Honour for illustrious scholars

Two eminent Sanskrit scholars, Vaduvoor Srinivasa Desikachariar and Vasudeva Srivatsankachariar will receive the President's award this year. T. A. SRINIVASAN writes.

ALTHOUGH SANSKRIT and the study of the Vedas are neglected in Tamil Nadu now, enthusiastic scholars and philanthropists are keeping the torch of Sanskrit learning alive. Two among these illustrious scholars are Vaduvur `Ghanapadi' Srinivasa Desikachariar and Vasudeva Srivatsankachariar. The latter is an Honorary Professor at the French Institute of Indology in Pondicherry. Both are among the recipients of the President's award for Sanskrit scholars this year.

A former, in fact, the only Vaishnavite Principal of the Madras Sanskrit College at Chennai, 65-year old Sri Vasudeva Srivatsankachariar (Sri V. Srivatsankachariar for short) is a native of Paiyambadi near Madurantakam. The village was gifted to his ancestors 400 years ago by the rulers of Thanjavur. It is a "Srothriyam" grant, given to scholars in the past and his ancestor who got the grant was Sribhashyam Srinivasachariar Swami, who has written commentaries for all the works of Sri Desika.

After having tutelage under his father and also his maternal grandfather, Sri Rangaramanuja Mahadesikan popularly known as Kozhiyalam Swami, became a disciple of Uthamoor Sri T. Veeraraghavachariar, an authority on Desika Sampradaya and the first recipient of the President's award for Sanskrit scholars. He was a gold medallist of the Madras University in Nyaya and got the Siromani in 1956. He later became Siromani in Vyakarana of Andhra University in 1963. He also learnt Mimamsa, Sahitya and Vedanta from Uthamoor Veeraraghavachariar.

Learning Tamil privately from the late K. Kesava Iyengar, father of Sri K. Parasaran, Srivatsankachariar assisted him in writing over 25 works including the famous ``Valluvar Ullam''. He has written commentaries for 26 works including those of Kurathazhwan like the ``Pancha Sthavam'' and Sri Desikar's "Dasavathara Sthothram" and ``Sri Paramapada Sobhanam''. He has edited 28 works including Sri Bhashyam with Sruthaprakasika which was released at a function held in New Delhi in 1989 by the then Vice- President, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma. Srivatsankachariar has been an invitee to various conferences held under the auspices of Sri Ahobila Madam, Sri Andavan Ashramam, Srirangam, Srimad Poundarikapuram Andavan Ashramam, Sri Raghavendra Swamy Math, Mantralayam, Sri Kanchi Kamakoti and Sri Sringeri Maths and Mysore Maharaja's Vidwat Sadas. He has been an examiner for various universities and Sanskrit institutes in different States.

A teacher for well over 45 years, Srivatsankachariar has guided a number of research scholars and has taught scores of students Vyakarana, Mimamsa and Sahitya. Many of his students occupy top positions in Sanskrit departments in various universities. Institutions imparting Sanskrit learning from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and in neighbouring Bangladesh have at least one of his students as teacher. He has also been lecturing to chosen disciples on various Visishtadwaita works, especially those written by Sri Desika. Srivatsankachariar is an expert in Vyakarana, Mimamsa, palm leaf deciphering and in detecting the ``chaaya'' of the ``Prakrutha'' (old) form of Sanskrit. In the old form of colloquial Sanskrit, unless the ``chaaya'' is known, the meaning cannot be made out. Hence it is considered very important. He is the recipient of various awards, the most important being the ``Mahamahopadhyaya'' title conferred by the Rashtriya Samskrita Vidyapeeth, Tirupati.

The erudition of Sri Srinivasa Desikachariar, the other recipient of the Presidential award, is evident from two of his published works, ``Pitrumedha Sara Prasna'', ``Sudhi Vilochanam'' and ``Purva'' and ``Apara Prayoga''. Through his teaching of the Vedas and Vedanta Sutras, he has been spreading the glory of Sanskrit language and the rich spiritual and cultural heritage of the country. Besides he is also an acknowledged authority on the Sutras.

A native of Vaduvur in Thanjavur district 72-year old Desikachariar got his early education from his father and learnt Vedic studies and the Divya Prabhandham at the Annaswami Iyengar Veda Patasala in Mannargudi. Even when he was quite young, he passed the ``Grhyam'' conducted by the Veda Dharma Sastra Paripalana Sabha at Kumbakonam. Later he went to Mysore and studied the Sutras with Purva and Apara Prayoga. His scholarship enabled him to earn the title ``Salakshana Ghanapadi in Krishna Yajur Vedam''. This is not an easy task as the ``Salakshana Ghanapataham'', along with the commentaries (Veda Bhashya), requires meticulous study and the application of rituals laid down in the Srouta and Grhya Sutras, mastery of Purva Mimamsa Sastra and command over the Vedanta Sastra. This is considered to be a rare and outstanding combination.

Apart from practising what he had learnt under great scholars, Srinivasa Desikachariar has built a school of Vedic Studies and imparts training to youngsters.

His disciples are carrying on the propagation of the same in various towns in the country and also abroad. Besides he was the chief examiner for the Vedas at the Srirangam Srimad Andavan Paduka Veda Vidwat Sadas, Veda Dharma Sastra Paripalana Sabha of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Kumbakonam, the Tirupati-Tirumala Devasthanam's Veda Sastra, Silpa, Agama Sadas, in the Veda Rakshana Nidhi Trust of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Uttaradhi Madam in Bangalore and Parakala Madam in Mysore.

Desikachariar has been honoured by Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Srimad Andavan of Periyasramam, Srirangam, Uttaradhi Madam, Bangalore, Parakala Madam and Ahobila Madam.

He has been performing homams as laid down in the scriptures and was the chief priest at the Aswamedha Yagna Ratri Homam, conducted in Hyderabad in 1985. He has participated in various vidwat Sadas held in different holy places including Tirupati and Srirangam.

It is in the fitness of things that the two scholars have been given the Presidential award for Sanskrit scholars for this year, which was announced on Independence Day. This will give a great boost to Sanskrit learning in this part of the country.