Women have been greater custodians of Sanskrit

Women have been greater custodians of Sanskrit

Two-thirds of the research scholars of the 67-year-old Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute (KSRI) in Chennai are women and the institute has been striving to promote Sanskrit and Oriental learning and research. It has been pursuing a bewildering diversity of intellectual interests from ancient Mathematics to women's rights in the 'Vedic period'. The KSRI, mainly run on private donations, is struggling to make both ends meet. Yet, its unflappable present woman Director Dr V Kameswari keeps alive its spirit. In an interview to M R Venkatesh of Deccan Herald, Dr Kameswari reflected on a wide range of concerns.

Traditionally women have been kept away from Sanskrit studies in India for various
reasons. Is your leadership of the KSRI a symbol of the changing times to come?
No, No! Even in ancient times, our women have been greater custodians of the Sanskrit language. There was a time though that the teaching of 'Vedic Mantras' was prohibited for women, as those 'mantras' are to be learnt by rote (as done by boys in Gurukuls) virtually alongside all their other activities in a day. Since women took care of the households, it was difficult for them to learn the 'mantras' that way. Otherwise, women have never been found wanting in any aspect. In KSRI, one of our woman researchers will be shortly completing her doctoral work on the topic, 'Women's rights in Hindu Dharma Shastras vis-à-vis Modern Hindu Law', in which the researcher will demonstrate how ancient Indian women had better legal rights and enjoyed more freedom than they do now.

Does anyone ask how many men survived the Mahabharata war? It was more widows, children and the elderly who were left behind and rebuilding India was substantially left to those women. In our own Institute here (affiliated to the University of Madras) of the 24 scholars currently working on their PhD degree in Sanskrit studies, 16 are women research scholars!

As a unique resource centre of Sanskrit learning on the lines of the Bhandarkar Research Institute in Pune, how has KSRI networked to keep itself both classical and contemporary?
The Institute was founded in March 1944 to perpetuate the memory of the great Savant, Prof S Kuppuswamy Sastri. His contemporaries, who were equally eminent Sanskrit scholars, Prof Bhandarkar and Ganganath Jha in Allahabad desired that an institute be set up as an enduring commemorative objectification of Kuppuswamy Sastri. It made rapid strides in its early days under the inspiring leadership of Dr V Raghavan, a Sanskrit scholar of international repute who was also its founder-secretary. Right from those days, KSRI has attracted the attention of scholars all over the world, including from a range of institutions from the University of Chicago, Balliol (Oxford), Yale, and Cambridge to Harvard. Recently, we have tied-up with Oslo University under which they send beginner-level Sanskrit students to KSRI, as they wish to learn the language where it was born, and to perfect their speech and pronunciation as we (in South India) have a straight way of speaking the Sanskrit language.

Can any of your research projects be called a breakthrough so far?
Yes, of course. Of late, we are moving away from focusing on just Sanskrit literature and philosophy and going into scientific materials in Sanskrit texts. A just completed study by one of our woman scholars is on an algebraic text called 'Bija Ganitha', a commentary on a 12th century Algebra text by Bhaskara-II. The researcher has found that Bhaskara's 'Chakravala' (cyclic method of solving indeterminate equations of the second degree in variables) has preempted the European methods in the Theory of Numbers by nearly 1000 years. Her external examiner for the thesis, a Japanese expert in Sanskrit Mathematics, Prof Hayashi, is so impressed by her thesis that he wants it to be published immediately.  

When Sanskrit studies are not seen to have direct beneficial spin-offs, how has KSRI managed its purse-strings?
In the initial decades, we managed with private donations and the Government aid. But in a big jolt, Central assistance dried out for us since 1995 when we opted out of the GOI aid due to a misunderstanding. The 100 per cent tax exemption given to donors to research institutes like us also hit a road block for three years.

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