Monday, June 24, 2013

Prof. S. Srikanta Sastri-An Anecdote by Dr P.N.Narasimha Murthy

Dr P.N.Narasimha Murthy
 "The two-days in November, 2004 (20th and 21st) when a host of senior scholars met in the Hall of the Mythic Society, Bangalore, discussing about a person with respect and devotion, took me on rails to go four decades back of my life and recollect the sweet memories of the person the subject of their talk. The occasion was celebration of the Birth Centenary of Dr. Sondekoppa Srikanta Sastry, the renowned Professor of History of the Mysore University. The people who had gathered there were rejoicing for being the students of Dr. Sastry between the thirty's and fifty's of the last century. I too rejoiced, but by sitting amidst the rejoiced.     
Mythic Society, Bangalore
My career as a student of Dr. Sastry was of different nature. Of course, some of us the classmates used to watch him in the college as sub-juniors; and, some times get astonished to see our seniors disappearing from the scene at the sight of the Professor. It took some time to understand the action of our seniors whom we had taken as 'lazy-lizards'. We felt proud of them, and took them to be great when we came to know of their action to be on saddle and back in the class waiting for the Professor. True, the Professor had made them fortunate and great through his personal aura. Soon our childish-thinking was replaced by respectful sympathies when we came to know of his health and the sight of he being helped by his daughter to climb up and down the steps of the Sr. B.A. hall to enter his Chamber. Then I could never even dream of being a small iron piece to this great magnetic personality some time later. Lo! The time to meet him came. I received the information from the most reliable source of mine that I was asked by the Professor to meet him at his residence. I was very much elated by this and the state of joy in me was inexplicable though I knew not the  reason for being summoned. The House on the D. Subbaiah Road, which was till then with the askance look of fear and respect turned the next day a House of affectionate love. My real Gurukula-hood in the Upanishadic sense began from that day."Professors are not easily accessible" was the opinion that had developed in me after watching many professors in the Maharaja's college then. The state of my mind was not different from this when I visited the house of Prof. Sastry for the first time. But when I returned from his House I was totally relaxed though perplexed by the affectionate simplicity of the professor. The very atmosphere of the House was such as to treat everyone cordially without any professorial inhibitions. All those who have visited this house for various reasons have tasted this simplicity coupled with hospitality. I slowly entered into inner self of this humane nobility. 
The purpose of my self being summoned by the Professor was made known to me by his eldest son Sri. Vijaya Shankar and I simply nodded my head to it. Strange but true that of all the trained and enthusiastic people, myself, a fresher was chosen to assist the professor in his U.G.C. Project work. I knew not then how far I could be of any help to him. But the work assigned was of great help to me both intellectually and economically. Virtually I was taken into the flood of knowledge and made to enjoy it. As the volume of it increased so gradually I began to understand the impact of its strength and force. 
I don't know how the Professor taught his students in the class though I have heard about it. And, for long I was feeling that I should have sat in a class where the Professor taught. (For, this was not a strange as students of that time had the practice of attending classes other than theirs and enjoy the lecture and fortunately, they were not disturbed by the lecturer's too). But, I could dare not such an attempt, hence languished. The more I felt I am far away from his sight more the later developments proved that myself was getting closer. My languish was over. I began to get what I wished though the place and timings were different. 
As days rolled on the Project work entered into different streams and myself remained quiet with all bewilderment and the sails were safe under the command of the captain. We moved up and 38 down-north-south, east-west, entered into the gates of Forts and cities, tred the way into forlorn lands, military camps and battle fields, basked under the sunny frontage of caves and temples drinking hot coffee or malt sometimes. Our movements were not slosh. It had fruitful discussions of past and present; ancient and medieval. My bewilderment turned up to be a longing interest for there was no actual journey but in the form of re-enactment in front of the kneeling table kept close to the northern wall of the hall white washed in oily red colour.  
Dr S.Srikanta Sastri's Remington Typewriter
On the table one could see a few books besides the daily newspaper The Hindu. The Professor, its seems, was using a typewiter in his younger days. As a proof of it the table contained a portable Remington typewriter with a beautiful case. I found it in a very good working condition though not used for over a decade. Sometimes I used this machine to type the English portion of the notes of the project work. The middle portion of the Hall had two pillars supporting the upper storey of the House. Normally a chair was kept by the side of one of the pillars close to the table. A big screen here partitioned the Hall. The professor used to take rest inside the partition or sit in the chair near the pillar whenever visitors called on him. But his normal place of reading was the verandah and morning hours were his precious time. 

