Splendour of Knowledge (Part 2)

‘Kurrāya’

I was better acquainted with Puṭṭappa’s younger brother Srinivasa Rao. This Srinivasa Rao was a disciple of my guru Candraśekhara-śāstri. When I was in third or fourth standard, Srinivasa Rao was in the fifth. Candraśekhara-śāstri had named him ‘Kurrāya.’ All the villagers called him as ‘Kurrāyuḍu’ [a respectful form of the word]. ‘Kurrāya’ was a transformation of ‘Kuru-rāya.’ Some poems from the Kumāra-vyāsa Bhārata were introduced in the Lower Secondary textbook that year. Those poems would end with “eṃda kuru-rāya” [“So said the king of the Kurus”] or “kuru-rāya kèḻeṃda” [“Listen, O king of Kurus!”] While reading these lines, our Srinivasa Rao would join the two ‘r’s [and read it as ‘kurrāya.’] The headmaster made that into his pet name. This is the origin of the nickname Kurrāya.

As time progressed, Srinivasa Rao became a school teacher. Along with that, he also cleared the Upper [or Higher] Secondary exams that used to be conducted those days. While he was a student of Upper Secondary, Attikunte Subba Rao and Śeṣappa of Srinivasapura were his classmates. They also became school teachers. (I have discussed about them elsewhere.)

Telugu Literature

My intention here is not to mention my father or my maternal uncle. But I wish to share an incident that explains the nature of my education. My maternal uncle is the protagonist of this episode. He was a teacher in the Telugu School for the primary classes. I feel he had a fairly good understanding of Telugu literature. He used to sing songs and recite poems. All of them were in Telugu. He used to recite a certain drama about Prahlāda from beginning to end. He would also utter the stage directions of the play, such as –

dūtuḍu vaccènu” [“The messenger came.”]

kaṃcuki iṭlaniyè [“The chamberlain told so”]

He also recited from memory several śatakas[1]. He used to recite Sumati-śataka and other poems. One among them was –

eŕakumī kasugāyala
dūŕakumī baṃdhujanula doṣamu summī
pāŕakumī raṇamaṃduna
mīŕakumī guruvulājña medira sumatī

[Verse #21]

[Loosely translates into "On this earth / choose not unripe fruit to eat / blame not the faults of your relatives / retreat not from the battlefield / transgress not your guru's words, O wise one!"]

His voice would sound melodious to my ears. I was a favourite of his. He always made me stay close to him. He carried me and roamed about. The Telugu School was eight to ten yards from our home. And so he would lift me up and take me to school in the mornings and afternoons.

Knicker Nut Cap

Our classroom in school did not have benches or tables. All the students sat on the floor in rows and practised writing the letters of the alphabet on the sand spread in front of each of us. A few students made tiny caps out of the knicker nut (gajjuga) shells and used it to write [on the sand] as they were afraid of losing their fingers in the process of rubbing them in the sand. But none of them could sustain writing with this delicate material for too long. Within two or three days, a fight would erupt for the knicker nut caps. The caps would break, the boys would be rebuked by the teacher, and they would forget all about the fight.

In those days we didn’t have fountain pens; in fact even paper and pens were not in use. Slate and chalk-pieces were also rare. Whatever I learnt was by writing on sand spread on the floor. These are matters related to writing.

Combining Vowels and Consonants

Next comes the combining of vowels and consonants. This had to be memorised. All the students of our class had to stand up at four in the afternoon. The teacher would appoint one of us as a leader. We would have to repeat after him. The lesson would be thus –

ಕಕ್ಕೆ ತಲೆಕಟ್ಟು ಕೊಟ್ಟರೆ ಕ
ಕಕ್ಕೆ ದೀರ್ಘ ಕೊಟ್ಟರೆ ಕಾ
ಕಕ್ಕೆ ಗುಡಿಸು ಕೊಟ್ಟರೆ ಕಿ
ಕಕ್ಕೆ ಗುಡಿಸಂದೀರ್ಘ ಕೊಟ್ಟರೆ ಕೀ
ಕಕ್ಕೆ ಏತ್ವ ಕೊಟ್ಟರೆ ಕೆ
ಏತ್ವಂದೀರ್ಘ ಕೊಟ್ಟರೆ ಕೇ[2]

Like this, we would memorise until the last letter of the alphabet – kṣa. After this, we would learn conjoined letters and then, the mathematical tables.

