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Sanskrit, his first love

Appalla Someswara Sarma

His ambition is to enlighten the common man on Sanatana Dharma and its significance. He trained hundreds of persons in chanting the Gita and they in turn trained lakhs of people. Today at 83, he is never tired of guiding anyone who approaches him for learning Sanskrit, Telugu or on spiritual matters.

Meet, Appalla Someswara Sarma, a well-known name in literary and spiritual circles. He taught Vyakarana, Alankara and Advaita Vedanta for over four decades in various institutions, including Andhra University. The Tirupati Kavita Samithi honoured him with the title `Vyakaranalankara Chakravarti' and Bharati Theerta (Vizianagaram) gave him the title `Sahitya Visharadha'.

Reminiscing his days as a student and later as a teacher, he says, "In those days salary was not the main criterion for teachers. My first salary was only Rs.15. We were more interested in making the students learn the subject than monetary gains. The system of learning was traditional and the students had great respect for their teachers."

The depth of study in specialised subjects was enormous in those days, according to him. "Today, the depth of study and scholarship of students is on the decline. In those days Sanskrit was taught as a subject in almost all high schools and colleges. Today, it is not even taught in 10 per cent of the schools and colleges."

He expressed satisfaction at the introduction of modern methods in the teaching of Sanskrit. The establishment of Sanskrit universities, Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeths, the Sanskrit Research Institute, the Vedic Research Institute and the Centres of Advanced Learning in Sanskrit in different states had contributed to the promotion of Sanskrit learning and studies.

"While Kerala tops the country in the learning of Sanskrit, our State is lagging behind," he lamented and suggested that the Government introduce it as a subject at all high schools and colleges and sanction Sanskrit lecturer posts in all colleges for its promotion. "Sanskrit has an ocean of knowledge and it has helped in the integration of the country."

Born in Sarvasiddhi Rayavaram village of Yelamanchili mandal in Visakhapatnam district on November 10, 1920, Someswara Sarma, had his education at the Vizianagaram Sanskrit College. It was his paternal uncle, Joganna Sastry, who had kindled the interest of learning Sanskrit in the traditional way.

He took his M.A. from the Benares Hindu University and obtained a gold medal in P.O.L. (Proficient in Oriental Language) from AU. Starting his career as a teacher at the Sanskrit School at Simhachalam, he served at the M.R. Sanskrit College, the Tirupati Sanskrit College, the M.R. Arts College and finally joined AU as a Sanskrit lecturer.

Someswara Sarma is a contemporary of Sriman Sribashyam Appalacharyulu. They were both students of the M.R. Sanskrit College in Vizianagaram. Sarma began his career as a Sanskrit teacher at the Sanskrit College attached to the Padmanabham temple.

Someswara Sarma has the unique distinction of teaching both the father and son. He taught Peri Sarveswara Sarma at Simhachalam during the latter's boyhood. He also taught his son, Suryanarayana, in M.A. in AU. Similarly, he taught Sanskrit to Ayyagari Somayajulu, when he was a boy, at Simhachalam and later to his son, Sriramachandra Murthy, in M.A.

When he was Head Pundit at the Simhachalam Sanskrit School, Lord Wavel, the then Governor-General of India visited the school in April 1943. The Vizianagaram Estate Collector, K.A. Anantharaman, accompanied the Governor-General. "Anantharaman introduced me to Wavel and the latter shook hands with me," he recalls. Wavel had come to Visakhapatnam to get first hand information of the damage caused to the Visakhapatnam Harbour as a result of the Japanese bombing during World War II on April 2, 1942.

Someswara Sarma shared the dais with the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, when the latter came to the city and commissioned the first ship built by Hindustan Shipyard Limited, `Jala Usha', in 1948. Vedic scholars were taken to HSL from Simhachalam to conduct puja on the auspicious occasion and being the Head Pundit, Someswara Sarma was given a chair next to the Prime Minister.

He has penned nearly 16 books on various subjects and even today scholars and students approach him for studies and deliberations on various issues. Reading, teaching, delivering lectures and writing books have been his main activities. He was felicitated by the former Vice-President of India, Krishan Kant, and the Union Minister for Human Resources Development, Murali Manohar Joshi, in recognition of his yeomen services in the field of Sanskrit education.

Says his student, M.V. Ramanaiah, who has retired as a deputy director in the Naval Science and Technological Laboratory, "The present Sanskrit teachers of AU and the Sanskrit University, Tirupati, are all his students. Even university professors come to him for advice. He is an authority in Sanskrit and Telugu languages and the authors of literary works in these languages show their works to him for comments before they are sent for publication."

He has also acted on stage and won laurels from the audience and from experts in the field. He played the role of Maricha in the drama `Abhignana Sakuntalam' in Sanskrit at the Tirupati Sanskrit College in 1951. He not only donned the roles of Timmarusu and as Ananda Gajapati in the playlets, staged at the Vizianagaram Maharaja's College between 1958-60, but also composed and directed them. He continued acting on stage after joining the AU faculty.

He is adviser to the Gita Prachara Samtihi in Old Town for the last three decades and attends all the spiritual functions. He oversaw the construction of the Gita Bhavanam, says his close follower, Naredla Sambasiva Rao.

Looking back with contentment, Someswara Sarma says, "I cherish my experiences at Tirupati and at AU the most. In Tirupati, it was Sanskrit... Sanskrit...Sanskrit, all the time. The students conversed in Sanskrit, apart from reading and writing in the language. On the contrary, in AU it was a combination of tradition and modernity. This was a unique experience for me as it gave me exposure to both traditional and modern methods of teaching in Sanskrit."

The octogenarian derives satisfaction in delivering spiritual discourses and in teaching Sanskrit to those who approach him at his home in Seethammadhara.

B. Madhu Gopal

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