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A timely honour for a fading language

delhi Updated: Dec 22, 2008 00:27 IST
Nivedita Khandekar

From his first published Sanskrit poem at 11 to the 42nd Jnanpith Award at 79, one thing that the agile Sanskrit scholar has had constantly is his continued zest for life. It took him places, literally.

From teaching Sanskrit to Princess Maha Chakri Sirinthorn from the royal house of Thailand, to being visiting professor in six universities in four continents, the humble Lahore-born Delhi-based former professor and head of Department of Sanskrit, Delhi University, has an unenviable track record of awards and honours, the latest being the Jnanpith Award. He is the first Sanskrit scholar to receive the award.

Mahamahopadhyaya Vidyavachaspati Vidyamartanda Dr Satya Vrat Shashtri, the long name with numerous upadhis (honours) he has earned is hardly a match to the depth of his knowledge.

The entire Sanskrit fraternity in the country and abroad was in thralls when his name was announced as winner of the 42nd Jnanpith Award given for contemporary writing in Indian languages. Shashtri shares the honour for 2006 with Konkani writer Ravindra Kelekar.

In his own words, Shashtri’s endeavour all his life has been “to re-create and re-invent the past (glory of the language) and at the same time be as original as possible”.

As one tries to comprehend the canvass covered by the erudite Sanskrit pundit, the reader is left amazed with the wide range. His work — both in creative and critical category — spans a mind-boggling 17,000 stanzas of original compositions by way of three mahakavyas (epic poems), three khandkavyas (lyrical stories), one prabandhakabhya (treatise in poetry) and one patrakabhya (journal of two volumes).

His epic Shriram Kirti Mahakavyam (story of Lord Ram in Thailand) has been translated in four Indian languages apart from Thai, French and English. The critical work has a magnum opus ‘Ramayana — A Linguistic study’. His other creations are Brhattaram Bharatam, Sribodhisattvacaritam and Sarmanyadesah Sutaram Vibhati.

Recipient of Padma Shri and earlier the Sahitya Akademi award, he has also received Vachaspati Puraskar given by the KK Birla Foundation; Dayawati Modi Vishwa Sanskriti Samman and Dalmiya Shri Vaani Alankaran apart from the Royal Decoration from Thailand, to name a few.