During the late 80s, the college I was studying had a good reputation for its excellent library of old Sanskrit texts. But unfortunately accessing them was next to impossible, for whatever reasons, so I hardly tried. Not just from libraries, but in general, accessing Sanskrit texts in original or even a copy was not easy in 80s and 90s. They were always considered “too sacred”, “too rare” or “don’t ask because you wont understand”.
When we think of Sanskrit vAngmaya (literature), usually devotional literature comes to mind plus some famous works of select few poets like kAlidAsa, bhAsa etc. But there were also a huge number of non-devotional literature which have enriched the language with some very original themes. In the early part of 1900s (upto 1950s), there existed several Sanskrit publication houses in India publishing from Pune (Punyapuri), Mumbai, Lahore (Lavapuri), Varanasi, Chennai and Calcutta (kAlighAT). Publication houses like Chaukamba Series, Gaekwad Oriental Series, Travancore Series, Nirnaya Sagar Press, Anandasrama Granthavali, Government Oriental Series, Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Kashmir Research Institute, Gita Press and many more have published some very interesting works, the editors and authors of which we have no clue about today. Most of these works have some foreward in English and Hindi, but most commentary is in Sanskrit itself.
After 1950s the Indian political scenario shifted substantially, with the education system and deliberate history rewriting going into hands of communists, thanks to self-claimed Pandits, thereby signaling a sharp decline of such publications and a concerted attempt to lock up Sanskrit knowledge. But these books could be lying around in somebody’s attic or lost forever in education institutions, if not for the wonderful effort by concerned people in Google, Microsoft, Digital India, archive.org and similar organizations, who are digitizing them and/or hosting them free for all, by unlocking them from the many American, Indian and European libraries.
Lets digress a bit. A prime reason for the popularity of khanacademy.org was the philosophy that knowledge should be free and shared by all. This idea completely goes against organized institutional knowledge, where you pay huge sums of money to obtain knowledge and spend rest of your life to make that money back. In other words, knowledge becomes a means for money, not a pursuit of itself.
In the gurukula system, the remarkable implementation of sustaining knowledge through generations comes from integrating it as part of life’s challenge itself. We are told that every person is born with three (some say 6) debts (RNa), which has to be paid back in that life – pitRu RNa, RShi RNa and deva RNa. (In US, there is also a 4th RNa – shiShya RNa ie student debt). Ok, the relevant debt for us here is the RShi RNa which is not about payback money to the teacher, but by spreading what’s learnt, to others. This theme of “knowledge should be shared and forwarded” has been reflected in many Sanskrit works and subhAShitams, the one I like specifically:
na cora hAryam na rAja hAryam na bhrAtrubhAjyam na ca bhArakArI |
vyaye krute vardhate eva nityam vidyA dhanam sarva dhanapradAnam ||
न चोरहार्यम् न राजहार्यम् न भ्रातृभाज्यम् न च भारकारी ।
व्यये कृते वर्धते एव नित्यम् विद्या धनं सर्व-धन-प्रदानम् ॥
“It cannot stolen by thieves, not take away by kings, cannot be split amongst siblings and is not heavy (to carry). If spent, it is only ever-increasing, this wealth called Knowledge is the greatest wealth of all”
Back to the publishers. Of these, the Nirnaya Sagar Press published at least about 110 books from the 1890s to 1950s of many hitherto unknown authors. Under the guidance of one Sri Tukaram Javaji and edited by a few Pandits (chiefly Sri Mahamahopadhyaya Durgaprasad, Sri Kasinath Pandurang Parab, Sri VLS Panshikar etc.) they have done an incomparable service to preserving Sanskrit literature. Some of these books fall under the series called kAvya-mAla (Garland of Poetry) and the kAvya-mAla Anthology (collection) series, the topics of which could make a modern film-maker cry with joy. So many stories to adapt from – without any royalty or copyright violation!
The authors are lost in history indeed – dAmodara-gupta (kuTTanI-matam), gumAni-kavi (upadesha-shatakam), vikrama (nemidUtam), shrInivAsAcArya (jAnakI-caraNa-cAmaram), rAmabhadra-dIkShita (rAmAShTa-pRAsa, rAmAyaNa with second-syllable-alliteration per quarter), sUryakavi (rAmakRShNa-viloma-kAvyam, forward-reading gives rAmAyaNa, backward reading gives kRShNa’s story) and so many more. Some of them require a decent study to even understand what the content is about. The topics are varied – poetics, morals, short stories, events from epics or purANa-s, eulogies of kings, stotram-s, satire of current events and many more.
If there such thing as a time-dilated samprAdAna karma phala (an observation of two relative points between the originator and the receiver), you can observe it revealing – somebody writes a delightful kAvya a thousand years ago for teaching his students about an event that happened three thousand years ago in a palm leaf, overtime it gathers dust in some maharAjA’s library, someone picks it up and uses modern technology to print it for the love of literature, overtime it gets lost in libraries, someone finds it and uses modern technology to digitize them for preserving ancient knowledge, someone hosts them in their server for free access and someone reads, delights and shares that in blogs, for there is nothing else better to do.
Are you bored? There are hundreds of Sanskrit books awaiting to delight you!