Thursday, June 25, 2009

Centenary of Arthasastra’s publication

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Blog EntryCentenary of Arthasastra’s publicationJun 25, '09 9:07 AM
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Centenary of Arthasastra’s publication
R Shamasastry: Discoverer of Kautilya's Arthasastra

By Prof. AV Narasimha Murthy


The Maharaja of Mysore wanted to celebrate the golden jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen Victoria in 1891 and built a little beauty and named it Victoria Jubilee Institute. The building is a rare blend of classical European, Gothic, Corinthian and Romanesque architectural elements. Subsequently, the walls of this building were adorned by Hoysala sculptures brought from a destroyed Hoysala temple. There are some beautiful inscriptions in front of the building which give a heritage ambience to the structure.

The building used to house thousands of rare palm leaf manuscripts and was called Mysore Oriental Library and now it is called Oriental Research Institute (ORI) and is a part of Mysore University. Queen Victoria is forgotten but this Research Institute is famous all over the world because it was here the first manuscript of Kautilya’s Arthasastra was discovered.

Around 1905 there was a librarian by name Rudrapatnam Shamasastry (1868-1944) who hailed from the celebrated village Rudrapatna on the banks of Kaveri, famous for Karnatak music. He belonged to the Sanketi Brahmin community and by 37 he had mastered Vedas, Vedanga, classical Sanskrit, Prakrit, English, Kannada, German, French and other languages. He had also learnt the various ancient scripts of India.

As the librarian, he daily examinied each manuscript to know its contents. It was not an easy task either. Most of the palm leaf manuscripts were fragile and to handle them was a big problem. This routine examination continued day-by-day, month-after-month and even after years, without great success. But Shamasastry was hopeful of finding out some new spectacular manuscript which was not known to the world. His assistants always taunted him but unmindful of all these, Sastry continued his work with all devotion and sincerity.

One fine morning in 1905, he picked up a palm leaf manuscript from a heap. He examined this palm leaf and was pleasantly surprised to know that it was a work on Arthasastra or administration written by an author called Kautilya, Chanakya or Vishnugupta before the dawn of Christian era. Some people thought that it must have been a hoax; others looked at this with suspicion. But the introduction written by Shamasastry in 1909 giving the details of the author and its authenticity convinced that it was a genuine literary wonder of the ancient world.

Fleet (London), Jolly (Germany), Winternitz (Germany), Thomas (London), Pelliot (France), Keith, Sten Konow and a host of others congratulated Shamasastry for heralding a new era in Indian administration. RK Mukherji, Ashutosh Mukherji, BC, Law, CR Reddy and other Indian scholars paid handsome tribute to Shamasastry. Rabindranath Tagore specially expressed his happiness on this occasion. Thus Shamasastry overnight became a celebrity not only in India but all over the world in academic circles. The book was translated into French, German and many other languages.

Awards and recognitions followed immediately after its publication in 1909. Washington University (USA) awarded a doctorate; Royal Asiatic Society awarded its Fellowship. He was awarded Campbell gold medal. Calcutta University also gave him a doctorate and invited him to deliver a series of lectures on Arthasastra. Mysore University appointed him Professor of History.

Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV gave the title Arthasastra Visharada; the Government of India made him a Mahamahopadhyaya. Varanasi Sanskrit Mandali gave him the title Vidyalankara and Panditaraja. Most of the Oriental institutes in and outside the country invited him to visit their institutions and accept their honour. Unmindful of all these encomiums, Sastry continued his research work on many knotty Indological problems and as Director of Archaeology of Mysore State published many annual reports and discovered many inscriptions on stone and copper plates.

A rare incident which throws light on his illustrious personality may be recounted here. Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV once visited Germany and was invited to address a meeting in a club. The Maharaja was introduced to the guests as His Highness the Maharaja of Mysore State. After the address by His Highness, a German gentleman came near the Maharaja and asked, “Your Majesty, are you the Maharaja of Mysore where lives Dr. Shamasastry, the discoverer of Arthasastra?’’ The Maharaja was pleasantly surprised that Shamasastry of Mysore was well known in the far-off Germany.

He felt proud of this great scholar and after his return he called Sastry and said, “In Mysore we are the Maharaja and you are our subject, but in Germany, you are the master and people recognise us by your name and fame.”

Highly religious and simple in habits, always ready to help the younger scholars, Shamasastry gave self-respect to Indians in the matter of Indian administration. European scholars had always argued that ancient Indians learnt the art of administration from the Greeks with the contact from Alexander. But Shamasastry has falsified this idea and showed to the world the contributions of Kautilya which even the Mughals and British adopted in India. Today we salute Dr. Shamasastry on the centenary of the publication of Kautilya’s Arthasastra.


(The writer is former Head, Department of Ancient History & Archaeology, University of Mysore.)

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