Pundits' attitude, funds crunch hit encyclopaedia work

The Government of India-assisted monumental project, “Encyclopedia Dictionary of Sanskrit on Historic Principles”, is languishing not only for want of adequate funds, but also due to the over-modesty of the Sanskrit Pundits, laments the eminent 79-year-old Sanskrit scholar and authority on “Vaishnava Agamas”, Dr Pandurang Prabhakar Apte, now Emeritus Professor, Deccan College, Pune, and of the Academy of Sanskrit Research, Melkote, Karnataka. He spoke to M R Venkatesh on a wide-range of issues during his recent visit to Chennai to deliver lectures at the Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute (KSRI) on the Madras Sanskrit College campus.


Sir, what is the status of the Sanskrit Encyclopaedia Project?

The “Encyclopaedia Dictionary of Sanskrit” is a massive on-going project under the aegis of the Deccan College in Pune, which comes under the Maharashtra Government, and with Central Government assistance. But the grant is not enough. Previously, the Union HRD Ministry was funding this project.

But in recent years all assistance for Sanskrit study projects are channelised through the “Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan” in Delhi. Under this project, they have taken some 1,500 books and Sanskrit words extracted so far is 8.5 lakhs, which have been arranged alphabetically and 7,000 pages printed. But even under the first “akshara A”, Sanskrit words taken up to three-member compounds, that is all such compound words beginning with “A”, have not been completed yet.

For example, just under one word, “Agni”, there are 500 entries covering 111 meanings and sub-meanings! It is thus a colossal project underway. The project faces a hurdle, not only due to insufficient budget allocations and discouragement of the Government, but also due to the Sanskrit scholars who are too modest and narrow in outlook while asking for funds. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, who founded the “Benaras Hindu University”, on the flip side, used to be called the “biggest beggar of the world” as he went around raising resources for the “Kashi Vidyapeeth”. There is something to be learnt from that approach.

How did you get immersed in the study of “Agamas”, the very foundation of all temple-building and temple-worship in India?

My early influences go back to Prof Mainkar, a very good Sanskrit professor who was in Sangli. He was later transferred to Pune. After doing my M A in Sanskrit, I also went to Pune and did PhD under him in Poona University (1965). Prof Mainkar suggested to me to research on the “Philosophy of Pancharaatra” (one of the pivotal “Agamas” that govern temple worship). But there is a longer story to it. Decades back, the great German Sanskrit scholar F O Schrader, was put in jail during the First World War by the British because he was a German. From Madras he was transferred to the Ahmednagar Prison, where in 1916, he wrote “Introduction to Pancharaatra”, the first such book in English, 30 years before Jawaharlal Nehru wrote the “Discovery of India” from the same jail. Schrader’s path-breaking work was the first window to the world on “Pancharaatra” to foreign scholars in modern times.
After I took up research in Pune, I came in contact with another great Sanskrit scholar, Prof V Raghavan, who was the KSRI Secretary for long years and who collected a lot of Sanskrit manuscripts and catalogued them. Raghavan introduced me to “Pancharaatra” and the Agama Kosha (a project he had initiated at the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth (RSV) in Tirupati). Such has been the genesis of my foray into Sanskrit studies.

In simple terms, how would you explain the Agamas’ origins and relevance?

You see, as long as “Yagnas” (sacrificial fire) was at the centre and socio-religious life (in ancient India) grew around it, it was called “Nigama Dharma”. It was based wholly on the “Vedas”, which have no date or authorship. But about “Agamas”, it is said that Lord Krishna started it-- the “Dharma” of Image worship in temples or enshrined image worship-- in the “Dvapaara Yuga”. In historical time, it was given impetus by Ramanuja, his teacher Yamunachariyar and later by Vedanta Desika. Once this “Agama Dharma” was started, there is no break to this day. Some temple is built on some open plot or the other every day, not only in India, but also abroad with globalisation! The Swami Narayan Temple in the US was built by the late Ganapathy Sthapathy. There are so many temples in America now.

The “Agamas” promoted sustainable technology. The Chola, Pallava and Pandya dynasties have all come and gone; but the temples they built are all still solidly there. This is our tradition. The “Sthapathis” are practical engineers, collaborating with “Agama Pundits”. So, both “Agamas” and “Shilpa Shaastra” (techniques of carving and temple building) have always gone hand-in-hand. Where the “Agamas” followed in image worship purely use only “Vedic Mantras”, they are called “Vaikanasa Agama”, as used even today in Tirupati Balaji Temple. Where the “Agamas’” use “Tantric Mantras (like Hom and Kreem)” and “Yantras (some metallic devices)” also, they are called ‘Pancharaatra Agamas”. Then, the “Shaiva Agamas” (used in Shiva temples) are separate. These are the basics. The details are more complex, but the “archakas” can be meticulously trained!

Do these texts rely only on an oral tradition or are they documented?

No. There are written texts also. For example, under the “Agama Kosha” project undertaken at the RSV, with which I am involved, 11 volumes of “Vaikanasha Agama” have been completed. The “Pancharaatra Agamas” will be another 25 volumes to be done.

Further, the stupendous 11th century Sanskrit text, “Samarangana Sutradara”, by Bhoja is full of engineering. A half-built temple of Bhoja and a dam that he built, in what is now Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, are still there, showing up as shining examples of sustainable technology of the medieval age. Bhoja’s huge work on people-oriented, sustainable engineering and technology will come out shortly in six volumes in English, a translation project I am heading. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts in Delhi is publishing it.

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