How much research can you do in a lifetime? Enough to fill a good-sized library, if you go by the incredible work left behind by Professor Venkateswara Sarma (1919-2005), researcher, author and manuscript collector. The research papers he wrote, books he authored, manuscripts and journals he collected over a lifetime, now occupy a three-room apartment in the quiet neighbourhood of Adyar. As a scholar, Prof. Sarma nurtured a sharp intellect, but to open his personal collection to the public was purely a decision of the heart. The free KV Sarma Research Foundation (library), in terms of what it bequeaths to us of our heritage, has few parallels in the city.
“It is an astounding library,” said R. Gopu of the Tamil Heritage Trust. He came to know of it when he attended a lecture on Jyestadeva's Yuktibhasa , organised by the KV Sarma Foundation. He said, “I was told it had several Sanskrit books on astronomy. Also, Prof Swaminathan of THT had given me KV Sarma's Facets of Indian Astronomy. It opened to me vast vistas of Indian Science in Sanskrit.”
Research in Sanskrit treatises went deep in Sarma’s life. He took a PG degree in Sanskrit from Kerala University, taught at its Oriental Research Institute before joining the Sanskrit Department of University of Madras in 1951 as research-assistant in the New Catalogues Project. Here he began to look for rare books he could buy and preserve. In 1962, Punjab University invited him to join their VV Institute of Sanskrit in Hoshiarpur, made him Director and awarded him a D.Litt degree for his book on the Kerala school of Hindu astronomy and mathematics.
After retiring in 1980, Sarma spent a year in Varanasi advising Jain publishers in selecting rare Sanskrit books, and then accepted the position of Honorary Professor of Sanskrit at the Adyar Library Research Centre. He put all his energies into collecting and tabulating the books he loved and by the time he touched 80, he had gathered/published 43 works on Science, 36 on Vedic and General Literature, 20 on Reference Literature and 10 volumes on Manuscriptology and several hundred research papers. He decided to make his personal collection of 10000+ books/2000 journals/900 manuscripts public.
This would foster studies in Sanskrit and ancient sciences. Soon Dr. R. C. Gupta of BITS-Ranchi, came forward to create a corpus fund for an annual endowment lecture by eminent scientists and academicians.
“My school/college education made no mention of this rich and magnificent history, especially the Golden Age of Astronomy and Mathematics from the 5th to the 17th centuries,” rued Gopu. “I have spent several delightful hours in the library in the company of N. Balasubramanian, mathematician and cryptographer, discussing the intricacies of expressing mathematics and astronomy in poetic form, marvelling at the compact slokas for complex theorems and algorithms, admiring the genius of Aryabhata, VarahaMihira, Bhaskara and Nilakanta. The genial librarian Achyutha Bhat and the warm and hospitable Dr. Mamata Mishra have made the library my second home.”
Tell me about him, I asked Dr. Mamata, Sanskrit scholar, secretary/managing trustee, who had worked with Sarma from 1993-2005. A common friend had told Professor Sarma that she was attached to the Manuscripts Library of Orissa State Museum, she said, and the next day he climbed the 52 steps to her apartment in Triplicane to hand over an interview letter. She went to view his collection and was floored by what she saw on his manuscripts-catalogue shelf. She hadn't known of any manuscript outside what was in the museum. She decided to join his work. “I was proud to be introduced as his associate.”
Her assignment was to help with his monumental work Science texts in Sanskrit in the Manuscript Repositories of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. “He was a tough master who replaced assistants often, but I could assist him with its final shape. The book got printed in 2002.” They had their arguments, but he would graciously accept her suggestions, and when he started Sree Sarada Education Society (later re-named) he made her secretary. They continued to research Indology, he as director, she as his assistant, and when he passed away, she was asked to continue his work and take care of the Centre. “I was like a daughter in the family; they called me Ponnu. Whenever I came to work, aunty would be waiting for me with rasam.” During those 13 years, when she walked in, no matter what the hour, she always found Prof. Sarma in his reading chair, “sitting like a king”, with his papers/files/typewriter organised meticulously on the table, within arm’s reach.
“I do my best now,” she said. “These volumes are priceless; anyone interested in Indology research will find them useful.” Added Gopu: “I tell Sanskrit and Science enthusiasts about the library, and share nuggets I have learnt there on my blog.
The library is open on week-days. Call Bhat at 8056233895.