Title: Indian Culture
Kannada Original: Dr S. Srikanta Sastri
English translation: Prof. S. Naganath
Price: Rs. 800
Publisher: Notion Press Media Pvt. Ltd., Chennai
Originally written in Kannada by renowned scholar and historian Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri (1904-1974) under the title “Bharathiya Samskruthi” in 1954, this collection of Indian history, culture and heritage has seen six reprints since then and now it has been translated into English by his son Professor S. Naganath, retired English professor at Bangalore University, to cater to a wider section of readers not familiar with Kannada .
Dr Srikanta Sastri was Professor of History and Indology at Maharaja’s College, Mysuru from 1925 to 1960. In addition to his academic work, his significant contribution includes five books in English and seven in Kannada. Proficient in up to 15 languages, the professor has written 116 research articles in English and 122 in Kannada, a collection of some of these has also been published under the title “Samshodana Lekhanagalu”, in addition to eight in Telugu, a in Sanskrit and one in Sanskrit. Hindi.
The fact that “Bharathiya Samskruthi” has seen up to six reprints between 1954 and 2015 and now in English highlights the importance of this masterful work, its popularity and its usefulness. Although it was written during WWII when India was under British rule, it continues to be a major reference work on Indian culture.
“Bharathiya Samskruthi” covers a wide range of topics such as civilization and culture, physical characteristics of the Indian subcontinent, early men of India, languages, Proto-Indian culture, Vedic culture, Vedic scholarship, history and mythology, different Indian philosophical schools, Vedic society, economics in Vedic times, political institutions, literature, arts and sciences, greater India and a bird’s eye view of Indian culture. Approximately 90 illustrations and tables support the topics covered in the 670 page English version. It also includes 258 Sanskrit quotes which have been translated into English. A reader will find the stupendous task of the author in covering such a vast area in one volume and also the difficult task facing the translator.
In his introductory remarks, Prof. Naganath sums up: “the reader need only look carefully at the bibliography section to realize the amount of research and in-depth study that went into the writing of this book. (the bibliography lists nearly 500 titles). The genius of Dr Srikanta Sastri helped put together a complex mosaic of Indian culture with these many pieces of information. Dr Srikanta Sastri finally projects a harmonious, meaningful and aesthetically beautiful collage of multifaceted Indian culture in a single canvas.
In his 1954 preface, the poet laureate KV Puttappa (Kuvempu) hails it as “a work of deep research”.
When you go through the 600 pages and a few pages, you will understand the vast knowledge that Dr Srikanta Sastri had acquired. It provides answers to some basic questions about Indian culture and offers us interesting information on different aspects of Indian culture, history and heritage. To name a few: No Indus site has been discovered in South India; many Indian lifestyle practices can be traced today to the Indian Valley Civilization; a glaring example of Hindu tolerance is the survival of Jainism in India; among the generals of the army of Vishnuvardhana (King Hoysala) the most famous were the Garudas who were all Jain believers; we learn from “Shankara Bashya” that there was an older text on the science of Yoga even before Patanjali’s text; the real meaning of Yoga is to join the soul (Atma) with God (Eshwara); Shakti worship is a secular religious practice and can be traced to the Vedic age; Shakta worship was widespread from Afghanistan in the northwest region to Assam in the eastern region of India; Surya temples are very rare in India; the worship of worshiping the Sun God led to a study of astrology in India; Brahmavadin girls underwent the Upanayanam ceremony at the age of eight and they had the right to study in a Gurukula; Kamasutra states that Ganikas must be well versed in 64 Kalas; many courtesans were the custodians of cultures and were educated and talented; no old Smriti mentions the compulsory shaving of a widow’s head; and many more of those revealing statements.
One particular mention that interested me more concerned the Maori language. The Maori were New Zealand’s first settlers. Referring to these indigenous Polynesian people, the author says: “In the Maori language we find these words ‘Matariki’ (star of Kritika), ‘Matrukeru’ (7 mother goddesses), ‘Raka’ (Poornima – full day moon) and “Kuhu” (Amavasya – day of the new moon) which are derivatives of Sanskrit and these people claim to come from the land of the Ganges. Their language has a close affinity with Sanskrit.
Here I can add that after finding out how similar the Maori culture and language is to ours during one of my visits to New Zealand about ten years ago, I wrote an article in a magazine there with the caption “Are we brothers” highlighting how similarities exist between their culture and language with ours, especially us Kannadigas. I was happy to have been able to find a support for my observation in this work, the magnum-opus of Dr. Srikanta Sastri.
Overall, “Indian Culture” is a useful book, besides being a reference book for anyone interested in Indian culture and its aspects. Professor Naganath has enriched its value by providing explanations or clarifications whenever necessary, making it clear that this is only an editor’s note. He deserves to be congratulated for having translated his father’s work in order to reach a wider audience.
By Gouri Satya, senior journalist