To me the place near the table was an "Achchoda saras". A dip in it took me to Kashi, Gaya, Prayag, Amarnath, and Manassarovar and the like. An incident that took place here is still fresh and green in my mind. I was looking into some notes (probably on an epigraph) leaning to the table. The Professor came slowly from behind (which I couldn't notice), gently placed his right hand on my back and asked me very affectionately "Enu maadtaa iddeera? What you are doing?" He then dragged the chair very close to my left and sat on it. I blushed with surprise.On another occasion the professor climbed the staircase of the upper floor of his house and brought a dark blue file, sat in the same place and gave it to me saying "Edanna tagedukondu hogi, Nidhanavdgi odi thanni". Take this, read it slowly and bring back. I simply nodded my head took it home not knowing that the file had another surprise to me. 
I know not how I controlled myself on the way. At home when I opened the file I saw a good number of scribbled slips tagged at the left hand corner. The slips contained synopsis of methodology and historigraphy. Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, St. Augustine, J.B. Bury, Hegel, Comte, Marx, Croce, Concordet, Turgot, Kroebar, Seeley, Spengler, Toynbee etc., were all there. I am told by my seniors that the professor was giving lengthy lectures, rather dictations on each one. Whereas the synopsis ranged between five to fifteen lines of writing except in the case of a few such as Spengler and Toynbee. At the first sight I could not make out any thing (though the names were familiar) for the points were of disjointed and hopping nature. At once t felt that unless one is a voracious reader and remembers exactly what has been read, one can not use these 'tit-bits'. This revealed to me the intellectual horizon and unfailing memory of the Professor leading to freshness in his thinking and teaching. Needless to say that I accrued very much out of this in later days. 
The 'dark blue file' indicated that Dr. Shrikantha Sastry was a different kind of Professor. The points there - in were definite and his assessments (criticism) infallible. His quality of judgment was of very high standard. It was a natural corollary of deep dwelling on the subject concerned. He never based translations for his assessment but scanned the original of every document and in the language of its origin. Each article of his is an example to this. The Greek Farce, the date of Gommata, the date of Shankara, Oswald Spengler on Indian culture and Proto Indic Religion are but a few to quote here, On all these topics I heard from him much more than what he might have spoken in the classroom. Listening to him means entering into a new world where one finds no time and space.While describing the personality of Ranjit Singh scholars have stated that the one eye he possessed was sufficient to chill the spirits of his enemies. In the case of Dr. Srikantha Sastry it is suffice to say that the one vision was sufficient to visualize and comprehend the knowledge of the universe, nurture it with justice and propound it through an unperturbed masculine voice. His intellectual personality was far more enviable than his physical personality. The Madras Mail while reviewing his book - Proto-Indic Religion (1942) wrote "...A mass of detailed learning. Even for specialists it is perhaps too learned. The kind of careful, solid, objective study is a credit to Indian scholarship". Suffice it to say that this portrays the quality of thinking and writing of Dr. Srikantha Sastry.Prof. Sastry was daringly bold and straightforward and never succumbed to any compromise at the cost of historical truth. When a proposal was brought to him by his own Guru Prof. S.V. Venkateshwara about a Research Project on the Kingdom of Mysore, Dr. Sastry had the courage to suggest an alteration to the topic from Mysore to Karnataka, from a narrow segment to a broad spectrum. Also he suggested a working plan for writing the History of Karnataka in twelve volumes. Strangely, the existing reality then was the Kingdom of Mysore under the Wodeyars, and the idea of 'Karnataka' just a wishful thinking of the multitude under the British. Whereas the thinking of Srikantha Sastry was prophetic for he had visualized decades before, the ultimate reality. Hence felt the need for a good preparation especially in respect of knowing its history and rich cultural
Prof S.V.Venkateswara
heritage. Prof. S.V.Venkateshwara accepted the proposal without any change for he was fully aware of the ability and quality of the work of his proud student. The 'student' too had provided sufficient proof of his capacity and nature of thinking even as a student by publishing articles in the Journal of Royal Asiatic Society and other international journals.
