Featured > M. Hiriyanna
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Mysuru Hiriyanna, was born on 7 May 1871 in Mysore to parents Nanjundaiah and Lakshmidevi. They belonged to the ‘Uluchukamma’ sub sect of Brahmins – a community which had migrated from Andhra Pradesh centuries ago and included the likes of Vidyaranya who was the founder of Vijayanagar Empire. They hailed from the hamlet of Barigehalli near Chikkanayakanahalli in Tumkur district. Hiriyanna was the sixth child and his younger brother (eighth child) was M. N. Krishna Rao – who would later go on to become the Diwan (Acting) of Mysore under HH Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar in 1941.
M. Hiriyanna was formally trained in Sanskrit in Mysore under the tutelage of Perisamy Tirumalacharya (founder of Sadvidya Patashala) and Kashi Sesharama Sastry. He then went to Madras to complete his B. A. and M. A. at Madras Christian College.
He was married at a young age to Lakshmidevamma and the couple had one daughter by name Rukamma. Hiriyanna started work as a Librarian at Oriental Research Library, Mysore in 1891. Here, he took up the work of curating about 1653 printed works and 1358 manuscripts (Kannada & Sanskrit). He then took up a government job in the office of Education Department at Bangalore and served there for the next three years. Hiriyanna always nursed an ambition to ‘teach’ and to this end embarked on securing an L. T. Qualification from Teacher’s College at Madras. This additional qualification allowed him to apply for posts where he could now formally teach. He came back to Mysore and joined Government Normal School as a teacher in 1896. He was eventually promoted to the post of Head Master by 1907. During these years, he penned his first book, incidentally in Kannada titled “Bodhana Krama” which was a small treatise on the ‘art of teaching’.
He joined Maharaja College as a Lecturer in Sanskrit in 1912. T. Denham was the Principal of Maharaja College during this time and was succeeded by B. M. Srikantayya. Denham, Srikantayya and H. J. Babha were all amply aware of Hiriyanna’s scholarship and considered him a valuable asset to the institution. In fact, Hiriyanna’s reputation as a great scholar and teacher preceded him and led H. V. Nanjundaiah (the first Vice-Chancellor of University of Mysore) to appoint him to the post of Lecturer in the University. Two years later, he became an Assistant Professor. Hiriyanna was a successor to such Sanskrit scholars as Perisamy Tirumalacharya (his teacher and founder of Sadvidya Patashala), Asthan Vidwan Kaviratna Mandikallu Ramasastri (former headmaster at Sarada Vilas High School), Kasturi Ranga Iyengar and Ventakarama Sastri among others.
The services of M. Hiriyanna were requested by Prof A. R. Wadia – Head of the Department of Philosophy at Maharaja College, to come and teach Indian Philosophy to students. By this time, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was also on the faculty of this department. S. Radhakrishnan requested M. Hiriyanna to engage his Philosophy classes as he was busy writing his book on “Indian Philosophy”. The class room lectures of M. Hiriyanna were so excellent, S. Radhakrishnan recommended these lectures to be published by Allen & Unwin in book form titled as “Outlines of Indian Philosophy”, which became a best-seller in the West.
In 1919 Hiriyanna was appointed as a Professor of Sanskrit. S. Srikanta Sastri, who was a student of Maharaja College at that time, read a paper in Sanskrit Association on “Dwani Theory” in 1923. This Seminar was presided by Prof M. Hiriyanna, who appreciated it very much and his colleague Narasimha Sastry also discussed it with the students on that occasion. Prof M. Hiriyanna after an illustrious teaching career retired from the University of Mysore in 1927 at the age of 56 years.
M. Hiriyanna got involved in writing several books on Indian Philosophy and aesthetics, which are considered today as classics. By this time, he had already translated numerous Upanishads into English. He received a number of invitations from Universities across the country to grace their Sanskrit and Philosophy departments. He declined every one of these requests. He was content to delve deep into his studies spending his time at the house he had built on Diwan’s road (House No. 962) in Mysore in 1910.
In 1935, he presided as chairperson in the All India Oriental Conference at Mysore. Four years hence, in 1939, he was requested to preside over the All India Philosophy Conference at Hyderabad, which he promptly declined. The next year, he was invited to deliver the prestigious “Miller’s Memorial Speech” on Philosophy at Madras University. Surprisingly, Hiriyanna accepted this offer and graced the occasion – probably the only instance when he left Mysore to attend an event elsewhere !
Hiriyanna was an individual who predominantly kept to himself. He was always exceedingly charitable and helped many poor students with the condition that they should never reveal the name of the benefactor. He was a traditional Sanskrit scholar by training but a philosopher who had an in-depth knowledge of both Eastern and Western Philosophy. His love of English Literature made him to buy expensive books from two shopkeepers in London on a regular basis.
