Thursday, August 11, 2005

Father's Memoirs: Excerpts - VI

I took MA Sanskrit Sahitya exams in 1973. Most of the papers I could do well.

The viva voce was held in Trissur. The examiners were Professor S. Venkatasubrahmanya Iyer and Professor K Raghavan. Prof Iyer was then the Head of the Department of Sanskrit at the University of Kerala. Prof Raghavan was the Principal of Govt Sanskrit College, Trivandrum. Both of them openly praised my dissertation.

"You must have had a traditional training in Sanskrit?"

I told them about my studies in detail. Prof Iyer had a specific query.

"Would you like to do research? Will it be okay for you to come to Trivandrum?"

"I'll be very happy to do so, but there are financial constraints. I earn 450 rupees a month as a high school teacher. I'm married and forsaking that sum will be difficult."

"There'll be a scholarship of 250 rupees a month. One may have to wait for five to six months though."

Then they asked a few questions from the syllabus. My answers were satisfactory. The results were out soon and I had done well.

Prof. Iyer's words reverberated in my mind over and over. I couldn't resist the temptation to go to Trivandrum to pursue research.

N.V. Krishna Warrier, a charismatic figure in the Malayalam literary scenario, had by then moved to Trivandrum as the Director of the State Institute of Languages. I knew him well via the Sahitya Samiti meetings. He said: "There shouldn't be any problem. We'll manage a few kids to come to you for Sanskrit tuition. Come to Trivandrum at the earliest."

Mom didn't know what to say. Anandam did not say anything against the plan. Her father agreed with me too.

In 1974 I applied for two years' study leave and joined the Sanskrit department of the University of Kerala as a Ph.D. student. Professor Venkatasubrahmanya Iyer was my advisor. Fortunately there weren't many financial hurdles. Vishnumaster's -- Poet Vishnunarayanan Namboodiri -- brotherly presence was always there to sort out any issue that would have cropped up.

On Vishnumaster's initiative I started taking elementary Sanskrit classes at the Cotton Hill High School. Children of many well-known writers -- Ayyappa Paniker, O.N.V. Kurup, Sugathakumari, ... -- of Thiruvananthapuram attended my classes. It's the tution fee from those classes that took care of my first six months of stay. I could also save a bit every month and this was to be sent home.

Soon after writing the MA exams I had made it a habit to frequent certain Namboodiri houses of Kannur district in order to browse through the palm leaf manuscripts available in their collection. One of those visits I noticed a manuscript of Nalachandrodaya, a Sanskrit mahakavya, which was unknown to the world of Sanskrit scholarship. From the text it was clear who the author was. But I was eager to place the author geographically too. A shloka of the poem, describing Subrahmanya assuming two bodies to look after his devotees with increased vigil, naturally led me to look for temples with two Subrahmanya idols. This together with other hints from the work sufficed me to fix the author's place in the Malappuram district of Kerala (Karikkatu). My first research paper was based on this work. I sent this paper to Professor Kunjunni Raja and it got published in the Annals of Oriental Research. The New Catalogus Catalogorum, a monumental work under the aegis of the National Manuscripts Mission has its entry on the Nalachandrodaya based on the above paper.

The goal of my second paper was a better understanding of Dingmatradarshana, one of the foremost commentaries of Abhijnana Sakuntala. A thorough scrutiny of this commentary convinced me that it's worth studying all the Keralite commentaries of Sakuntala. These papers were published in the Journal of Kerala Studies.

I had a topic for my Ph.D. thesis by this time. Prof. Iyer suggested an in-depth investigation of the works of Purnasarasvati, a commentator of great originality and scholarship. I had heard about him and his works before. Once N.V. Krishna Warrier had sounded me off about the approach of Purnasarasvati that included a didactic interpretation of works otherwise understood to have only enjoyment as their aim.

A perusal of Vidyullata, Purnasarasvati's celebrated commentary on Meghasandesa, made it clear to me that Kuttikrishna Marar's translation and notes of Meghasandesa had closely followed Purnasarasvati in authenticating the shlokas as well as in its critical appreciation. Marar never gave any credit to Purnasarasvati. Not just that, his text contained occasional belittling remarks about Purnasarasvati.

