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Acharya Pullela Sriramachandrudu: A Tribute

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This essay in Kannada authored by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh was originally published in the daily, Vijaya Vani in July 2015. Translated by Sandeep Balakrishna.

Any sensitive Indian who has dipped into the ocean of classical Sanskrit literature and Shastra (loosely: philosophical texts) will definitely desire to capture its essence if not see the ends of this ocean.  However, not everybody will have the means to directly read these primary texts in Sanskrit. Forget ordinary people, even those who have obtained advanced degrees in Sanskrit are not equipped with the strength to read these advanced texts and digest them. In this situation, what most people need are reliable translations of these works.

Indeed, there exists a hoary tradition of translation of these texts in foreign languages like English, German and French as well as in Indian languages like Kannada, Hindi, Marathi, and Malayalam. Despite this, there continues to exist a demand for such translations from time to time.

However, the number of translations that have risen in this land—the kind of translations which are consonant with our culture and tradition, faithful to the vision of the original, endowed with intellectual integrity, understand the challenges of the contemporary world, and are true to native Indian thought—has been minuscule.

Additionally, it is not possible for merely a few people to undertake this task of translations on a large scale. It requires an entire army of scholars of the highest calibre as well as institutions that have both the vision and the conviction to lead and drive such an effort. Therefore the task of bringing out translations of valuable works in various disciplines that are path-breaking, reliable, and critically sound is veritably an industrial endeavour.

In this direction, we can recall the deluge of extraordinary scholarship in the form of the three hundred plus volumes of Kannada translations of Veda-Shastra-Purana-Agama, published under the auspices of Sri Jayachamarajendra Grantharatnamala, Mysore. This apart, we can also cite the one-man-army effort of Sri Sacchidanandendra Saraswati Swami who translated the Vedanta corpus, of Sri K. Krishnamurthy who translated the texts of Alankara (Discipline of Figure of Speech), of Sri Pandharinatha Galagali who translated the Puranas, and Dr. S.V. Parameshwara Bhatta’s translations of Sanskrit Poetry and Drama.

Another great luminary of towering scholarship who trod this path is the recently departed Dr. Pullela Sriramachandrudu from Andhra Pradesh. He was a one-man encyclopaedia, a one-man university. His sacred vow of learning knew no fatigue and his service to Sanskrit was limitless.

Of a life spanning 88 years (Born: 23 October 1927; Passed Away: 24 June 2015), he devoted more than 60 years to incessant study, writing, teaching, organizing, and collating, all of which now stand as radiant beacons to a life of fulfilment and tremendous accomplishment.

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Unshakeable conviction, integrity, fearlessness, courtesy, non-lethargy, and equanimity were his life-breath. These qualities enabled him to carry out an astonishing range of literary and scholarly activity that included research, textual discovery, commentary, translation, preparing anthologies, writing introductions, and reviews in Sanskrit, Telugu, Hindi and English on such diverse material as Poetry, Drama, Devotional Literature (Stotram), and Shastra (Philosophy).

Although he has contributed immensely in the fields of poetry, textual accuracy, compilation of dictionaries, collections of proverbs, and comparative analysis, Sri Pullela’s effort and diligence find fulfilment and are notable in his translations and commentaries from Sanskrit to Telugu. Even here, more than his translations, summaries, and reconstructions of contemporary Sanskrit Shastric texts, he becomes immortal primarily due to his work in translating primary Sanskrit texts, explaining their word-by-word meaning, commentaries, notes, explanations, critiques, and anthologies. This is at once a very tough and thankless, non-rewarding task.

Sri Pullela has translated the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Telugu, complete with word-by-word meaning. This partial list of his translations gives an idea as to the kind of work Sri Pullela undertook in his long and illustrious life:

  • The Sanskrit drama, Ratnavali
  • Neelakantha Dikshita’s Shatakatraya
  • The Aryas of Sundara Pandya
  • Agnipurana
  • Laghusiddhantakaumudi
  • Vaakyapadiiya of Bhartruhari
  • Yaagnavalkya Smriti
  • Dhammapada
  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali along with Vyasa’s commentary
  • Brahmasutra, Bhagavad Gita, Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, and Aitareya Upanishads with Adi Shankara’s commentaries on each.
  • Adi Shankra’s Vivekachudamani, Sarvadarshana Sangraha, Siddhantalesha Sangraha, and Kautilya’s Artha Shastra with Pullela’s commentaries on each of these texts.
  • Chanakya and Somadeva’s Neeti Sutras containing word-by-word meaning, explanatory notes, and critique.
  • The various texts of Alankara Shastra authored by Bharata, Bhamaha, Dandin, Vamana, Anandavardhana, Abhinavagupta, Kuntaka, Mahimabhatta, Rajashekhara, Kshemendra, Mammata, and so on. These works too, are typically characterized by said explanatory notes, etc.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody in the past has ever accomplished this sort of prolific effort both in quality and quantity in Telugu. Even in other languages, this kind of effort is very rare.