He regularly read the “Times Literary Supplement” and “Illustrated London News”. During the last ten years of his life, he visited the house of Palghat Narayana Sastri with whom he would discuss for hours on end the finer aspects of Indian Philosophy, Vedanta and the Upanishads. He was a close friend of Kuppuswami Sastry who was a Sanskrit Professor of eminence at University of Madras. Incidentally, much of Hiriyanna’s library was eventually donated to the “Kuppuswami Research Institute” at Mylapore. Across three decades, Hiriyanna authored nearly twenty works.
3. “Ishavasyopanishad” (1911)
6.“Brhadaranyakopansihad – Part 1” (1919)
7.“Naishkarmyasiddhi – Sureshwaracharya” (1925)
8.“Vedantasara – Sadananda” (with English translation) (1929)
9.“Ishtasiddhi – Vimukthathman” - Gaikwad Oriental Series (1933)
10.“Outlines of Indian Philosophy” (1932)
11.“Essentials of Indian Philosophy” (1949)
12.“Indian Philosophy of Values”
13.“The Quest for Perfection” (1952)
14.“Popular Essays in Indian Philosophy” (1952)
15.“Art Experience” (1954)
16.“Sanskrit Studies” (1954)
17.“Indian Philosophical Studies – I” (1957)
18.“Indian Philosophical Studies – II” (1972)
19.“Mission of Philosophy” (1960)
After a brief period of illness, Hiriyanna passed away at the age of seventy nine on September 19, 1950. In 1973, to mark his birth centenary, a commemoration volume was brought forth by a committee, which included Prof. V. Sitaramayya, Pu. Ti. Narasimhachar, Prof. Nikam and G. Marulasiddaiah (among others).
This Commemoration Volume was released by the then Governor of Karnataka Mohanlal Sukadhia. In the world of Indian Philosophical Studies, Hiriyanna’s name stands tall even to this day. His works are studied extensively in the West. His unassuming demeanour, simplicity and down to earth personality masked a gigantic intellect. Kalidasa provides a parallel in “Raghuvamsa” when he says “Speak less for the sake of truth” (Satyaya-Mita-bhashinam). Prof. M. Hiriyanna practised silence of this type.
Pu. Ti. Narasimhachar’s observation on Hiriyanna probably sums him up the best:
“Guru Hiriyanna was a Stithapragna in every sense of the term. He exhibited the quality of the well-bred gentlemen – an abhijatapurusa – one who gives his gifts in such a way none except the donor knows it, who knows how to welcome whoever comes to his house and make him comfortable, who is silent about his own good deeds but proclaims unreservedly of favours he has received from others, in whom fortune does not breed arrogance – who is averse to listen to stories about others and who is intensely devoted to learning. To me, Guru Hiriyanna is an ideal Indian, rooted in his own culture; he did not allow Western thought and culture to destroy the identity as an Indian. He digested them and assimilated into his system all the best of the West, its Philosophy and Literature. It is good to remember Prof. Hiriyanna, his life, his scholarship, his unostentatious benevolence, his dignified bearing and his keen sense of honour and independence.”
M. Hiriyanna in his book “The Mission of Philosophy” raises a relevant question about man’s desire for perfection –
“Is this ideal of perfection completely achievable? It seems that it is, since the desire for it is not only universal but also irrepressible.”
In the words of M. Hiriyanna, what constitutes an art experience is this –
“To begin with, Art Experience is transient. It does not endure long but passes away sooner or later, for it depends for its continuation upon the presence of the external stimulus which has evoked it. The ideal state, on the other hand, if it should answer to that description at all, when attained, necessarily become a permanent feature of Life”.
In one single sentence, M. Hiriyanna describes the essence of Advaita –
“Its most distinguishing feature on the theoretical side is its conception of Nirgunabrahman as the ultimate reality with the implied belief in the Maya doctrine, the identity of the Jeeva and the Brahman and the conception of Moksha as the merging of the former in the latter; on the practical side it is the advocacy of Karma – Samnyasa or complete renunciation with its implication that Jnana and Jnana alone is the means of release.”
In his book “Indian Conception of Values” – Prof M. Hiriyanna writes -
“If we grant that the object of Philosophy is to help us out of this radical unrest of Life, We shall understand the significance of subordinating Dharma to Moksha. All our activities, indeed, seem to be directed towards this object.”
During his lifetime, M. Hiriyanna came to embody the very essence of Indian Philosophy and he was a living example of the best of Indian Values. He achieved both excellence and perfection in his Life. He also faced courageously and boldly the vicissitudes of Life and the ups and downs of it, which did not deter his spirit from enjoying what may be described as an “elan’ vital” (in the words of Henri Bergson).