Man of many talents

Man of many talents
BL Rice, the first director of the Archaeology Department in Karnataka, is one of the few  European officials who have contributed to the art, culture and literature of the Princely State of Mysore.

He was an educationist, literary personality, archaeologist, compiler of gazetteers and expert in inscriptions and excavation. He is also considered as the pioneer of archeological research in the State.

Benjamin Lewis Rice was born on 17 July, 1837 in Bangalore. His father, Benjamin Holt Rice, was a Christian missionary associated with the London Missionary Society. He came to Bangalore with his wife to join the activities of John Hands, another missionary. B L Rice received his early education in the Princely State of Mysore and went to the United Kingdom for higher studies.

Educational pursuits

Upon his graduation, he came back to Bangalore and took up the job as the principal of Bangalore High School. During his stint as the principal, Rice mastered in many languages including Kannada, Hindi and Sanskrit. He also took up required examinations and passed successfully.

In 1865, he joined the Mysore Civil Service as the Inspector of Schools for Mysore and Coorg. To take education to common people, he introduced the ‘Hobli School System’ in the State.

This initiative achieved success and great progress was made in the field of primary education.
In 1868, B L Rice was appointed as the director of the Department of Public Instruction. After his elevation to this post, the department achieved much progress. For instance, textbooks were printed on the basis of curriculum and the curriculum was often revised. Much encouragement was given to technical education.

B L Rice also upgraded Bangalore High School and named it as Central College. He also worked as a member secretary of the Hunters Commission, the first Indian Education Commission, instituted in 1882. The Commission recommended changes to be made in primary and secondary education. It also suggested to introduce technical skills in high school education.

Archaeological interests

B L Rice’s contributions as an archaeologist and epigraphist are immense. He had a deep interest in epigraphy, which was enhanced during his tours of schools across the State. In 1884, Rice was appointed the first director of the Mysore State Archaeology Department. As the head of the department, he made a thorough examination of ancient inscriptions in the province. By the end of October 1886, he had surveyed 18 taluks and collected more than 1,500 inscriptions.

Another objective of the department was to combine other branches of research in order to carry out a complete archaeological survey in the State. Hence, the department began similar surveys in other districts. These surveys also brought into light certain edicts of Ashoka in Chitaldroog (now Chitradurga) district. In an annual report of the Department of Archaeology, he suggested that a portion of the Victoria Jubilee (now the Oriental Research Institute) in Mysore should be developed into a ‘Hall of Inscriptions’.

The department also published manuscripts found during the survey along with its annual reports. B L Rice edited, and later published some manuscripts, some of which include the Ramayana Sangraha, Padyasara and Amara Kosha. Under Bibliotheca Carnatica Series, Karnataka Bhashabhushana, Karnataka Shabdanusasana, Pampa Ramayana and Pampa Bharatha were published. By 1895, over  8,000 inscriptions, collected during the Survey, were collated for printing. Rice also initiated the publication of the Epigraphia Carnatica series, which had 12 volumes with about 8,869 inscriptions. It is a study of inscriptions from 3rd century till 19th century.

Compiling gazetteers

The compilation of gazetteers added another feather to his cap. Between 1876 and 1877, when he was the director of the Department Public Instruction, three volumes of Mysore Gazetteers were published. They provide information not only on the geography, flora and fauna but also on the history of the region. The first volume of the gazetteer provides information about religion, literature, industrial progress and art.

The second volume provided information in these fields pertaining to the districts of Bangalore, Kolar, Tumkur, Hassan, Kadur, Shimoga and Chitaldroog. The third volume dealt with Coorg. Other researchers like C Hayavadana Rao, who compiled gazetteers in the later years, drew inspiration from Rice’s work. He was a close associate of luminaries like Ferdinand Kittel, Ronald Ross and Padmaraja Pandita. The pioneering researcher and educationist is also fondly remembered for his contributions to other fields such as numismatics.
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