S Srikanta Sastri (Part 5)

Researcher

The service rendered by Srikanta Satri as a researcher and as a professor at the University of Mysore is widely known. Sastri was not one who took refuge in the study of history by chance or merely for the sake of livelihood. From a young age he dedicated his life for research in history. One can estimate the intellectual prowess of Sastri from the fact that London’s Royal Asiatic Society accepted and published an academic paper that he wrote while he was still a student. The paper, titled ‘Conquests of Śīlāditya in the South,’ was published in July 1926 and became the opening verse of Sastri’s poem of fame. At that time, Sastri was a mere twenty-one years old and it was perhaps the first ever paper of an Indian student to appear in the prestigious journal.

Following this, Sastri came out with another original paper, this time on Devaraya II, which was published in Indian Antiquary. This paved the way for a research scholarship in Karnataka history during 1927–28.

Even during his student days, his classmates would call him ‘professor.’

But it appears that even earlier, his intellectual radiance had been noticed by people. Sometime around 1921 [Sastri was in his late teens], he presented a research paper about the history of Śivagaṅgā at the History Association of the Maharaja’s College.[1] Tens of his academic essays including ‘Kannaḍāndhra Kavigaḻu’ (‘The Poets of Karnataka and Andhra’), ‘Dṛśya-kāvya Svarūpa Nirūpaṇè’ (‘Exposition on the Structure of Drama’), ‘Hadinaidanèya śatābdada Vāṅmaya’ (‘Literature of the Fifteenth Century’),  ‘Śālivāhana Śaka and the Earliest Date,’ and ‘Oswald Spengler on Indian Culture’ were published even before he completed his MA (c. 1926). During the years 1920–25, Sastri even prepared a Kannada dictionary.

When Srikanta Sastri was a student at the University of Mysore in the mid-1920s, each one of his class of teachers was an eminent professor – J C Rollo (English), B M Srikantayya (Kannada), S V Krishnaswami Iyengar (Political Science), H Krishna Rao (Greek History), and so forth.[2]

Srikanta Sastri’s history professor S V Venkateshwara was a special influence on him. Having observed that even as a student he was writing scholarly research papers that were published in reputed journals, Venkateshwara praised the young Sastri and encouraged him. Distinguished scholars like Prof. M Hiriyanna and V L D’Souza showered praises on Srikanta Sastri’s academic papers and lectures.

After that, Sastri’s research and writing continued relentlessly. Works like ‘Sources of Karnataka History,’ ‘Proto-Indic Religion,’ ‘Early Gaṅgas of Talakāḍ,’ ‘Iconography of Vidyārṇava Tantra,’ ‘Bhāratīya Saṃskṛti’ (‘Indian Culture’), ‘Hòysaḻa Vāstuśilpa’ (‘Hoysala Architecture’), ‘Purātattva Saṃśodhanè’ (‘Archaeological Research’) and others brought immense fame to Srikanta Sastri and to Karnataka. Apart from this, Sastri’s published academic papers number around three hundred.

In the oriental conference that took place in Mysore in 1935, Sastri presented a paper on determining the period of Śaṅkara-bhagavatpāda and in the 1941 edition, he presented a paper on the ‘Hydroselenic Culture.’ In the 1958 literary conference—Sāhitya Sammeḻana—he was the President of the Kalāgoṣṭhi (Arts section).

It is rare to find scholars who have laboured more than Srikanta Sastri in the study of epigraphy. It can be said that the acme of Sastri’s scholarship was the editing, publication, and the writing of scholarly analysis on each of these inscriptions – the inscription about Basavaṇṇa, the Arjunwadi inscription of Kaṇṭhīrava Narasarāja, the Goravūru grant (dāna) of Ponneranoḻamba, Guha’s Uttarakāśi inscription, Durvinīta Gaṅga’s Hebbata inscription, two grants of Kaṇṭhīrava Narasarāja, the Belagutti records, etc. It was Sastri who competently took forward the tradition of [John Faithfull] Fleet. Scores of students who learnt epigraphy and estimation of time period from Sastri, even today wholeheartedly praise the structural clarity and ordering of his lessons, his holistic vision, and his intellectual prowess. Sometimes, for a sentence or a claim that would be printed in two lines, Sastri would have tens of pages’ worth evidence in the background.

Hearing ability and eyesight – Sastri had handicaps in both. Even in his professional life there were many instances where he did not get what he should have got in the natural course. But he ignored all such external episodes and continued his scholarly activities as if it were a tapas.

Due to the special interest taken by the then Vice-Chancellor N S Subba Rao, Srikanta Sastri’s treatise Sources of Karnataka History saw light of day and upon seeing it, the erstwhile Dewan, Sir Mirza M Ismail sent a congratulatory letter to the university. Eminent scholars like Pune’s Prof. P K Gode had said that Sastri’s treatise serves as a great model for other historians in the country.

