Prof. Sondekoppa Srikanta Sastri (Part 6)

Just to illustrate with an example, let us take his paper titled, ‘A Note on the Date of Śaṃkara,’ which was published in The Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society.[1] The thesis is that Śaṅkara lived in the latter half of the sixth century and the former half of the seventh century CE, long before the destruction of Pāṭalīputra and Srughna.

Sastri begins with references to kings in Śaṅkara’s Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣyam and his Chāndogyopaniṣad-bhāṣyam. One by one he begins to examine the names of the kings alluded to by Śaṅkara – Pūrṇavarman, who probably can be identified by the king of Magadha (who died c. 640 CE) that Xuanzang mentions; Rājavarman, who is probably the same king mentioned by Daṇḍin (c. 600 CE) and is a king of the Pallava line; Kṛṣṇagupta, who is probably the first of the line of the Guptas of Magadha (c. 570 CE); and Jayasiṃha, who is probably the second son of the Western Cālukya Kīrtivarman I.

Then he moves on to discussing about Gauḍapāda’s period. Gauḍapāda’s bhāṣya was translated into Chinese during the Ch’en dynasty (557–83 CE) and so he must be placed at the latest c. 550 CE and was probably Śaṅkara’s guru’s guru. The Jaina logician Vidyānanda (c. 700 CE) quotes from the Bṛhadāraṇya-vārttika of Sureśvara, who was Śaṅkara’s disciple. For Sureśvara’s work to obtain recognition by alien dialecticians, at least half a century must have elapsed and so he must be placed c. 650 CE.

Sastri shows that Sureśvara and Maṇḍana were separated by a century. Maṇḍana (c. 730 CE)—the disciple of Kumārila—under his alias as Umbveka wrote a commentary on Kumārila’s Ślokavārttika, quoted by Pratyagasvarūpa, Citsukha, Bodhaghana, etc. Kumārila knew about the Kāśika (commentary on Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī) and so was probably a younger contemporary of Śaṅkara unlike what the tradition believes. In the Devatādhikaraṇa, while refuting sphoṭavāda, Śaṅkara criticises Śabara and Bhagavān Upavarṣa but does not seem to be aware of Maṇḍana’s Sphoṭasiddhi – thus indicating that Maṇḍana came after Śaṅkara.

Finally, Sastri refers to Sureśvara’s disciple Sarvajñātman, who refers to one Manukulāditya – who is probably Ādityavarman (the second son of Pulakeśin II) or Vinayāditya or Vijayāditya of the Badāmi-cālukyas, who belonged to the Mānavyasa gotra. This is the manner in which Sastri approaches the dating. And to write this paper, which spans just two-and-a-half printed pages, he must have read at least twenty-five primary sources!

Contributions to History

Srikanta Sastri has himself made an objective assessment of his contributions to history and ten prominent ones have been given below.

1. Given a true estimate of Indian culture in the treatise ಭಾರತೀಯ ಸಂಸ್ಕೃತಿ

2. Shown that Harappa Culture is Vedic and that the indigenous Aryans migrated westward

3. Buddha was a follower of Vedic religion

4. Ashoka was not a Buddhist but preached the Gītā

5. Honest estimation of Greco-Persian culture on Indian culture

6. Pre-eminence of Karnataka history under the Rāṣṭrakūṭas

7. Shown Karnataka’s contribution to Sanskrit, painting, Carnatic music, etc.

8. Relation between Rāmānujācārya and Viṣṇuvardhana

9. Determination of the period of Śaṅkarācārya (6th to 7th century AD)

10. Determination of the date of the play Mudrā-rākṣasa (397 AD)

 

Conclusion

Sastri famously said, “The historian must be like a judge. The judge sitting in the court hears both the appellant and the respondent and based on the evidence they submit delivers his judgment after mature consideration, taking in all the evidence impartially. The historian is also like the judge. Truth is more sacred to him than all the advantages of propaganda.” and it will not be far from the truth if we said that he was such a historian.

When we examine the work of a genius like Sastri keeping in mind his time period, we learn about what he accomplished without all that information that came after him, the conditions under which he worked, and how he used the limited information available to him. When we examine his work across time, we see what a visionary he was, how prophetic were his statements, and how ahead of his time he was. In several matters, Sastri’s thoughts and opinions would be different from what was prevalent. Some of his arguments and ideas became a part of the mainstream after a period of fifty years!

Given this opportunity to reflect upon the life and times of a great savant like Sastri, I have learnt three major lessons that might be of some value to the readers –

1. Be fearless in the pursuit of truth in the face of all travails – physical, mental, social, economical, and so forth. It is better to be remembered for our courage rather than our cowardice, for our contributions rather than our limitations.

2. Take up what you are passionate about and cultivate reverence towards your field of study. Without love and reverence for our work, we will not pursue it an inch further the moment external motivation is removed.

3. A rigorous, critical approach to work leads to robustness of results. It is fashionable today to talk about 360-degree view but that is precisely what Sastri did in those days – he looked at all the possible evidence and examined everything without bias.

It is this seemingly paradoxical ‘critical conservatism’—a phrase coined by Prof. Hiriyanna—that we must cultivate.

Prof. S Anantha Narayana wrote a charming essay titled ‘The Votary of Truth’ in the Srikanta Sastri Festschrift volume. He writes that Sastri’s faith in history and historical truth have never been cramped by the need of the hour, to be twisted to the whims and fancies of those in power.

In the same article, he pays the ultimate tribute to the great historian-author-professor-polymath-polyglot-poet when he says –

“He has never insulted truth for fear of offending men.”

 

Concluded.

 

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] Vol. XX (Part 4), 1930. pp. 313–16

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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.

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