Needless to say, this aspect of Marar diminished my high regards for him. I also felt that I should write an article in Malayalam highlighting the similarities between Marar's work and that of Purnasarasvati. But critiquing someone of Marar's stature along these lines was unthinkable especially as I was just beginning my literary career. In any case I wrote an essay and showed it to Prof. Iyer. He went through that carefully and said that I should publish it soon.

On Vishnumaster's suggestion, I sent the article to Mathrubhumi, published from Calicut. Weeks passed and there was no reply from them. One of those days I was in Calicut to meet Poet Kunjunni Master with whom I was serialising Valmiki Ramayana for children for a children's monthly run by Sugathakumari.

"Heard that you have written something recently criticising Marar!", said Master soon after my reaching the Ramakrishna Ashram where he used to live.

I did not hide my surprise: "How come you know about that?"

"Your essay has become a talking point at the Mathrubhumi office. They think that the essay is great but they don't think that Mathrubhumi can publish it."

M.T. Vasudevan Nair was the chief editor of the magazine then. I went and met him. He directed me to the concerned editor who repeated what I had already heard.

Back in Trivandrum, Vishnumaster said he could get it published in Granthalokam of which he was the deputy editor. In the very next issue this one came as the main article - An acknowledgement that Marar left unsaid. Many noted literary figures of Thiruvananthapuram noticed that essay. Some of them wrote in congratulating the effort.

Thesis work did make steady progress. In the next couple of years I had enough material for six research papers which came published in the various Sanskrit/Indological journals in the subsequent years. Translations of a couple of these papers together with a few articles that I had already published in Malayalam were also got published in book form.

My enthusiasm for research of course did not go unnoticed. By mid 75, there was a Lecturership vacant in the department, and I was asked to apply for it. Soon I joined the University of Kerala as a Lecturer in Sanskrit.

Previous posts in this series: Father's Memoirs: Excerpts - I, II, III, IV, V.


At 7:32 AM, Blogger Sunil said...

Delightful, reading more of your father's memoirs.....been looking fwd to the next installment.

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Veena said...

More importantly, when is the book coming out? I hope I don't have to read the translation!

At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Thanks Sunil & Veena.

Veena -- The book should be out before December. Will definitely e-mail to you once it's published.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Nice to know those about the literary tradition of Kerala ( does pUrNasarasvati also belong to kEraLa? ) - and the aspects of it that your father unearthed.

Has this literary tradition been unbroken? Or did it stop similar to the demise of the Kerala schools of mathematics and vastu?

Thanks a lot.

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Yes, several scholars including my father believe that Purnasarasvati originally belonged to Kerala. There's sufficient evidence suggesting the same. As for your second question I don't know whether one's willing to count the literary/scholarly activities of today as part of this tradition. Definitely there's a lot of vibrancy in the literary circles in the Kerala context.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Thank you very much for the reply.

What I meant was whether people have been writing such commentaries/works throughout - atleast until 19th or 20th century, or whether that represented some tradition similar to the mAdhava-nIlakaNTha school of mathematics which got broken around the sixteenth century? Could you give the dates when some of these texts were written?

Thanks a lot.

At 9:04 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said...

just a matter of detail:
by any chance was purnasaraswati a woman?

in some sense, 'saraswati' is about the only name of antiquity which could be given to both men and women - as for recent times, there are 'madhu', 'kiran' etc.. :). or more accurately, saraswati' could be the concluding part of a male name - if it is the assumed name of a monk ("jayendra saraswati" for instance). anyways, the etymology of 'purnasaraswati' seems mysterious to self!

At 10:25 PM, Blogger Anand said...

Froginthewell -- I asked about your query to my father. Till the first half of the 20th century that particular tradition has continued. Perhaps the most important commentator of the 20th century, and the last in that scholarly tradition, is K. Rama Pisharody who was a contemporary of Pareekshit Thampuran of Trippunithara. Pisharody has several excellent Sanskrit commentaries including one for Abhinavagupta's Locana which itself is a detailed commentary of Anandavardhana's Dhvanyaloka.

