Sunday 11 November 2012

The Maharaja and his Master

The then Maharaja of Mysore, Krishna Raja Wodeyar 4, was on a State visit to Germany. During his tour, he visited a German University.
When the Vice-Chancellor of a University in Germany, was introduced to the Maharaja, he exclaimed, “Are you from the Mysore of Shama Shastry ?”  The Maharaja was taken aback but being the scholar and gentleman that he was, he acknowledged the fact.
On his return to Mysore, the Maharaja summoned Rudrapatnam Shama Shastry, a librarian at the Oriental Research Institute in Mysore. The Institute was started in 1891 by Chamarajendra Wodeyar.
Shama Shastry had joined service in the Mysore Government as librarian. His mastery over Sanskrit had deeply impressed the then Dewan Sir Seshadri Iyer.
When Shastry met the Maharaja at the palace in Mysore, the King remarked,  “In Mysore I am  the Maharaja and you are my subject, but in Germany, you are the master and people there recognize us (King and Mysoreans) by your name and fame.”
There was a reason for this. It was Shama Shastry who had discovered the ancient manuscript of Arthashastra written by Kautilya.
The manuscripts were written by Kautilya or Chanakya more than 2000 years ago. They were in Granthi script. Till the discovery of these manuscripts, no scholar or person had been able to lay hands on Arthashastra. The book had been only heard and referred to by several Indian and foreign writers like Dandin, Bana, Vishnu Sharma and Megesthanes.  
Shama Shastry began translating the Arthashastra from Granthi to Sanskrit. The Sanskrit version was published in 1909 and it was received with awe and great respect. This publication was perhaps the first authentic written version of the Arthashastra and it created a mini revolution in the literary world. 
The Arthashastra and of course Shama Shastry were hailed by one and all. Shama Shastry then himself took upon the task of translating the book into English. The English version was universally eugolised and writers across the world heaped praise on Arthashastra and of course Shana Shastry.
As Max Muller and other German writers had popularised Indian literature and culture in Germany, Arthashastra had a large following in that country. And when the Mysore Maharaja visited Germany, interest in India had peaked.
Born in Rudrapatna, a small village in Karnataka in 1868, Shama Shastry had his initial schooling in Rudrapatna. When he was 13 years, he walked all the way to Mysore for higher studies and     joined the Sanskrit Vedapatshala. In 1889, Madras University awarded him BA degree.
When Shama Shastry returned to Mysore, he had mastered Sanskrit, Vedas, English and several pother languages. Impressed by is talents, Sir Seshadri Iyer asked him to join the Oriental Research Institute as a Librarian.
The Institute had received thousands of  Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscripts. It was the duty of Shama Shastry to examine, classify  and catalogue them.
When Shama Shastry published the Arthashastra in Sanskrit and English, writers such as Rabindranath Tagore, Asutosh Mukherjee and orientalists and Indologists could not contain their excitement.
The Oriental University in Washington, US, awarded Shama Shastry a doctorate in 1919. The Calcutta University followed suit in 1921. The Royal Asiatic Society honoured him with a fellowship. The Maharaja of Mysore conferred the title,
“Arthashastra Visharada” during the Dasara celebrations of 1926. The Government of India also honoured him. 
Shama Shastry met Mahatma Gandhi in 1927 at Nandi Hills where Gandhi had come to recuperate. He presented Gandhi with a copy of the Arthashastra. Gandhi was suitably impressed and commended him.
Shama Shastry continued his research work in the Institute. He published several books on Vedas. He later became its curator. He retired as Director of Archeological Researches in Mysore.
As Director of Archaeological researches in Mysore, he discovered many inscriptions on stone and copper plates.
He had a house in Chamundipuram named Asutosh.
He died in 1944.


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