [sic] can have no justification on geographical grounds.”

However, when geographical factors are valued much more than culture and other vital elements of society, what are the resultant distortions and perversions – Sastri expounded this by using the example of Germany.

In the Foreword he wrote to Independent India and a New World Order[2] by Y G Krishnamurti[3], Sastri was critical of British imperialism and called for India’s freedom; during the days of World War II, this caught the attention of the Germans and [Joseph] Goebbels—Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda—alluded to the stance of Prof. Srikanta Sastri and Dr. S Radhakrishnan in a war-time Berlin radio broadcast. Mild police inquiries in Mysore ensued.

Foresight

In several matters, Sastri’s thoughts and opinions would be different from what was prevalent. Many of his arguments and ideas have become a part of the mainstream after a period of forty or fifty years. For instance, he rejected the view of that period (i.e., the decade of 1940s) that India is incapable of fulfilling its needs in terms of food [in other words, it lacks self-sufficiency in food]. In his writings of 1943, Sastri clearly mentioned that the main problem lies in the imbalance of distribution of food. He had said that instead of attempting measures like population control and reduction, we must focus on improving our economic competence akin to the Southeast Asian countries.

He rejected the imperialistic notion that India lacks technological expertise. He fervently argued that it is both possible and necessary to get the initial investment needed for the rejuvenation of the country by consolidating the savings of the Indian people. He emphasized that India’s legal system should not become an imitation of the British system but it should be shaped in a manner that aligns to the traditional Indian conception of dharma and justice; it must give importance to a nīti-based law that inculcates dharma. [In other words, emphasis on values and duties rather than on rights and entitlements.]

Sastri’s speciality is that he firmly held on to ‘Itihāsa-prajñā’ [history-consciousness] and ‘Vastu-niṣṭhā’ [objectivity and intellectual integrity] under all circumstances.

During the days when the Western world was at the acme of its materialistic success, Sastri had said these visionary words – “In the history of the world, it is only Hinduism that gave not only to India but also to all her neighbours an organic conception of society based upon economic as well as spiritual needs. It is the very antithesis of ‘the principle of accumulation based on inequality’ which is a vital part of the Western order of society. It recognized frankly the hard fact that perfect equality in all spheres is impossible of attainment. Therefore it attempted to mitigate the evil consequences of great disparity by aiming at only the essentials. It reconciled the antagonism between rights and obligations, so that the individual by asserting his ‘inherent’ right might not break up social solidarity, nor could society impose such obligations as to cripple the spirit of individualism. Liberty and law were synthesized to achieve spiritual freedom.”

Sastri, who had attained eminence in the field of ancient history, also took interest in contemporary history and that reveals to us his breadth of vision.

To be continued...

This is the first part of a five-part English adaptation of 'Nadoja' S R Ramaswamy’s article on Prof. S Srikanta Sastri and the Moṭagānahaḻḻi Scholarly Lineage (pp. 184–207) in his anthology Dīvaṭigègaḻu (Bangalore: Sahitya Sindhu Prakashana, 2012) with additional points taken from a paper titled ‘Professor S. Srikantha Sastri: A Brief Biographical Memoir’ that he presented at the two-day birth centenary seminar on Sastri organized by the Mythic Society, Bangalore, on 20th and 21st November 2004. Thanks to Dr. S R Ramaswamy, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh, Prof. L V Shanthakumari, and Arjun Bharadwaj for their thorough review and invaluable suggestions for improvement.

 

Footnotes

[1] A particularly noteworthy paper by Sastri on this subject is ‘The Aryans,’ which he contributed to the K. M. Munshi Festscrift volume of Bhāratīya Vidyā, Volume III (New Series), Nos. 5-6-7, May-June-July 1947.

[2] Published by The Popular Book Depot, Bombay in 1943.

[3] Sastri’s student who later became a close associate of Gandhi and Nehru, subsequently joining the Nepal Royal Service as an advisor to King Mahendra.

 

Author(s)

About:

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.

Translator(s)

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written more than fifteen books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He works in an advisory capacity with Abhinava Dance Company, Lakshminarayana Global Centre for Excellence, Pramiti, and Samvit Research Foundation.

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