A Research Project with a Scholarship of Rupees Seventy Five per month was instituted in the university for the first time (1927-1928) Srikantha Sastry was made to work on the Project "Sources of Karnataka History". Sri Sastry, who had been affectionately called "Professor" by his friends and classmates, stood to the expectations of his friends and the Professor finished the work in one year's time and submitted the Report. The work was beyond all scholarly expectations. Hence the copy was stolen. The second copy prepared with difficulty was also stolen. The pinch was too much for an upcoming young scholar like Sastry who bore the pain quietly. Ten years later the the Vice-Chancellor of the Mysore University Sri N.S. Subba Rao, who had the knowledge of.this sad story,
Journal of Royal Asiatic Society
insisted Srikantha Sastry to write again the Sources and submit it to him personally. When the book was finally published in 1940 the Flood Gates of Fame were opened for the University. Sir. Mirza M. Ismail, the then Dewan of Mysore, immediately wrote a letter congratulating the University and the author for a memorable work. It had the prestige of being reviewed by Dr. Barnett in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. The entire scholarly world considered this book - Sources of Karnataka History volume-I, as a great model for all historians.
By 1940 Srikanta Sastry had almost scaled the apex of glory. Hence the 'sources' became just a feather in his cap. "Justice delayed is justice denied" - Dr. Srikanta Sastry used to say this often to me for he had suffered many a times due to this kind of denials. "It was difficult to bear; but my studies, research and writing works helped me a lot", he said. True never he tried to exhibit his anguish in his teaching. 
Prof. Srikantha Sastry never showed any inclination for a visit to any foreign country especially England (Though far more qualified in every respect than many of his contemporaries). This provided sufficient scope for some faculty members to denigrate his capacity and scholarship. For, these people had felt that a visit to any foreign country by an Indian would mean putting an over coat of greatness and virtue over oneself. Once, Prof. Sastry told me that someone even questioned him as to why he did not try to go to any foreign country. "What is there to know about India in a foreign country when we have a lot to know, see and study here itself which we normally dont's do" was the answer of the Professor. 
Prof. Sastry was not after acquiring any pseudo-prestige. His scholastic knowledge especially on Indian History and Culture was more solid than any 'foreign-returned scholar'. He had made very clear of his deep insight into the subject matter even as a student through his writings which had seen the light of the day in many of the then internationally famous journals.Vajradapi Kathorani Mrduni Kusumadapi - this statement can best be applied to Prof. Srikantha Sastry. Though many a times his judgments seemed to be very harsh, his heart was as soft and tender as the petals of flower. He liked good companionship. He could suit himself to the company of any age group and to intellectual of any caliber. He was simple and jovial though looked serious often. Everyone who has gone into close proximity has enjoyed this quality of the Professor. He often enjoyed the childish pranks of his children (particularly the last two) be it on the style of his sitting, reading news paper or books, comments made to someone's writing or valuing answer scripts or the like.
Prof. Sastry was both a task-master and a humanist. He wanted everyone to grow with knowledge, especially his students working for Ph.D. Never he allowed them to have laxity in their work. He was putting different types of questions on their topics and insisted them to go to the original sources as for as possible for finding suitable answers. Unless satisfied, he never allowed them to submit their thesis. Though seemed to be harsh the Professor was kind enough in informing them of the nature, whereabouts and the availability of sources for, there was nothing, which he didn't know or browse over. 
Professor Sastry didn't thrust a topic of his choice on his students. Instead he was preparing them to select a topic based on their capacity and interest. In my own case he chided me in a jovial manner for delaying the selection of a topic. And, when I told him of my topic he quipped. Very happy, anyway it didn't become an elephant's conception ! 
Many had obtained Ph.D. degree under the guidance of the Professor but not the Professor himself. This was made a cause for putting hurdles on the progress of the Professor. Though pained internally Prof. Sastry remained unperturbed for all sorts of criticisms that had been leveled against him. Soon he made a collection of research papers and submitted it to the University for the degree of D.Litt. Dr. Radhakumud Mukherji of the Dacca University wrote that a D.Litt was after all a meagre recognition of the enormous work done by Sastri. The Report' inevitably silenced the critics. 
The Professor shared his feelings about this incident with me and said that some people in the university wanted to have sadistic satisfaction by putting obstacles in his career. However he was happy for his work had been sent for review to such an eminent person as Dr. Radhakumud Mukherji who could do justice to his labour.  