In Sources of Karnataka History, Sastri has collected and methodically presented all the material available on the history of Karnataka in various lands and in multiple languages of the world; without doubt this has increased the prominence of scholarship in Karnataka.[3]

In 1949, for his D.Litt. degree, Sastri had submitted his published research papers in various languages. Prof. Radha Kumud Mukherjee, who had been assigned as the examiner gave his learned opinion on the value of Sastri’s writings by saying, “For such an immense body of research, a degree like D.Litt. is extremely small!”

In 1954, Sastri was made Professor and Head of the Department of History, a post he held till his retirement in 1960. For three long decades he served the university.

It was a matter of satisfaction and pride for him that many of his students diligently applied themselves to research and in later years rose high in the pantheon of historians. Dr. M Chidananda Murthy, Dr. S R Rao, Dr. S Settar, Dr. B Sheik Ali, Dr. S M Vrishabhendra Swami, Dr. T V Venkatachala Sastry, Dr. A V Narasimha Murthy, Dr. M V Srinivas, and Dr. K Sripati Sastri were Srikanta Sastri’s students, as were Dr. D Javaregowda, Sri. H Y Sharada Prasad, A K Ramanujan, Dr. U R Ananta Murthy, and numerous others.

It is rare to find a historian who knew as many languages as Sastri did. The rule that Srikanta Sastri followed for his study was that he must read the primary sources for his research (and subsequent findings) in their original languages. For his standard of research, he wasn’t content with translations and secondary sources. Therefore, Sastri learnt not only Indian languages like Pali, Tamil, Ardha-māgadhī, and so forth but also foreign languages like Chinese, Japanese, French, German, Greek, and so on, as well as ancient languages like Hittite, Assyrian, Egyptian, Sumerian, etc.

Every instance of Sastri’s determination of a certain time period in history was based on solid epigraphical and archaeological evidence and in addition to that, he would provide evidence from contemporary literature as well as astronomical evidence (based on movement of stars and planetary positions). Anyone who peruses his writings will immediately realize this tendency of Sastri to give multifaceted evidence that made his claim rock-solid.

There is an underlying tonality in Sastri’s entire work that is unmistakable. He believed that a nation can ignore its history only at peril to itself. For him history was but an extension of culture. His focus was thus the life of the people rather than arid political chronicling. In this sense, many scholars have said that Srikanta Sastri as a historian was in the class of Fleet, Lewis Rice and R Narasimhachar.

A Man of Certainty

Srikanta Sastri never feared criticism of any sort because his findings and claims were based on such strong and fundamental evidence. Sastri criticized Fr. Heras and others who made the baseless claim that the Sindhu script [also called Indus script] was related to ancient Tamil; he also fearlessly proclaimed that scholars who were trying to connect the twain were influenced by fanatic Dravidian politics. Sastri was not a person who hesitated when it came to the exposition of the truth; due to this, on quite a few occasions he ended up infuriating different groups. In the decade of 1960, in an essay that Sastri wrote he mentioned that we need to take an evidence-based stand on the position accorded to Purandara-dāsa in the world of music and also tried to establish a link between Purandara-dāsa and the decline of Vijayanagara – this created a great furore.

There are many such points of ‘instigation’ in his Hòysaḻa Vāstuśilpa and in other treatises. Sastri did not hesitate to hackle and override theories with which others had been comfortable – be it the date of Basaveśvara, identity of Devara Dāsimayya, or the date of the Gomateśvara monolith at Sravanabelagola.

For all such fiascos and arguments, Sastri’s response would be: “For whatever I have claimed or concluded, I have all the evidence ready. If you have evidence to support your claim, please put them forward.” And anyone who spoke at a lower level than that, Sastri would simply ignore. He would simply say, “Is it my job to reply to every shout or call that is heard on the street?”

The Pallava king Mahendra-varma claimed that he was the first person to employ stones in the construction of temples but Sastri showed that it was a baseless claim and established that the Pallavas were deeply influenced by the architecture of the Cālukyas.

Hòysaḻa Vāstuśilpa is an excellent handbook to know about the various aspects of the architecture of the Hoysalas, who are considered among the most refined dynasties of Karnataka.

Politics too wasn’t outside the purview of Sastri. His political vision can be seen in the expansive introductory essays he wrote for the books written by one of his prominent disciples, Y G Krishnamurti – Visvesvaraya: Prophet of Planned Economy, Independent India and a New World Order, Constituent Assembly and Indian Federation, and so forth.

In the souvenir brought out on the occasion of the 1938 Haripura Congress Session, one of the prominent articles was by Srikanta Sastri.

Sastri’s article titled “Is Mysore Maharaja a True Sovereign?” drew the wrath of the then Dewan Sir Mirza Ismail.