Nandakumar -- You are right. It's the assumed name of a sannyasi. Sarasvati is one of the ten orders established or reorganized by Sankaracharya, the rest being Tirtha, Ashrama, Vana, Aranya, Giri, Parvata, Sagara, Bharati, and Puri. They are called Dasanamis. For instance Swami Vivekananda's order is Puri. (My source for this is my father's book: Purnasarasvati by N.V.P. Unithiri, Calicut University Sanskrit Series No. 24).

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Anand said...

Nandakumar -- Regarding your e-mail about more details about the Karikkatu Subrahmanya temple:

The temple is known as Karikkatu Temple or Karikkatu Sastry Temple. There are two idols of Subrahmanya and one of Ayyappa which was installed much later. The story behind the two idols is this: one day the temple priest saw that the (then only) idol was missing and they had another idol instead. Some time later the priest himself got the missing idol from a pond while taking bath, and he got it back too. Ayyappa temples started mushrooming at a later period. People had this belief that Ayyappa is somehow more powerful than other gods, perhaps because of his image as a hunter etc. So even temples devoted to other gods started having Ayyappa as a deity as well.

At 4:20 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said...

thanks for that bit of history. in modern style, the name would then have been "purnananda saraswati". wonder how 'ananda' came to be part of most monk-names (must be a recent phenomenon).

some of those 10 orders were and still are outside 'brahminism' - for example many present jain monks have names ending with 'sagar' - so this connection with sankaracharya could be a matter of tradition.

it still is a bit puzzling in that 'saraswati' an apparently feminine name got to be assumed by male monks - rather than 'saaraswata' or some such inflected form of the name. well, i have no sanskrit!

At 9:04 AM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Nandakumar, could you give a link or reference based on which you got to the conclusion that some of those orders were and still are outside brahmanism?

I think svAmi vivEkAnanda's order is puri indeed because tOtApuri was the guru of shrIrAmakRShNa.

As for the gender of the name, I don't know - probably an _adjective_sarasvati might mean _adjective_ asya sarasvatiH iti - i.e., whose words are according to _adjective_.

Incidentally another phenomenon just like "kiraN" and "madhu" - these days many girls are named savitA whereas savitA is masculine in sanskrit.

Anand - thanks a lot to you and your father once again. Let me take the liberty of pestering you with yet another question. This regards excerpt V, about Munshi master. This July's bhAShApOShiNi says that our bhAShApitAvu tU~ncattezhuttacchan studied vEdAnta in an "AdInam" in tiruvAvATutuRai of ta~njAvUr. So is it that those schools of ta~njAvUr where nonbrahmins could study vEdAnta were stopped, or they became more rigid, or could it be that Munshi master's particular school alone and possibly some others denied vEdAnta and mimAmsa to nonbrahmins.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Froginthewell -- Could be a mixture of both the options that you have suggested. Always the rule could have been that Vedanta and Mimamsa are meant for Brahmins but once in a while there could be exceptions. Ezhuthacchan was one. Narayana Guru is another.

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Kumar said...


Thanks for the excerpts from your father's memoirs. I have rather general questions that I hope your father won't mind answering. What is the general state of the various traditional schools? For example, are the Nyaya pandits able to attract pupils? Also, what does your dad think about the viability of traditional scholarship in India?


At 9:27 PM, Blogger Anand said...

Thanks Kumar. Here's a quick summary of our phone conversation regarding your question.

Traditionally, though there were scholars in Kerala in almost all the major Sanskrit disciplines, original contribution was restricted to Mimamsa, Vedanta, and Vyakarana (& of course Sahitya). There weren't much noteworthy Kerala contributions to Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, and Yoga. This was the state of affairs, say, till the 15th

In the modern period, the royalty in Travancore and Cochin encouraged Sanskrit training, and by this time those who learn Sanskrit started learning all the major disciplines including Nyaya etc. There were thus prominent Nyaya scholars like K. Achyuta Poduval.