In fact each article of Prof. Sastry was worth a Ph.D. No scholar however senior he was, had dared to write on Oswald Spengler. Srikantha Sastry, as a research scholar wrote a fully matured article-'Oswald Spengler On Indian Culture and got it published in the journal New Era (March 1929, Madras) wherein he stated very clearly that Spengler's theory on Indian culture was totally unacceptable on the ground that the culture of India had developed on a different footing than that of the assessment made by Spengler. This five-page note was perhaps the first of its kind by any Indian historian. Srikantha Sastry had exposed the hollowness of thinking of the German scholar in respect of India. At the same time brought to lime light his own caliber to comprehend the philosophy of history and his concern to Indian studies. It was my good fortune to hear more about Spengler and the culture of India from Prof. Sastry. 
Once Prof. Sastry told me that he was surprised when his own maternal grand father (mother's uncle) Sri Ramashesha Sastry, a very well known Sanskrit scholar, asked him to write historical introductions to his works such as Bhagavata (in twelve volumes), Mudrarakshasa Nataka and Mukundananda Bhana. "It was a challenge to me. yet, having been insisted I wrote historical introductions both in Kannada and English", he said. These were published during 193o-32 in The Indian Historical Quarterly, calcutta, The Modern Review and many other Journals of international repute. Prof. Keith of the Edinburgh University and a noted Sanskrit scholar wrote letters of appreciation and accepted the date fixed by Prof. Sastry for Vishaka Datta author of MudrarakashasaProf. Srikantha sastry was sharing his thoughts with me often regarding the Indus civilization. Many of his statements had been very prophetic and are being proved true by recent archaeological explorations and excavations. When the first reports on this civilization were published, Srikantha Sastry was perhaps the first Indian out side the Archaeological Survey of India
The Quarterly Journal of Mythic Society
to probe into the secrets of the seals and publish articles on it. They were published in the Quarterly Journal of the Mythic society (vol. 22 pt. III and IV - 1934). He had a firm belief that these seals belonged to the Atharva vedic period. Consequently he stated that the Rig vedic period was anterior to the Indus culture.
At the same time he probed into the problem of the 'original Home of the Aryans' and said that the story of Aryan invasion was a myth and no available source endorsed it. He said all the theories regarding this problem were of illogical nature, for the Aryans were the original settlers of India. Prof. Sastry exposed the hollowness of interpretation of internal evidences found in the Vedas."The various objects and seals found at Harappa and Mohenjodaro became a challenge to scholars. Therefore, their study remained a problem. The real reason for this was, the method followed by them". Dr. Sastry was often telling me this in order to lay stress on the importance of the subject of study irrespective of its value and make the study comprehensive. It was this mind of heuristic methodology that enabled Dr. Sastry to write "Proto-lndic Religion" which was serially published in all the four parts of the volumes 32 and 33 of the Q.J.M.S. When it appeared in book form in 1942 noted scholar and historian Prof. S. Krishnaswamy lyengar while reviewing his book said-"one problem of the utmost importance was the study of the finds from the point of view of the Religion- the early primitive religion and Mr. Sastri seems to be very well qualified for attempting this topic systematically". 
Dr. Sastry was very free and frank in discussing various issues of controversy forged to front by many of his articles both in Kannada and English. "I Know I have thrown certain challenges; though bitter they are historical truths to me. If you don't like them it is no matter to me. On the other hand, if you take up the challenge work earnestly, find out further sources and show how and where I am wrong. I will be very happy to see it". These were the words of Prof. Sastry heard often by me. I felt that they were not of platitude. In his usual simple way the Professor used to say- "Look, what Gandhiji did in selecting a candidate for the Haripur Session of the I.N.C., was wrong. I criticized him in my article published in the Special Issue of the same Congress Session (1939). For history any type of mistake committed by any person is wrong only". 
Similarly, he said, "I wrote preface to the book 'Indian states and Federal Plan'written by my own student Mr. Y.G. Krishna Murthy, wherein I questioned the sovereignty of Native States. I became a target to some. True they were all Royalists and not realists". Prof. Sastry was a true nationalist and his political philosophy crossed the bounds of nations. 
Prof. Sastry was criticized by many. Being aware of these he said: "Naturally my conclusions have been attacked by many people, but I am not unduly worried about it". whenever the professor spoke to me of these incidents I was bewildered to note that there was in either fear nor anger and not at all an iota of excitement in him. That speaks of the mental make up of the Professor and the firm conviction to the subject of study and research. 