In addition to Sastri’s writings published in reputed academic journals, hundreds of his essays were published in the magazines and newspapers read by the laity. During the period 1955–66, in the Prajāvāṇi newspaper alone, more than seventy of his essays were published (including twenty-five book reviews). Sastri wrote about topics as varied as the art of mime, the culinary arts, and so forth.

To print and publish a remarkable work such as the Sources of Karnataka History (Part 1), it took the university several years. His experience with the publication of other books was also not particularly encouraging. Another episode led to his general disillusionment. After toiling for years and preparing the second part of Sources, when he gave the handwritten manuscript to an eminent littérateur for review, it never came back. After waiting for a long time, finally Sastri began the work again from scratch.

A N Krishna Rao (A. Na. Kr.), T R Subbarao (Ta. Ra. Su.), Karlamangalam Srikantayya, and other well-known personages had great reverence towards Sastri. Inspired by Srikanta Sastri’s personality, A. Na. Kr. created a character like the former in one of his novels.

Physical Handicaps

Srikanta Sastri’s research papers attained recognition the world over. As early as 1928–29, he was to receive the William Mayor student scholarship to pursue his higher studies in England but for some reason he missed getting it. After that, he received invitations from Varanasi and Delhi as well as from universities in other countries. But he remained attached to Mysore. One reason was his patriotic fervour; the other reason was his physical handicap. He was afflicted by smallpox when he was a child and as a result, his left eye and left ear were rendered useless. The right eye, which was already weak, lost its sharpness over time owing to his relentless study, rendering him practically blind. Following this, an attack of paralysis made Sastri weak and helpless. He was to receive an award at the 1970 Sāhitya Sammeḻana held at Bangalore but he was unable to make it to the conference and accepted it at home.

On 15th January 1973, Srikanta Sastri’s students and admirers had organized a felicitation ceremony for him at Manasagangotri. The then Vice-Chancellor Prof. D Javaregowda presided over the ceremony. Tirumale Tatacharya Sharma, Srikanta Sastri’s student Dr. S R Rao, and others gave felicitation speeches. A felicitation volume titled ‘Śrīkaṇṭhikā’ edited by Dr. T V Venkatachala Sastry and Dr. B R Gopal was released by the famed historian and retired professor of Madras University, Prof. T V Mahalingam, and offered to Srikanta Sastri.

*  *  *

For years without end Sastri was focussed on his research without distractions on petty affairs and toiled with single-minded devotion. It can be said that his partial deafness and weak eyesight proved to be a blessing in disguise.

When the topic of discussion was something dear to him, as if by magic his deafness would disappear!

One of Sastri’s bosom friends was the renowned scholar Ambale Venkatasubbayya. He was also quite deaf. But when the two of them would meet, for hours they discussed about the Vedas and its nuances.

It was similar while teaching at the college. He had the experience of teaching for several years. And so, when a student stood up to ask a question, even before he or she could speak, Sastri would guess the question that would be raised and then provide the answer.

Sastri would dress in an extremely simple manner [and look like an ordinary person]; but after listening to a lecture or two, the students would come face to face with the depth of his scholarship and would develop a reverential feeling towards him.

Unpublished Works

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Srikanta Sastri’s unpublished works would amount to nearly double of what was published. Some of his handwritten manuscripts are unavailable now. When T N Srikantaiya (Ti. Nam. Sri.) was in Dharwad, upon his request Srikanta Sastri had written a work titled ‘Kannaḍa Sāhityada Itihāsa-Rājakīya Caritrè’ (‘The History of Kannada Literature with a few Aspects of Political Life’) and sent it to him. It doesn’t seem to have been published. In 1963, Sastri translated A Tale of Two Cities of Charles Dickens into Kannada and gave it to a publisher friend of his. Even that doesn’t seem to have been published. As early as 1930–32, he had prepared an English translation of Vimuktātman’s Iṣṭa-siddhi, which also remained unpublished.

Sastri had also prepared English translations of the Yajurveda’s Taittirīya-brāhmaṇa, Taittirīya-āraṇyaka, and kalpa-sūtras.

After his wife Nagarathnamma died, he spent his last years in Bangalore at his eldest daughter’s place. Spending his time in peace, he breathed his last on 10th May 1974.

Concluded.

This is the fifth and final 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] Around the same time, he presented a paper on dhvani at the Sanskrit Association and a paper on ‘Kannaḍa Nāgānanda’ at the Karṇāṭaka Saṅgha..

[2] Some of his other preceptors were H V Nanjundayya, N S Subba Rao, V L D’Souza, B Krishnappa, A R Krishna Shastri, R Shamashastry, and M H Krishna.

[3] The first volume of Sources of Karnataka History was published by the Mysore University in 1940. This multi-lingual tour de force earned wide acclaim, not only in India but even abroad. No less a scholar than Dr. Barnett reviewed it in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.

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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The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...