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a. r. krishnashastry
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A. R. Krishnashastry was born on 12 February, 1890 at Mysore. His father Ambale Y. Ramakrishna Sastry was a renowned teacher in logic and Sanskrit grammar at the Maharaja Samskrit Mahapatashale. His mother was Shankaramma. He was their first male issue. Even though christened at birth as Krishnashastry, he was seldom addressed by that name ever. All through his childhood and up until his B. A. graduation, he was always addressed as Ramakrishna Sastry. When it came to registering his name for the official degree, the name Krishnashastry seems to have made a comeback!
His childhood seems to have transpired in and around the streets of Devirammani Agrahara in Mysore. His paternal ancestors hailed from Ambale village near Chickamagalur and were of Hoysala Karnataka ancestry. There was a rich tradition of Sanskrit education prevalent in the family and A. R. Krishnashastry was tutored by his father from a very young age. In fact, even at the age of 4 – 5 years, Sastry was accompanying his father to the Sanskrit Mahapatashale to sit in audience and listen to his father’s classes. In this way, Krishnashastry had mastered the ‘Amarakosha’, ‘Sanskrit Grammar’ and a number of Sanskrit shlokas at a very young age. His father also took a keen interest in tutoring young Sastry in Kannada as well. Krishna Sastry was well versed in Kalidasa’s ‘Raghuvamsha’, ‘Kumara Sambhava’ and ‘Champu Ramayana’ by the age of ten. Sadly, he lost his mother around this time to plague. With the passing of his mother, Shastry’s father took upon himself the task of running the house while supervising his son’s education. Shastry’s father also had his elderly mother and many younger sisters to look after. In spite of these and more challenges at home, Krishnashastry managed to stand first for the district in the lower secondary exam at the age of sixteen. Though, by this age, many of shastry’s peers had already completed their matriculation and were well into their F. A. course, shastry’s academic progression while slow was nonetheless steady in it’s course. Balancing house-hold chores and helping his father run the family gave young Sastry a degree of maturity and worldly wisdom that many of his classmates evidently lacked.
Shastry joined the Wesleyan Mission High School for his further education. By this time, his father had arranged his wedding to Venkatalakshmamma. Shastry, owing to his consistently good academic performances, had the good fortune of getting the merit scholarship for all three years of his tenure here. This was a testament to his steadfast dedication and devotion to his studies. Maasti Venkatesh Iyengar - a classmate of Sastry during these years reminisces in his biography that there used to be a healthy competition between the two for most of the literary events held at school.
Shastry always nurtured an ambition to pursue his higher studies in the sciences. This would have meant that he had to relocate to Bangalore and then study at Central College. This entailed an expense that was ill afforded by a Sanskrit teacher! Alas, young Shastry had to settle for History and Language studies at the Maharaja College, Mysore which was then under the Madras University.
Maharaja College, Mysore during these years had a distinguished faculty in most subjects – Sanskrit (and Philosophy): M. Hiriyanna, Philosophy: S. Radhakrishnan, English: B. M. Srikantia, History: Radha Kumudh Mukherjee and for Economics: K. T. Shah. While there was no dedicated Kannada department, stalwarts like Kanakanahalli Varadachar and P. R. Karibasava Sastry did their best to impart Kannada education in the traditional mould. Sastry was greatly influenced by B. M. Srikantia’s versatile knowledge of both Western and Indian poetry, linguistic theories and the like. He was also influenced by the simplicity, generosity and meticulous attention to detail of M. Hiriyanna, with whom he retained a lifelong association in the years to come. Krishnashastry learnt the nuances of Sanskrit language, of Vedanta and Kavyamimamse from Hiriyanna. He reminisced in his later years the lifelike renditions of dramas and plays by K. Varadachar.
Once, Sir M. Visvesvaraya was a judge for a debate competition and had a rather tedious two hours listening to every other contestant go on and on about one or the other topic. At the end, it was Krishnashastry’s turn. Shastry was so crisp, clear and concise in his elucidation of ideas that Sir M. V. summoned the young student and personally applauded him. This unique ability to express ideas in a most affable yet concise manner became a defining characteristic of Krishna Sastry in years to come.
A. R. Krishnashastry took his B. A. exam in 1912. Regrettably, he failed in his English paper by a mark! He had to resit his English paper in 1913 and thence pass his B. A. in the same year. Following his B. A., he embarked upon completing his M. A. in Kannada (and Sanskrit). Sastry could ill afford to stay at Madras and study for his M. A. To his surprise in 1914, Madras University eased it’s stipulation requiring a student to stay at Madras for the pursuit of M. A., especially in language studies. Shastry was over joyed and made the best of this opportunity. He at once collected books for Kannada and Sanskrit and began to study them intensively at Mysore. Once he was confident about his preparation, he gave his M. A. exam in both Kannada and Sanskrit at Madras University. He was among the handful few who had a M. A. qualification in both Kannada and Sanskrit at once!
Shastry sat for the Civil Service exams in 1914 and failed. But his failure in this endeavour paved the way for better things to come in the field of literary writing and teaching. For a brief few months, Krishnashastry worked at the Mysore Govt. District Office as a clerk for a meagre salary of Rs. 35/- a month! As a married man with a family to feed, Shastry welcomed any small income till a steady job came his way.