If this feat was accomplished in English, the author would’ve become a worldwide celebrity almost overnight. An example of this phenomenon is the recently published volumes from the Murty Classical Library of India. The Clay Sanskrit Library too can be cited as a similar example.

On the one hand we have such endeavours backed by enormously wealthy sponsors endowed with a colonial mind set, pushing questionable prefaces and interpretations, which are far removed from genuine, native Indian conceptions and sensibilities. On the other, we have stellar, native luminaries like Pullela, Sripada Damodar Satavalekar, Revaprasad Dwivedi, Sri Rama Sharma (from Haridwar’s Gayatri Ashram), Sudhakar Chaturvedi, Charla Ganapati Sastri, and Baladeva Upadhyay, each a powerhouse in their own right. That none of their towering accomplishments have received even a basic acknowledgement from the so-called Bhadralok dotting our nation’s academic-literary-cultural landscape is profoundly tragic.

Sri Pullela Sri Ramachandrudu was born in a family of traditional scholars in the East Godavari region of Andhra Pradesh. He attained mastery in Vyakarana (Sanskrit Grammar) in his boyhood, and later moved to the Chennai Sanskrit Mahapathashala from where he graduated after securing the first rank in the Vedanta Shiromani (literally: Crown Jewel of Vedanta) examination. He also pursued English education and obtained an MA in English and Hindi, and a PhD for his thesis on Panditaraja Jagannatha’s Rasagangadhara.

Sri Pullela Sriramachandrudu’s scholarship rests on his work in Sanskrit literature and its analysis, Vyakarana and analysis of the Sanskrit language, Advaita Vedanta and the analysis of (what may broadly be called) Values. It is thus obvious that the corpus of his work falls within this framework.

He taught Sanskrit mostly in the Osmania University in Hyderabad and retired as a Professor from there. His regular teaching job apart, he also developed the Sanskrit Academy at the University. It was through this body that several of his translated (and curated) works were published. Of these, the celebrated Sanskrit Grammar treatise titled Kashikavritti (together with Nyasa and Padamanjari) is noteworthy.

Along with this, Sri Pullela founded the Surabharati and Samskrita Bhashaa Prachara Samiti and taught and disseminated Sanskrit to tens of thousands of students. He explained the various intricacies and hidden beauty in Sanskrit literature through his lectures and discourses and by writing several short booklets (and inspired other scholars to write them) for the lay audience.

Sri Pullela also laboured tirelessly for the rejuvenation of Sanatana Dharma, which is verily the soul of Sanskrit. In this effort, he cut across castes and sects. He wrote and publicized several books that upheld the greatness of Indianness by citing the true reasons for such greatness through numerous beautiful episodes from our heritage, which he explained with great force of reason. His enormous contribution in this area can be gleaned from this list of books he authored:

  • Selected verses from the Vyakarana Mahabhashyam
  • Encyclopaedia of Sanskrit proverbs
  • Sanskrit translation (in verse form) of Persian proverbs
  • Mahabharatasaara Sangraham
  • Hindumatam
  • Koundinyasmriti—this is a unique work in verse form. It can be called a Naveena Smriti (or the “New Smriti”) in which Pullela has brilliantly attempted to furnish Sanatana Dharma’s practices and traditions as applicable to the contemporary era in the backdrop of its original, eternal form.
  • A mammoth Sanskrit book that captures the essence of Western Philosophy written for the audience of traditional Sanskrit scholars who don’t know English.
  • History of Sanskrit literature
  • History of Prakrit literature
  • Introductory work on ancient Indian scientists written in Sanskrit, a one-of-its-kind work.

Sri Pullela also inspired and encouraged a host of scholars and ordinary people to undertake the work of service to Sanskrit.

In summary, Sri Pullela authored more than 200 books in Sanskrit, Telugu, English and Hindi and sculpted numerous disciples over the course of his long life. He served various academic-literary-cultural institutions including the Kendra Sahitya Akademi in various capacities and received distinguished awards like the Padmasri, Rashtrapati Puraskar (President’s Award), Sahitya Akademi, and earned the respect of national and international academic bodies. Acharya Pullela Sriramachandrudu obtained a place of pride and reverence in the hearts of millions of ordinary people and became a living legend.

I’ve had the great fortune of personally receiving several of his autographed books. That apart, this courteous and friendly scholar was also in touch with me over letters and phone. However, because he wanted no distractions from his devoted service to Sanskrit, he had cut himself off from all manner of worldly pulls, and therefore gently declined my offers inviting him to speak at seminars and lectures.

He had undertaken a sacred vow to write at least forty pages or more every single day. But for this, it would’ve been impossible to produce this volume of scholarship. He had forgotten several of his personal problems by devoting himself to this lifelong service.

Sri Pullela Sriramachandrudu is indeed a Mahatapasvi, and it is only in order that more people learn about his accomplishments and take inspiration for their own work and life.

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Shatavadhani Ganesh

Dr. Ganesh is a Shatavadhani, a multi-faceted scholar, linguist, and poet and polyglot and author of numerous books on philosophy, Hinduism, art, music, dance, and culture.