Joseph Goebbels
Right or wrong Goebbels of Germany used a portion of the statement of Dr. Sastry, made in the preface of the book - Independent India and New world order by Y.G. Krishna Murthy, and broadcast it over the German Radio (1941, II world war period). The other Indian scholar quoted by Goebels was Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. True, it was a German based anti-British propaganda by which prof. Sastry became famous through out the world in general and British India in particular. Pandit Nehru, who had earlier read the article of prof. Sastry wherein the latter had daringly criticized Mahatma Gandhi, sent a copy of his book-Discovery of India for his opinion. 
Prof. Srikanta Sastry was against any propaganda and never he liked propagandist writing in history. To many, his writings might have seemed to be just dry documentation of historical truths. yet, time and again he was scaling new heights of fame. 
At the same time Prof. Sastry never expressed any feeling of having achieved anything great for, he had felt that the achievements of his ancestors at the courts of various Royal families-Sangama period of Vijayanagar down to the Wodeyars of Mysore, were far more greater than his own. With a sort of adolescent achievements and the titles and honours obtained by his ancestors. To me it looked as if that all the great qualities with mental sobriety, thirst for knowledge and truth along with an unfailing memory of the ancestors - both paternal and maternal, had been finally converged and crystallized in prof. Srikantha Sastry. Prof. Sastry was for a healthy debate of various problems of history. He was often telling me- Vade Vade Jayate pratibodhah, if we wrestle with the man of perfume we also get smeared of the fragrance of perfume. Immediately I remembered the famous Arab proverb- the last line of which says- 'He who knows and knows he knows is good, follow him'. 
Many a times I was wondering myself whether I am ignorant of many of these things or innocent of the knowledge. Yet, innermost part of my soul was telling that after all I am at the feet of the great and magnanimous Himalayas. Further, I had another knotty point about the Professor – whether he actually sleeps or have a yogic sleep! For, on no day I have found him telling to any body seeking some information, that he would try to recollect and then tell or give him sometime so that he could give correct information or the like excuses being sought. 
Prof. Sastry had buried in him a lot of pains which went on accruing at the professional level. Perhaps he never shared this with any body. I know not how I entered into the inner self of his confidence; the Professor sometimes spoke to me of these incidents and persons responsible for it. Though I felt very much for these, the Professor remained to me an enigma. For, I had found in him a jovial and friendly human being dignified and scholarly. Sometimes he used to repeat slokas from Bhagavadgeeta - Sanghat Samjavate Kamah Kamat Krodhobhi Jayate - or stanzas from Adishankara's Bhajagovindam Stotra-satsangatve Nih Samgatvam Nih Ssamgatve Nirmohatvam etc. Then I understood as to how he might have withstood all the rough shods of his life by
Smt Nagaratnamma (Dr S.Srikanta Sastri's wife)
remembering a line from the RigVeda Sukha dukkhe Samekrtva labha labhau Jaya Jayau
When his dearly loved wife Smt. Nagaratnamma died I went to his house to express my condolence. There I was surprised to see the same calm and quiet personality sitting in the same place where earlier we used to sit and talk. Despite his failing health, he was found not worried at all about himself. Instead, he spoke to me very high of the manner in which his wife had died. He said that she had chosen the method of a particular Saiva Sect but rarely followed in modern times. At the very moment I got the experience of talking to a sthita prajna in front of me. 
The Professor was appreciating all the good works of his students and friends. He had very high regard to his elderly scholars and scholars of eminence especially to a Sanskrit scholar who according to him was an expert in the Vedic studies.He was very happy when he was felicitated by his students and admirers with a befitting volume SRIKANTHIKA. It was an unique programme
Felicitation Ceremony where Festschrift Volume "Srikanthika" was released
perhaps first of its kind in the history of the Mysore University. when I met the Professor sometime later, the entire programme was re-enacted to me. By that time he had read the entire volume- SRIKANTHIKA (A Book of 395 pages) and very happily he reviewed that book for me. The program and the felicitation volume had applied a soothing balm for all the pains suffered so far by the professor.
A personality of his stature with all modesty, humility, simplicity, nobility, purity of mind and profound scholarship is a rarity. What remains to-day is just cherishing sweet memories of the past when that Himalayan-like personality was shedding luster. My ever-loving salutations to him."
As published in the Quarterly Journal of Mythic Society (QJMS), Vol XCVI, Issue No 3 (Sep 2005) on the occassion of Centenary Celebrations 1904 - 2004.

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