FRIDAY REVIEW

Radiance far and wide

MULTI-FACETED: Dr. Raghavan with Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

MULTI-FACETED: Dr. Raghavan with Dr. S. Radhakrishnan  

LAKSHMI DEVNATH

Sanskrit scholar par excellence and a sensitive teacher, Dr. Raghavan wore many hats with ease.

Sourcing of manuscripts was Dr. Raghavan’s passion.



The nine-year old faced the Tiruvarur Tyagaraja temple and commanded his sister, “Sivakamu, repeat this Sanskrit sloka after me.” That was Dr. Raghavan’s maiden composition. And he never looked back. The foundation had been laid for an association that enriched the language and put the scholar on a high pedestal.

Young Raghavan’s cognitive development was on different lines. That was because he was different. Schooling was not sufficient to quench his intellectual thirst. Leisure hours were voluntarily devoted to learning Sanskrit, memorising verses, compiling Sanskrit sayings and putting together a glossary of plants, trees and creepers with corresponding Sanskrit names. Botany whetted his intellectual appetite and music his aesthetic thirst. But it was Sanskrit that consumed him. Raghavan feasted on them all.



Academic journey

Raghavan’s arduous academic journey at the Presidency College started off in 1925. He was short of funds even to buy notebooks. Nevertheless, Raghavan’s hunger for knowledge sustained him and the awards that he graduated with satiated him. As crowning glory came this certificate from the Sanskrit scholar Kuppuswami Sastri: “Raghavan is one of the best students whom I have had the good fortune to teach in my whole service…” In 1935, Raghavan was awarded a doctorate for his masterly thesis on Bhoja’s Sringara Prakasa, an encyclopaedic work on Sanskrit aesthetics. The Hindu acclaimed the publication of this thesis as “A great work sees the light…”

Raghavan went on to join the Madras University as a Research Scholar and retired as Professor and Head of the Department of Sanskrit in 1968. As a teacher, he was brilliant and inspiring; uncompromising and strict. This period also saw him engage in yet another monumental task.

Simon Theodore Aufrecht, German Indologist, had published an alphabetical catalogue of all known Sanskrit manuscripts, titled Catalogus Catalogorum. From 1935, the University of Madras began working on an updated catalogue called the New Catalogus Catalogorum. On Raghavan’s contribution to this, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan observed, “Raghavan’s great work on Catalogus Catalogorum will continue for a long time to come, as an authoritative reference book of Sanskrit literature.”

It was in making original contributions to the existing corpus that Raghavan revelled in. Sourcing of manuscripts was his passion. And his efforts to garner them provide material for a real-life novella. An exemplar was the inventory of 20,000 uncatalogued manuscripts in Europe that he prepared. Prof M. Hiriyanna lauded, “Raghavan is almost as familiar with unpublished manuscripts as he is with the printed works on them… he has successfully identified the author of an old and important commentary on the Vedanta Sutras, and has thereby settled once and for all a question which has long remained unsettled.”

Learned articles

The radiance of Raghavan’s scholarship spread far and wide. It earned him ingress to international Indology conferences. Raghavan’s contributions to Sanskrit Studies were varied. Prof. D.H. Ingalls, Harvard University opined, “Poetry, theatre, epic, criticism, philosophy, music, science; there is scarcely a field of Sanskrit Studies that Raghavan has not enriched with his learned articles.”

Raghavan’s quest for fine arts competed with his quest for Panini’s Sanskrit. He explored the avenues of music, dance and theatre. Even as a youth he had begun reviewing music and dance performances in various magazines under pseudonyms such as Bhavuka and Adityan. In 1932, Raghavan’s article “Some early names in Sangita literature” was published in the Journal of the Madras Music Academy. He soon rose to become its editor and in 1942 became secretary of the august organisation.

While his articles in the journals were often considered the last word on the subject, his introductions to works by other authors, as it was in the book “Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja,” were acclaimed as theses. His Mahakavya on Muthuswami Dikshitar is an example of sterling Sanskrit poetry. He was a songsmith too. A verse on Saint Tyagaraja, a kriti on Syama Sastri can be found amongst other kritis, varnams and kavadi chindus that he created. As it twirled through the domains of Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kudiyattam, Yaksha Gana, Bhagavata Mela, Vithi Bhagavatam… Raghavan’s pen created many new compositions as well. In 1958, the dramatist in Raghavan founded Samskrita Ranga, to popularise Sanskrit drama on stage. The founder himself could carry off mono-acting portrayals with aplomb.

The sheer volume of Dr. Raghavan’s works is mind boggling — 120 works, 1,200 papers, short stories… the bibliography of Raghavan’s writings form a 300 page book. In recognition came scores of awards right up to Padma Bhushan; editorship of multiple literary journals and official positions in many prestigious literary and cultural organisations such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Sahitya Akademi.

Born on August 22, 1908, Dr. Raghavan passed away on April 5, 1979. He would have liked to live more and complete the works on his jottings list. Among those are these words, “I have always placed public matters and scholarly works before personal matters and domestic work.” Thus goes the Sanskrit verse: “Authoring of great works results in everlasting fame.”

* * *

Some of Dr. V. Raghavan’s books published by Dr. V. Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts.

•Sanskrit Drama-Its Aesthetics and Production

•The Indian Heritage

•Sanskrit Ramayanas other than Valmiki

•Splendours of Indian Dance

•Collected Writings on Indian Music

•Kavikokila Manjari (Audio CD of compositions)

•An Anthology on Aspects of Indian Culture

•Vanna Malargal (short stories)



Recommended for you