LIFE OF T. GANAPATI 8ASTRT (1860-1926)
Tharuvai Ganapati Sastri was born in the village of Tharuvai in the Tirunelveli district as the son of Ramasubrahmanya lyer — a son of the family of the celebrated Appaya Dikshita. His mother was Sitamba. In his Aparnastava he has referred to his native place on the banks of Tamraparani River, in the following lines:
गणपतिरिति कश्चित् ब्राह्मण्स्ताम्रपर्णी
In a colophon to his commentary on Svapnavasavadattam he has mentioned his village as well as his parents thus:
ताम्रपर्णीतीरवर्ति तरुवाग्रहाराभिजनस्य श्रीसीताम्बाराम
कृतिषु स्वप्नवासवदत्ताख्यानं सम्पूर्णम्।
His parents were poor and he was given some basic education in Sanskrit under a teacher named Nilmantha Sastri. After acquiring some proficiency in Sanskrit, the young man set out from his village in search of patronage to Trivandrum, the capital of the benevolent Travancore kings. It is said that he reached Trivandrum on foot at the age of sixteen, where he found a residence in the village of Chalai.
There he came in contact with a local scholar Kadayam Subbaya Dikshit - an authority in Sanskrit Grammar. With his help the youngster mastered grammar and poetics. Another well-known teacher, Dharmadhikari Karamanai Subrahmanya Basta also taught him various Bastric treatises. Ganapati Bastri impressed his teachers and colleagues with his brilliance and keen observation. He worked his way up by sheer force of his scholarship, industry and character to an international reputation.
In 1879 he joined the High Court of Travancore as a Junior Assistant and served for sometime. In 1879 the Trivandrum Sanskrit College was founded and Ganapati Shastri was appointed teacher. Soon he became the Headmaster of the institution and then steadily rose to the coveted position of the Principal of the only Sanskrit college in the state in the year 1899. In 1897, Vishakam Tirumal Maharaja appointed him keeper of the palace Library and in this position he came in contact with great scholars of the period like Keral Varma Valiya Koil Tampuram - the Kalidasa of Kerala, and Hattur Ramaswami Bastri, a court poet of the illustrious Travancore rulers. Even after rising to the position of the Principal, he continued to be in charge of the Library which also had a rich collection of palm leaf manuscripts. In 1908 the Govt. decided to establish a separate department for the publication of ancient manuscripts and Ganapati Bastri was the obvious choice to head this new department. He occupied this position for a period of sixteen years. He was due to retire in 1915 at the age of fifty-five. But his tenure of service was extended on a yearly basis for a record period of ten years. At last in 1916 he retired from service due to ill-health and in the following year at the age of 67 he passed away on the third April 1926.
Ganapati Śāstrīs Work
Ganapati Bastri contributed extensively to research and writings in Sanskrit, and is best known for his discovery of the lost plays of Bhasa1 in 1912. He later edited and published these plays, for which
1. See page 23.
he was awarded a Doctorate in Sanskrit from the University of Tubingen. In January 1922, the then Prince of Wales, Edward presented a gold medal to Ganapati Sastri for "literary eminence in Sanskrit". For all these achievements and more, he was given the title of Mahamahopadhyaya by the Government of India.
He was involved in bringing to light several other Sanskrit works as well. He discovered and edited the Trivandrum edition of the Arthaastra, much before than the Mysore ORI Edition in 1924-25, with a Sanskrit commentary by himself. He pointed out that the name of the author was more likely Kautalya, which has since been supported by other scholars.
He also wrote Bharatanvarananam, a cultural history of India.
While yet 17 he composed his first work - a Sanskrit play - called MadhavIvasantiyam for which Prince Vishakham presented him a ring. Though his preoccupations did not permit him to contribute much by way of original compositions he has to his credit about 14 works, of which the best known are the following:
Madhavivasantryam - A drama;
Aparnastava - Stotra on Goddess Durga with his own Commentary;
Srimulcharitam - A Kavya on the history of Travancore during the reign of Sri Mulam Tirunal Mahar;
Bharatanvarananam - A poem describing cultural history of India to which his admirer Prof. Sylvain Levi contributed a foreword;
Arthaastravyakhya - styled Srimulam being an original commentary making use of an old Malayalam glossary on the work;
Svapnavasavadattavyakhya - A comprehensive commentary on the Bhasa's play.
In addition to these, he has published short notes on some of the Bhasa plays re-edited by him. As a commentator his attainment is of a high order and his talent in this regard has come up for praise at the hands of the reputed scholars of the period. The one he wrote on the Artha§astra can be considered as a classic and it is a significant contribution to the study of that text on Indian polity.
He was the founder curator of the Trivandrum Manuscripts library and Editor of the famous Trivandrum Sanskrit series and under his
able guidance the new series eclipsed similar ones in the other parts of India. In fact he put Trivandrum on the map of Oriental Research. Dr. V. Raghavan observes:
Among Pandits who took to research few attained the eminence of Ganapati Shastri and among research scholars themselves few ever got that measure of recognition and honour that Shastri received during the course of his career.1
During his tenure as curator, he brought out 87 publications in the Trivandrum Sanskrit series, of which 68 were his own editions with useful introductions. More than this, the discovery of the so-called Bhasa plays made him world famous. It took the scholarly world by storm as it were, and when opposition arose and gathered strength against his identification, he stoutly faced the criticism and answered them elaborately and was able to keep on his side advocates like A.B. Keith. Two other important works that he brought out deserve special attention; the Buddhist Tantric work Aryamaniu§rimOlakalpa from which the late Dr. K.P. Jayaswal extracted so much interesting historical information was one of his significant editorial efforts. The Samarangattasutradhara of Bhoja edited by him for the Gaekwad's Oriental Series is yet another important contribution.
There are only a few scholars who have attained so much recognition in their life-time than T. Ganapati Sastri. Honours came to the great scholar unsought. At the age of seventeen he won a golden ring from his patron in recognition of his poetic talents. From then onward it was a march from success to success. In 1918 he was invited to preside over the All India Sanskrit conference at Allahabad. In the same year the British Government honored him with the prestigious title Maharnahopadhyaya. In 1920 took place a rather rare function in his honor. The representative of oriental scholars from the American Oriental Society, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland and Societe Asiatique of France, met in Paris and presented an address to Sastri applauding his contribution to Oriental research. Among the
1. Dr. V. Raghavan, MMT. Ganapati Shastri, JI, of Kerala University Manuscripts Lib., Vol. V. No. 2.
signatories to this address were veteran Orientalists like Macdonnel, Keith, Pargiter, Thomas, Grierson, Barnett, Rapron, Emile Senart, Sylvain Levi, Bloomfield, Norman Brown and Lawman. Sastri received the homage of the world of scholars in his humble home at Trivandrum when Dr. F.W. Thomas brought the address. Sastri was now elected honorary member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He was probably the only Pandit that became an honorary Fellow of the prestigious society. In 1924 the Tubingen University of Germany honored him with a Doctorate degree. He was only the second Indian, who without knowledge of a European language or a visit to Europe was honored with an honorary Doctorate as a tribute to his unique achievement. In his home town the scholars held him in high esteem and unanimously made him the President of Sanskrit assemblies.
Last, but not least, 23 years after his sad demise, his own institution posthumously commemorated him by unveiling a life-size portrait in 1949. Dr. P.K. Narayana Pillai, the then Curator took the lead and under the auspicies of the Research Association of the Institution, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan unveiled the portrait in the presence of a large gathering.
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