Prof. Sondekoppa Srikanta Sastri (Part 4)

Here is an example of a critique written by Sastri and what is noteworthy is that instead of it becoming merely reactionary, it offers a wonderful commentary on Indian culture.

The German philosopher-historian Oswald Spengler wrote a two-part tome titled Der Untergang des Abendlandes (literally, ‘The Downfall of the Occident’), which was translated into English in 1926 as ‘The Decline of the West’ and it sold a hundred thousand copies. In his work, Sprengler tries to formulate certain general laws of cultural history based on what he thinks is the ultimate fundamental reality underlying every phase of cultural development. Sastri deals specifically with Sprengler’s views of Indian cultural development and tears him into shreds.

Sastri starts the essay with a brilliant passage –

The prime characteristic of modern western thought is the perception of the fact that Western Culture has been tried and found wanting. Mingled with this sense of disappointment can also be found a wistful longing for some great new inspiration to enliven the life of to-day and hold forth a hope for the morrow. This wave of pessimism passed all over Europe as a result of the inability of the conventional standards of spirituality to cope successfully with the new order of things after a most disastrous world-war.”

Sprengler asserts that as contrasted with the Egyptian, the Indian ‘forgot everything’ as symbolised by burning of the dead and the absence of an art of portraiture. Sastri writes –

“But it must not be forgotten that ancestor-worship which is enjoined on every Hindu is a more subtle form of expressing the transcendental nature of Consciousness than the crude Egyptian method of mummification and of resorting to granite or basalt for the preservation of mere flesh.”

Upon a superficial observation of Indian culture, Spengler opines that it passes through a dreamy existence with no awareness of the world around. In response, Sastri says –

“What is impossible for the western man to understand is that there can be an intense individual existence, which, however rigidly it might appear to the outward eye, conform to the system of the World-as-Nature, might at the same time be independent of it.

“The Advaita doctrine... places before the world a conception of real democracy in a World of truth. The singularism of Śaṃkara admits of no weakness and is the most logical and rational conclusion that can be arrived at from the facts of consciousness as apprehended by the Indian soul.”

And further, he goes on to write –

“The personality and the individuality of each Self was assured to the Indian not by self-aggrandisement but by self-effacement. Society is but a means to an end-the end being the development of the real Self.

“Buddhism was not the perfect and final expression of the Indian soul as Spengler believes. It found no permanent place in the land of its birth as such, though when modified by Tantraism, Vaishnavism etc., it necessarily influenced the spiritual life of the country. It is but an early landmark in the spiritual evolution of the Indian soul, the culmination of which was the Advaita doctrine. It is nearer to the truth to say that the Non-dualism of Śaṃkara with its relentless logic formed the crown and the summit of Indian thought...

“The history of Indian Cultural development is thus one of spiritual growth primarily and acquires profound significance only when viewed from the point of India’s distinctive contribution to the world.”

Alluding to the period from the 10th century CE when the impact of the barbaric Islamic invasions began to be felt in the Indian life and society, Sastri writes that it was the period when the spiritual creative force dwindles, peaks and pines. Ethical and ritualistic dogmas loom large; the caste-system acquires rigidity; disproportionate attention is bestowed on dry philosophical discussions – often degenerating into mere quibbling; the memory for Feeling becomes a memory for Forms; and finally a pessimistic notion of Karma spreads over the whole continent, destroying all feelings of hope and strength, killing all ideas of Beauty, Truth and Freedom.

And Sastri wrote this when he was twenty-four![1]

Sastri never feared criticism because his findings and claims were based on solid evidence. Right from his high school days, he was sharp to identify errors in arguments and fearlessly took on even his teachers. For instance, when he was at the Wesleyan Collegiate School preparing for his University of Mysore entrance examination a second time, a missionary by name Rev. Brunt, who taught English would often ridicule Hinduism and Hindu gods. Sastri argued with him tooth and nail, boldly giving rock-solid evidence.

Sastri criticized the formidable Fr. Henry Heras and others who made the baseless claim that the Indus script was related to ancient Tamil.

When he was working as a tutor in the Maharaja’s College, Sastri wrote an article titled ‘Is Mysore Maharaja a True Sovereign?,’ which invited the ire of Dewan Mirza Ismail, who warned him of dire consequences if he didn’t retract his article. Needless to say, Sastri stood his ground firmly.

Sastri wrote a scathing critique of K A Nilakanta Sastri’s [Muddled] History of South India pointing out the many lacunae it had.

His papers on Basavanna, Pallava Mahendra-varma, Purandara-dasa, and others created huge controversy. It is not that he has not been disproved by later historians with regard to some of his claims but the number of things he got right is phenomenal!

And remarkable was his calmness in the wake of fiasco. He would simply say, For whatever I have claimed, I have all the evidence ready. If you have evidence to support your theory, please put them forward and we shall discuss! And anyone who spoke at a lower level than that, Sastri would simply ignore him. “Is it my job to reply to every shout or call that is heard on the street?” was a famous retort of the great historian.

To be continued…

 

References

1. A Votary of Truth – A documentary on Prof. S Srikanta Sastri

2. Ramaswamy, S R. A Tapestry of Pen-portraits. Bangalore: Prekshaa Pratishtana, 2020. ‘S Srikanta Sastri’ adapted into English by Hari Ravikumar, pp. 198–220

3. Śrīkaṇṭhayāna: The Collected Writings of Dr. S Śrīkaṇṭha Śāstrī. 2 Volumes. Eds. Sastry, T V Venkatachala and Narasimhamurthy, P N. Bangalore: Mythic Society, 2016

4. ŚrīkaṇṭhikāDr. S Srikantha Sastri Felicitation Volume. Mysore: Geetha Book House, 1973 (on behalf of Dr. S Srikantha Sastri Felicitation Committee)

5. www.srikanta-sastri.org/

 

Acknowledgements

It is my pleasant duty to acknowledge the help and support of Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy, Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh, and Jayasimha K R. I have greatly benefited from the excellent website about Srikanta Sastri maintained by his family members (www.srikanta-sastri.org/). My thanks are also due, to the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs and Prekshaa Pratishtana.

 

Footnote

[1] The essay was published in The New Era in March 1929. See Śrīkaṇṭhayāna, Vol. 1

Author(s)

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 25+ books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

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...