'Sanskrit lags in the genre of biography and autobiography'

'Sanskrit lags in the genre of biography and autobiography'

The Inquirer

Prof Satya Vrat Shastri

A recipient of Sahitya Academy award in 1968 at the age of 37 for his biography of Guru Gobind Singh in Sanskrit, he taught for 40 years at the University of Delhi and held various posts there. He also served as the vice-chancellor of the Sri Jagannath Sanskrit University and was conferred with Padma Bhushan award in 2010.

An active person at the age of 81, he still works 8 to 10 hours a day and travels all over the world and shares his knowledge for the love of the language. He was recently in Mysore to attend the 42nd foundation day of the Central Institute of Indian Languages. He shared his experiences and talked about his future plans with T R Sathish Kumar of Deccan Herald during his visit to the office of ‘Sudharma’, the only Sanskrit daily newspaper in the country. Excerpts:

What inspired you to study Sanskrit so extensively?

My father Prof Charu Deva Shastri was a grammarian and was referred to as ‘Abhinava Panini’. He would even talk to us at home in Sanskrit. So my education started long before I joined school for formal education. So it became a life-long passion.

What are your fields of interest in Sanskrit?

I am a trained linguist but a poet by instinct. I have composed over 6,000 stanzas of poetry for three khandakavyas and other works. I have also written one prabandhakavya and one patrakavya. I published my first poem in Sanskrit in ‘Sanskrit Ratnakar’ a Sanskrit magazine published from Jaipur in 1942 when I was 11.

I also want to fill the gaps in Sanskrit literature. Though Sanskrit literature is very good in a few fields, it is lagging behind in some- like in the genres of biography and autobiography. Apart from writing a biography of Guru Gobind Singh, I did a literary diary — a daily account of events and my experiences for two years. Now I am writing my autobiography.

Who is your favourite writer?

Kalidasa. He has touched upon all aspects of human life and Indian culture in his works. Not just imagination and poetry, he was great in thought. I keep quoting him often. Even the title of my autobiography is from his ‘Abhigyan Shakuntalam’. It would be named ‘Bhavithavyani Dwarani Bhavanthi Sarvatra’.

However, except for a two-hour lecture on Kalidasa in Berlin, I have not got any opportunity to talk much about him.

Can you recall any interesting episode from your literary journey?

I was attending a conference in Berlin in July 1977 and was entering the auditorium to listen to German Sanskrit scholars, when I got a telex message from the Central government. I did not want to get distracted and hence slipped it into my pocket.

After finishing the conference, I opened it. The government had asked me if I was willing to take up professorship at a Bangkok university, I accepted it and went there. There I found that the Thai princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn was my student. She was a very ardent student and her contribution to the language is commendable. She also came down to India to present the Jnanpith award to me.

What is the award that you cherish the most?

I have received 71 awards in all, but the Distinguished Alumnus Award conferred on me by the Benaras University in 2010 is very close to my heart. It was such a great experience to be recognised by an institution where I studied.

Which one do you think is the best among your works?

Definitely ‘Discovery of Sanskrit Treasure’, which is published in seven volumes. Though it costs Rs 5,000 each set, it would soon see a third edition.

The second is ‘Sri Rama Kirti Mahakavyam’ based on Thai version of the Ramayana. It was first translated into Kannada, then Hindi, Assamese and Tamil. It was also translated into Thai, English and French. ‘The Ramayana—A Linguistic Study’ was the first ever linguistic appraisal of any literary work.

What keeps you so active ?

I get up at 5 am daily. By 7 am I am ready at my table, whenever I am at home. I still work 8 to 10 hours a day. That keeps me going.

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