Thursday 28 March 2013

The White Kannadiga

A Britisher, he was born in Bangalore and he is today fondly remembered as the grandfather of archaelogical research of Karnataka. His magnum opus is a compilation, study and research of  nine thousand inscriptions or epigraphs of old Mysore region.
Apart from being an epigraphist of note, he was also an educationist and he took education to the village and introduced what is called the “hobli system” of education which is followed to this day.
At home in Kannada, he was also a master of Hindi and Sanskrit. Since he was a Britisher, English was his mother tongue.
Though scores of epigraphists have followed him and conducted path breaking research, his contribution still stands the test of  time and it is rated as one of the best works of its kind.
He built a house in Bangalore and it exists today, a tribute to the European style of building. He called it “Pen Rhiw”, which in Welsh language means “Top of the hill”. This magnificent house is situated on Sankey Road in Bangalore. It was built in 1873.
The house once belonged to the  B. Lewis Rice or Benjamin Lewis Rice (1837-1927) who is better known as Lewis Rice or B. L. Rice). He went to England to study and returned in 1860 with a degree in arts. The Mysore Government then appointed him as Principal of Bangalore High School, which later became the  precursor to Central College.
His industrious nature and dedication soon earned him a promotion and five years later, he was appointed as Inspector of Schools for Mysore and Coorg. He then became the Director of Public Instruction in Mysore and Coorg in 1868. It was during this period that he introduced the “hobli system” of education, whereby schools were started in important hoblis and this was the first attempt to bring education to the rural folk.
The Mysore Government then made him the Chief Census Officer in 1881 and Secretary to the Department of  Education in 1883.
Rice was a natural at learning languages. A year after becoming principal of Bangalore High School, he took the higher secondary examination in Kannada, Hindi and Sanskrit. He also learnt Tamil and Sanskrit. He was also one of the few foreigners to learn Grantha, a form of ancient script that is primarily used to write Tamil and Sanskrit texts.
As Inspector of Schools, he set Kannada question  papers for students of  Bangalore High School. His high degree of proficiency in Kannada can be gauged from the fact that in one of his reports he wrote about the rather low standard of Kannada of some of his students. This is remarkable for an Englishman whose mother tongue was English and not Kannada.
However, Rice’s fame rests not on these achievements but on his  epigraphical records. As Inspector of Schools, he traveled far and wide and visited nook and corner of  Mysore State. During these tours he came across many Kannada inscriptions in the vicinity of schools, temples and old buildings.
The inscriptions slowly aroused his interest and he began taking more interest in them. Coincidentally, the then Chief Commissioner of Mysore, L.B. Bowring, commissioned someone to take photographs of 150 inscriptions, most of them lying across several places in north Karnataka. Some of these photographs were given to him as he was considered to be an expert in Kannada. Thus began Rice’s tryst with epigraphy. This was in 1872.
Rice began deciphering the epigraphs. However, he was faced with one problem. Several of  the inscriptions were in Hale or old Kannada and neither Rice nor any scholar he knew understood it. Rice took the help of a scholar and set about deciphering the inscriptions.
In 1879, he brought out the first volume of Mysore inscriptions and subsequently several other volumes followed. Among all these volumes, experts rate the one on Shravanabelogala the best. Then came his magnum opus-Epigraphia Carnatica-which is a compilation of nine thousand inscriptions spread across Karnataka.
Epigraphia is the first such intensive and systematic survey of inscriptions in India. The works doe not merely have translations but it has complete transliterations and transcriptions of inscriptions.
Even to this day. the Epigraphia volumes are usually the most frequently-consulted books and it is a must for all epigraphists.
Unfortunately, Rice’s work on epigraphs slowed down as the government burdened him with the task of preparing Gazetteers for the State and for every district. This led to another masterpiece-the Mysore Gazetteer.
The first gazetteer was published in 1876 and the second in 1897.  Like Epigraphia, the Gazetteers are classics and both are reference books for students, teachers, scholars and bibliophiles.
In 1885, Rice was made part-time Director of Archaeological Research. Here, he spent 215 days scouring 654 towns and villages for historical relics. He then visited several taluks on his archaeological expeditions. He undertook these tours on his faithful white pony.
Rice had other works to his credit. The first work of his was ‘An Introduction to Sanskrit in 1868’. He then published a ‘Report on the 1881 Census, Catalogue of the Sanskrit Manuscripts in Mysore and Coorg, and the Karnataka Bhasha Bhushana, a work on grammer.
In 1892, he discovered three inscriptions inscribed in rocks, carrying the same text of an edict of Asoka. In 1906, before retiring from service, he completed six volumes of ‘Bibliotheca Carnatica’, a collection of all major literary texts in Kannada, Sanskrit and other languages
Rice was married to Mary Sophia Garrett, the daughter of another missionary in Bangalore. The couple had ten children and lived in a large, beautiful bungalow on Sankey Road, which today houses an upmarket boutique. This is Pen Rhiw and Rice was perhaps its most famous occupant.  
Though Rice went back to England with his wife in 1906, he never forgot Kannada and Kannadigas. Once Rice came across a Kannadiga at an exhibition in in London in 1924.
Initially, Rice was circumspect as an Englishman would be. However, the ice melted soon and he burst out at the Kannadiga...   “Ayya, Kannadadalli matanadonave? Muddada Kannada kiviya mele bhidu tumba dinagaladuvu.”
Is this not remarkable. Look around you today and you find young people in Bangalore talking in half-baked English. Some of them seem to be ashamed of talking in Kannada. Here, we have a White man who spoke, wrote, translated and earned fame in Kannada. Truly, he is a White Kannadiga.

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