Mathematical Tables

These mathematical tables were a source of headache for me. I could somehow manage the tables of one to ten. There would be repeated mistakes starting from the tables of twelve. But that teacher was not one who would forgive easily.

“ಹನ್ನೆರಡೊಂದಲ ಹನ್ನೆರಡು... ಹನ್ನೆರಡು ಹತ್ತಲ ನೂರಿಪ್ಪತ್ತು” [“Twelve ones are twelve… twelve tens are one hundred and twenty.”] After this we had to recite the same in the reverse order –

ಹನ್ನೆರಡು ಹತ್ತಲ ನೂರಿಪ್ಪತ್ತು
ಹನ್ನೆರಡೊಂಬೋತ್ಲ ನೂರೆಂಟು
ಹನ್ನೆರಡೆಂಟಲ ತೊಂಬತ್ತಾರು

[Twelve tens are one hundred and twenty
Twelve nines are one hundred and eight
Twelve eights are ninety six]

Like this it would continue until “ಹತ್ತೊಂಬತ್ತು ಹತ್ತಲ ನೂರ ತೊಂಬತ್ತು” [“Nineteen tens are one hundred and ninety.”] From there we had to complete the recitation of the tables until “ಹತ್ತೊಂಬತ್ತೊಂದಲ…” [“Nineteen ones are…”]

After this, the days, months, seasons, and the sixty saṃvatsaras starting from Prabhava, Vibhava, etc. would be taught.[3]

~

The reason why I’m describing all that is because I believe strongly that such a system of education is really good. I’m not aware if the current system of education follows this method or not.

A Recent Incident

There is an experience that is firmly imprinted in my memory. Around five to six years ago, I was going to the Gokhale Institute on a Sunday morning for a Book Study Meet that was to take place there. It was around half past eight in the morning. I was walking down the road that lies on the southern side of Acharya Pathashala.

A person came in hurry on a bicycle, got down, and asked me, “Sir, which is the East?” He must have been around sixteen or eighteen years of age. He had a smart hair-cut and wore a wristwatch. Affluent clothes. He also spoke some English. I was a little confused when he asked for ‘East.’ At half past eight, the sunlight is visible. So his question could not have been about the direction. He’s saying ‘East’ for something else. ‘Yeast’ is known for fermentation. A salt-like powder is used to ferment the dosa batter. That is known as yeast.

I reasoned thus and asked him, “What is your view of east?” He could not think of even of the eastern direction and remained speechless.

By that time, perhaps his elder brother—around twenty-two years old—arrived there. He too was dressed in a civilized manner, got down from his bicycle, and asked me the same question. Yet again I asked, “What do you mean by ‘east,’ my good man?”

He said, “East Anjaneya Street, sir”

I said, “You want the direction! Look above your head.”

Even then he failed to understand.

I said, “Observe, the sun rises and comes up. The direction of sunrise itself is east. That is east.”

From there on I continued walking to the Gokhale Institute and then shared my experience with the eight to ten members of the study group. Among them was a friend of mine practicing law after completing his M.A., B.L; he told me, “Sir, this is not surprising at all! There are many amongst our advocates like this.”

“Oh really?” I asked in surprise.

“Come near the court tomorrow around noon. I will show you four members like this.”

This is one of the traits of the new civilisation.

~

To be concluded.

This is the second part of a three-part English translation of the fifteenth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 8 – Sankirna Smrti-samputa. Thanks to Sreelalitha Rupanagudi for translating the Telugu verse. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.

 

Footnotes

[1] Poems that have one hundred verses.

[2] Basically this is the method of committing to memory as to how the combinations of consonants and vowels are created.

[3] Saṃvatsara is a term that refers to a year and Saṃvatsara-cakra refers to the cycle of sixty years (based on the cycle of the years of Jupiter). The list of the sixty saṃvatsaras begins with Prabhava and moves on to Vibhava, Śukla, Pramodadūta, and so forth.

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Shreehari has a master's degree (M.Tech) and works as an embedded software engineer in the automotive industry in Bengaluru. His interests are composing metrical verses in Kannada, literature, playing the flute, carnatic music, travelling, and sports adventure.

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