Today there are a few places in Kerala where Sanskrit is taught in the traditional way. They don't get many students though there are a few. But then even in Colleges and Universities, Humanities departments generally do not attract many motivated students.

For a subject like Sanskrit, traditional scholarship and traditional methods will always be relevant. In fact sound fundamental knowledge is absolutely necessary. At the
same time one has access to methodologies from other disciplines in humanities and the
social sciences, and a student should be trained to make use of those as well. A mixed approach would be better than isolated traditional training.

The unique importance of Sanskrit started fading from the 12th century itself when vernacular languages were developed enough to handle a variety of things including technical literature. Sanskrit was no longer the "only" way to pursue knowledge.

Those engaged in Sanskrit teaching and research need to change their attitude too. A more than peripheral engagement with the methodologies of modern social sciences research together with a firm understanding of the basics of traditional Sanskrit disciplines is the way to further progress in the world of Sanskrit.

At 4:03 PM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Thanks, but still more questions, as always ( don't answer them if you don't have time etc. ).

What would be some of kEraLa's contributions to vEdAnta? I am not referring to something like harinAmakIrtanam or j~nAnappAna or nArAyaNIyam but something like any of shankarAcArya's commentaries, the likes of vivEkacUDAmaNi or the vEdAntasAra of sadAnanda or something like that. My question is mainly about the pre-twentieth century kEraLa.

And are there keralite works on vishiShTAdvaita or dvaita?

By the way is there any historical evidence that shankarAcArya is from kEraLa? Could you tell me roughly what century pUrNasarasvati belonged to?

At 5:37 AM, Blogger uma said...

Thanks for sharing this, Anand. I'm always looking forward to the next instalment.

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Froginthewell -- The most important evidence that Sankaracharya is from Kerala is the Vedanta tradition of Kerala.

Here are a few important works in Vedanta from Kerala:

1. Padmapada's Panchapadika (8-9
century, AD). This is an incomplete commentary of the Brahmasutrabhashya of Sankara. An entire new Vedanta school -- Vivaranaprasthanam -- originated with this work.

2. Sarvajnatman's Samksheepasareerakam (10th century) is more famous. This gives a good description of Sankara's Advaita theory.

3. Works of Krishnalilasuka. He is more famous as Vilvamangalathu Swamiyar. His most famous work is the commentary on Kenopanishad. (12-13th century).

4. Raghavananda's works (14-15th century). Works include the Krishnapadi commentary of Bhagavata and Tatparyadeepika commentary of Mukundamala (which is due to Kulasekhara Alwar).

5. Durgaprasadayati's Advaitadeepika (15-16th century).

6. Adinarayana's Caturveedamahavakyateeka (Date unknown).

7. Siddhantapanjara of Vinayaka (14-15th century).

Of course the above list does not include works of relatively modern Vedantis like Chattambi Swamikal, Sri Narayana Guru, Brahmanandaswami Sivayogi, and Vagbhatanandan.

It must also be noted here that the rich contributions that Kerala has made to Vedanta are relatively unknown.

Purnasarasvati belonged to the 15th century.

Uma -- Many thanks.

At 11:50 PM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Oh, my God! I did not know there were so many works from kEraLam ( or that padmapAda was from kEraLam ).

Thanks a lot.

At 2:39 AM, Anonymous Srikanth said...

I have been following your father's memoirs with great interest. Thanks a lot for posting them!

I am much interested in Sanskrit. Though I am familiar with the rudiments of the language (most shabdas), I would like to attain enough proficiency to atleast read the kavyas.

What would you suggest for me to attain such a proficiency? Names of books I should study, etc. might be useful. (I can read the grantha and the malayalam scripts, besides devanagari, though I don't understand the Malayalam language as such.) Thanks!

At 2:53 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said...

thanks again for all that gyan on kerala's sanskritists.

if i remember right, padmapada (guess you are referring to sankaracharya's disciple) was - traditionally - from kerala. as the story goes, his original name was apparently vishnu sarman; sankaracharya gave him the name 'sanandana' when he took the vows and later, he came do be known as padmapada, the lotus footed, when lotuses miraculously bloomed in a river to offer him steps(?!) to go across to the master who was vaiting on the other side.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Thanks Srikanth.