Central College, Bangalore
By the combined efforts and blessings of a trio of M. Shama Rao, B. M. Srikantia and J. G. Tate – A. R. Krishnashastry finally landed a ‘tutor’ job at Central College, Bangalore in the Kannada department in 1915. His monthly salary was now Rs. 50/-. Mysore University took shape in 1916. During this period of transition from Madras to Mysore University, Sastry ended up without a salary for six months! Although he did get his arrears at the end of six months, Krishnashastry had a harrowing time making ends meet with many loans and meagre savings to draw from!
Central College in 1916 was predominantly science oriented in its scope and outreach. Kannada was not one of the sought-after subjects and there was a sad sense of disregard towards it. Krishnashastry took it upon himself to see to it that this sentiment was duly addressed. In the Intermediate exam syllabus of the Madras University, under the Kannada section there was the requirement to discuss one English novel. This was a sticky point – Kannada teachers did not feel up to the task and English teachers condescended little to teach this. Sastry decided to prove to his students that Kannada teachers could indeed do justice. His classes in this section were later some of the most memorable ones as recollected by scores of his students. It was quite evident that Sastry was at home with both Kannada as well as English literature studies.
In 1919, A. R. Krishnashastry was replaced by T. S. Venkannayya and Shastry was transferred to Mysore. At Mysore, he worked at the Oriental Research Institute under R. Shamasastry. Even though this was a departure from his teaching activities, Shastry took up the work with much zeal and is said to have impressed Shamasastry greatly. Between 1919 – 1927, Krishnashastry seems to have worked simultaneously at Maharaja College in addition to his regular job. It was during these years that a formal Kannada department took shape at the nascent University. By 1927, the M. A. course in Kannada had taken some shape and Krishnashastry’s teaching activities at Maharaja College were taken due note of. Now a confirmed Lecturer, Krishnashastry was promoted to the post of Associate Professor at Central College, Bangalore. In his place, T. S. Venkannayya came to Mysore. But in a sad turn of events, by 1939 at the age of 52 years, Venkannayya passed away. So, A. R. Krishnashastry was now brought back to Mysore and eventually promoted to a full-fledged Professor at Maharaja College where from he retired in 1946. Krishnashastry played a key role in shaping the growing Kannada department at Maharaja College and nurtured many a future scholar and litterateur. Among these were the likes of Kuvempu, S. Srikanta Sastri, T. N. Srikantaiah and D. L. Narasimhachar.
Krishnashastry is believed to have frequented the boys’ hostel at Maharaja College in the early hours of dawn to get the young lads out of their beds and onwards on to the Garadi Mane (gym).! Their physical health was just as important as their education.
A. R. Krishnashastry was instrumental in founding the Kannada Sangha (Karnataka Sangha) at Central College, Bangalore in 1918. Sastry also played a key role in laying the foundations for ‘Prabhuddha Karnataka’ periodical in 1919. Between 1933 – 46, Sastry played a leading role in the Editorial Committee for the English – Kannada Dictionary. He was the Chief Editor of ‘Kannada Granthamale’ between 1942 – 46. In the same period i.e., 1943 – 46, A. R. Krishnashastry was also Editor for the Kannada Sahitya Parishat’s monthly mouth-piece. Between 1943 – 57, he was the Editor for the Kannada Sahitya Parishat’s Kannada Dictionary Project. From 1919 – 63, Shastry was continuously involved in bringing about collections of poetry, editing various volumes of landmark Kannada works, dictionary projects, translating a number of Bengali works – including a collection of essays of poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore into Kannada (‘Nibhandamala’), penning number of Forewords and Prefaces to big volumes and contributing significantly to Hosagannada literature. His works totally amount to about 3000 – 4000 pages worth of printed material! His prominent works include ‘Samskurta Nataka’, ‘Vachana Bharata’, ‘Kathamruta’, ‘Sreepathiya Kathegalu’ and ‘Bankim Chandra’.
A. R. Krishnashastry chaired the 26th Kannada Sahitya Sammelan at Hyderabad in 1941. In 1956, A. R. Krishnashastry received the Felicitation Volume – ‘Abhivandane’. University of Mysore conferred upon Shastry a D. Litt in recognition of his lifetime contribution to the world of Kannada literature and studies in 1960. His work ‘Bankim Chandra’ won him the Kendra Sahitya Akademi’s annual award in 1961. In 1968, Prabhuddha Karnataka brought forth a special issue showcasing all of A. R. Krishnashastry’s works and contributions over the years. Similar special editions were brought forth by Kannada Sahitya Akademi in it’s periodical in 1968 as well. In 2000, the New Delhi Sahitya Akademi honoured Sastry by bringing out a brief biographical volume titled ‘A. R. Krishnashastry’ in it’s “Bharathiya Sahitya Nirmapakaru” series. Kannada litterateur H. M. Nayak described A. R. Krishnashastry as ‘Kannada Senani’.
A. R. Krishnashastry breathed his last at Bangalore on 1 February, 1968 at the age of 78 years. He lives on in the hearts and minds of Kannadigas everywhere through many of his lasting contributions.
1. “A. R. Krishnashastry – A Monograph” by Dr. T. V. Venkatachala Sastry (2000)
2. “A. R. Krishnashastry” by K. Krishnamoorthy (1976)
3. “A. R. Krishnashastry” – Rashtrotthana Sahitya