K. Kunjunni Raja
K. Kunjunni Raja, the doyen of Indian Sanskrit scholars, passed away yesterday. He was 85.
Kunjunni Raja started studying Sanskrit with his uncle C. Kunjan Raja, a well-known Sanskrit Scholar, and Sanskrit poet. His first doctoral research, in Sanskrit, was done under the supervision of Kunjan Raja at the University of Madras. Later Kunjunni Raja was at the SOAS, University of London, where he got his second Ph.D. in Linguistics, working with John Brough. His thesis, Indian Theories of Meaning, is considered as one of the best works in that area. He has authored around 30 books, and more than 200 research papers, and his books include the much acclaimed The Philosophy of the Grammarians (with Harold Coward) and The contribution of Kerala to Sanskrit literature. Kunjunni Raja was also the moving spirit behind compiling the early volumes of The New Catalogus Catalogorum, a remarkable ongoing project in manuscripts research. He was also the recipient of the 'President of India award' for outstanding contribution to Sanskrit.
After retiring from the Sanskrit department of the University of Madras, in 1980, he was associated with the Adyar Library and Research Centre, in Madras, run by the Theosophical Society. As honorary director of this institute, Kunjunni Raja also served as the chief editor of Brahmavidya, one of the leading international journals in Indology, till a few years ago. Failing health made him move to Kerala, his home state.
Kunjunni Raja was sort of a father figure to my father, who's also a Sanskritist. In his visits to Calicut, he used to stay with us. I have fond memories of his encouraging my sister and myself to recite shlokas. On his visits, after dinner, we used to take our chairs outside, and under a star studded sky, he used to tell us stories from the classics. He also used to take a keen interest in my tiny stamp collection, many a time bringing stamps to me in his visits.
Anybody who has met him once would know about his simplicity and forthrightness. In the higher echelons of academics, a world also of personal egos and group-think, Kunjunni Raja was a remarkable exception. He had travelled widely, lecturing on Indological topics. Those who have been fortunate to be associated with him are going to miss him very much.
Update (June 1): Here's a report from The Hindu.