History & Culture

Genius of a rare kind

STILL VIBRANT AT 91: Sriramadesikan. Photo: R. Ravindran  

S.N. Sriramadesikan is a living legend known for his outstanding contribution to Sanskrit and Tamil literature for over six decades in varying capacities both at the State and the Centre levels as research scholar, lecturer, principal, editor and publisher.

The honours and awards he has received over the years are many but every one of them is a unique recognition for a singular achievement in an exclusive field. His tour de force is a comprehensive and well-researched translation of ancient Ayurveda Sanskrit texts into Tamil, when he was personally chosen by the then Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran and appointed to serve as Special Officer for about 13 years in the State Government Department of Indian Medicine and Homoeopathy.

These Tamil translations of Ashtanga Sangraham and Charaka Susruta Samhitas of 25,000 verses running into six volumes of 6,400 pages have been prescribed as text-books for students in Ayurveda Colleges. Kamakoti Peetam conferred on him the title, ‘Ayurveda Bharati' and Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashramam the title of ‘Abhinava Sushruta Vishruta' in due recognition of his services.

The honours

Even today he wistfully recalls the day MGR wrote in his own hand the Government Order appointing him for this herculean task, which would have scared away lesser men. Another honour which came to him unsought is the title of Kalaimamani awarded by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 1993 on a personal direction from the Chief Minister Jayalalitha, who was deeply appreciative of his contribution to literature and allied fields. Yet another monumental work of his is a scholarly well-annotated translation of Bharata's Natya Sastra from the Sanskrit original of 6,000 verses and it is today a text which is a boon to aspirants for making a career as a dancer. The work has been published by the State Government responding to an insistent demand for a scientific treatise on this ancient art and is received well both in India and abroad.

Translating with ease

Apart from these classic treatises, Sriramadesikan has composed in Sanskrit ‘Desika Mani Satakam' and ‘Krishna Katha Sangraham' and also rendered into Sanskrit Tirukkural, Naaladiyar, Bharati's works, Pathuppattu and Ettuththogai of Sangam literature, Silappadikaram, Avvaiyar's Needi works, Tiruppavai and so on. It is no easy task to translate and interpret the manners and modes of utterances of another age.

A perfect translation is no doubt a miracle and not many translators acquit themselves creditably. Sriramadesikan is a pioneer in the sense that he could go back with ease from Tamil to Sanskrit without any hitch and convey the beauty. On the occasion of the release of his translation of Kamba Ramayana Bala Kandam into Sanskrit, C. Rajagoplachari spoke and lauded the author but could not resist taking a dig at the rationale of the reverse pilgrimage from Tamil to Sanskrit! But it was only such works that could carry the glory of Tamil to the North, particularly into the sanctum of Sanskrit scholars in Benares and Mathura. Sriramadesikan's service in bringing about this awareness has evoked appreciation from various quarters.

He has published original works in Tamil and also well-balanced articles of literary criticism. Presidents, Governors and Chief Ministers of many States have honoured him in one form or another. President Rajendra Prasad while on a visit to the south heard him enter a strong plea for support to Sanskrit. A Sanskrit Commission was set up and its recommendations led to the creation of centrally funded and managed Vidya Peetams for Sanskrit learning and research.

The late Sri Prakasa, a Sanskrit scholar who was State Governor, used to send for him now and then only to have the joy of conversing with him in the language. Not to be left behind, Governors K.K. Shah and Patwari engaged his services for learning the language.

It was President V.V. Giri, a staunch admirer, who took the initiative to confer on him the highest honour of President's award for Sanskrit Proficiency in 1971. Uttamur Viraraghavachariar, an outstanding Sanskrit and Tamil scholar of the last century, hailed as Abhinava Desika, who taught and initiated Sriramadesikan into the world of Sanskrit, was the first to receive the President's award after its institution.

The veteran, vibrant and vivacious, entered 91 on June 18. His admirers and students are planning an event to commemorate the occasion. A date will be fixed depending on his health.


(The writer, former Finance Secretary to the Government of India, is well-versed in Sanskrit and has been closely associated with Sriramadesikan.) (The writer, former Financial Secretary to the Government of India, is well-versed in Sanskrit and has been closely associated with Sriramadesikan.)

Stupendous contribution

Some of the literary works of Sriramadesikan:Avvaiyar Niti (Sanskrit translation)Susruta Samhita (Tamil translation of Sanskrit Ayurveda text)Bharatanatya Sastram – Tracing the HistoryBharatiar WorksEttu Thogai (Sanskrit translation)Sanga Noolgalil Vaidika Kalacharam (research work)Kambaramayanam (Balakandam, Sanskrit translation)Naaladiyar (Sanskrit translation with Tamil and English expositions)Pathupattu (Sanskrit translation)Silappadikaram (Pukar Kandam, Sanskrit ) Tirukkural (two volumes of Sanskrit translation with Tamil and English expositions) Tiruppavai (Sanskrit translation)Vemana Padaya (Sanskrit and Tamil translations)Sriramadesikan's 60 Years of Literary ServiceArticlesIndia's Cultural HeritageVyaasa and the PuranasSage Veda Vyasa and Indian CultureMessage of Lord KrishnaA Few Thoughts on MahabharataKalidasa RamayanaBhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Prapatti YogaSri Ramanuja and Visishtadvaita

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 2:29:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/genius-of-a-rare-kind/article2226673.ece

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