To be comfortable with roots, forms and all that, one usually starts with texts like Siddharupa, Sabdamanjari etc (in Kerala). Either these ones or similar ones should be available in other places too.

To get into kavyas the best bet is to start reading (and re-reading) them. There are plenty of editions of the famous kavyas, original with English translation, available.

Sanskrit Document List, an excellent webpage maintained by Nandu Abhyankar is definitely worth checking out, if you haven't visited it already. You could also have a look at Sanskrit Links Blog.

Nandakumar -- Thanks for the comment. You are right about that story. Such a legend exists.

At 2:29 PM, Blogger froginthewell said...

Srikanth, I don't know if this will help you, but let me quote from what a friend of mine who knows a fair amount of sanskrit suggested to me when I asked him a question similar to the one you asked ( Anand, sorry for the intrusion/ "adhikaprasangam" ) :

What I would suggest is that you start with the Winthrop
Sargeant Bhagavad Gita book
and work your way through it a few times.

If you go through it 2-3 times you will find yourself able to read shlokas
etc from other texts very easily.

Then, use any of the books that he suggests below for grammar (for e.g
Kale or Bhandarkar). I think that you will also find it very useful to buy
Ballantyne's translation of laghu-siddhaanta-kaumudi and read through it.

Maurer's book is also very good but is horrendously expensive and
definitely not worth the price.


Here is what his friend had suggested :


what is the aim of learning Sanskrit? language is just a tool..
if the intent is to be able to read shlokas/scriptures and understand
them (which is the most popular motive), then I would suggest doing
the samskrita-bharati course and start with abhyAsa-pustakam which is
pretty good. If he does not have that option, I would suggest Maurer
or samskrita-bhArati's correspondence material (I have seen it, and it
is decent).

In general, for sanskrit grammar, I think Bhandarkar's book is good.
Antoine's is whitney, macdonnel and r.s.vadyar are to be avoided by a
beginner.. deva-vaani-pravesika highly discouraged.. Thomas Egenes
book is pretty good. Max Mueller, M.R.Kale and G.Thibaut are not to be
seen.. Coulson's book which seems to be the most popular is not
something I have seen.. avoid Charles Lanman, another popular book. I
am sure there are many more.. that rAmOpAkhyAna is recommended to get
a feel of how shlokas are disassembled.. Sargent's book for BG is also

sorry.. not coherent, but egenes and bhandarkar are good to start with.


By the way, Anand : I have heard that the nampUtiris are basically pUrvamImAmsakas and not vEdAntins. And atleast that seems to gel with the fact that the brahmasvamaThams emphasize on the vEdas rather than the prasthAnatrayam, and the fact that nampUtiris seem to give very materialistic translation to the vEdic mantras. So, the majority of kEraLa-brAhmaNas being non-vEdAntins, it seems only natural that the work done in kEraLa in vEdAnta did not get enough recognition. Do you think that could be the case ( and could you confirm if the nampUtiris are indeed mImAmsakas )?

As always, thanks a lot.

At 3:18 AM, Blogger Anand said...

Froginthewell -- Thanks. No it's no adhikaprasangam!

In Kerala, the Vedantis were typically Sannyasis, like the authors of the texts in an earlier comment. But then all these Sannyasis were Namboodiris in their Purvasrama. Only Namboodiris took sannyasam, say, till Narayana Guru's times. Grihasthas, i.e., non-Sannyasi Brahmins, are Mimamsakas as you pointed out.

Your reasoning could be right. That could be a reason why the Kerala contributions to Vedanta did not get the fame that they deserved.

Incidentally it's not true that Brahmasva Mathams taught only Vedas and related stuff. That's the case now, of course. That wasn't the case earlier. In fact it's believed that Sankaracharya established these Mathams in order to teach Vedanta.

At 4:41 AM, Anonymous Srikanth said...

Anand and froginthewell,

Thanks a lot for the suggestions of books and links! I shall scout the bookstores for them.


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