Knowing his name, by chance
During a meeting (ca. July 2017) with volunteers dedicated to the cause of Indian patriotism and national integrity, a very senior member, having heard of my research interests, mentioned to me a name I might be interested in. “Do check out the work of Sriramadesikan. He has contributed immensely to the field of Sanskrit. He was 91 years old when last I heard about him. You might learn a lot from his work”, he said. After almost a week, I finally found some time on a lazy Friday morning to know more about Sriramadesikan. The ever-dependable Internet search-engine that is Google returned three interesting results. Here’s an account of my quest trying to piece together about Sriramadesikan, a Sanskrit scholar par excellence.
A stellar profile
In a very detailed article in The Hindu (1) (coincidentally exactly six years before I sat down to read the article then!), Shri Neduntheru S. Kannan lists the indefatigable works of Shri. S.N. Sriramadesikan (or SNS in short for ease of use in this article):
With translation between Sanskrit and Tamil being his forte, Shri SNS has earned his respect from political stalwarts of India including the then CMs of Tamilnadu Shri M. G. Ramachandran and Kum. J. Jayalalithaa, C; Rajagopalachari (Rajaji); the then Presidents of India Shri Rajendra Prasad and Shri V. V. Giri; and the then governers Shri Sri Prakasa, SHri K. K. Shah and Shri Patwari. (1) The Kamakoti Peetam conferred upon him the title of ‘Ayurveda Bharati’ while the Srirangam Srimad Andavan Ashramam ‘Abhinava Sushruta Vishruta’ recognizing his contributions to Ayurveda. (1) The then CM of Tamilnadu, Kum. J. Jayalalithaa awarded Shri SNS with the prestigious Kalaimamani award. (1) His crowning accolade was the President’s award for Sanskrit Proficiency in 1971. It was Shri Uttamur Viraraghavachariar, the very same teacher who taught him Sanskrit, was the first to receive the award in
Much later, on searching for more details online, Shri SNS’s professional profile showed up in the Brahmin Information Service Provider (BISP) website (2). The positions held by Shri SNS are mind-blowing. Consistently contributing for over 60 years since 1950, Shri SNS has done great yeoman service to the cause of integrating the nation through Tamil and Sanskrit literature, Ayurveda, Natyashastra, and Sanskrit in general. This is not all the information I could gather.
A dedicated website
I chanced upon the website domain with his name: http://sriramadesikan.com. As the DNS address could not be found, the website must have been deactivated or suspended. (3) The archived version, fortunately works. (4) Additional to the information provided on BISP (2), the profile on the dedicated website contains more information about Shri SNS. Moreover, it is likely that the BISP profile is based on this website version.
At the end of Shri SNS’s profile, there is a list enumerating the ones showering recognition over Shri SNS: “(1) President, Two Vice-Presidents, Governor General, (1) Prime Minister, Nine Governors, Three Chief Ministers, Three Union Ministors (sic), Four Judges, Five Vice-Chancellors, Two Madathipathi (sic), Two Sagithya (sic) Academy Presidents, (and) Three State Governments”.
His publications may seem small in a list, but they are major works. (5) Some of his scholarly works were even available on a CD priced affordably at Rs.75/- at his residence at least as late as 2011. (6) Clicking on the appropriate links of his works on the left fetches whole introductory chapters in English. Also, newspaper clippings (7) and his photos (8) have been painstakingly added as text in the website. There is even a page which should have contained letters from famous personalities, but has no content. (9)
The attention to details of the contents of the website could mean only one thing – the website was curated by Shri SNS himself, at least upto late 2011 (as records are not available post 2011 on the Internet Archive).
Before stumbling upon Shri SNS’s profile on BISP (2), in order to establish contact with Shri SNS I tried to exhaust available resources.
I first tried contacting Shri Neduntheru S. Kannan, the author of the article in The Hindu (1) , through his email provided in the article. In five minutes came the response:
The only option I had left was to call the number provided in BISP (2). Pat came the response:”This number is not in use.”
But I still could visit the man’s residence at the address mentioned in BISP. (2) But I wanted to confirm if the man was approachable. After expressing that I would like to meet Shri SNS for his blessings, one of my Sanskrit Gurus, Shri O. R. Devanathan asked me in Sanskrit “Saḥ jīvayati vā?” (Is he still alive.). I replied, “Na jānāmi mahodaya”(I don’t know, sir). Nevertheless, unhindered by his question, I left eagerly to at least see his small apartment overflowing with old books.
I arrived at the bungalow with a Sethji’s name on the name plate. I was present at the location as shown on GoogleMaps (10). After pressing the doorbell four times, the housemaid, called Pūngāvanam, had arrived and I mentioned my task at hand. Evidently, I was knocking at the wrong door. But it was divine providence that she be the very same maid who used to work for Shri SNS. Apparently, he used to live a little further away and he had passed away 6-7 years ago. His apartment, being allotted to him by the State Housing Board, had been allotted to a different person now. Disappointed to hear that all I came for was for naught, I began my journey back home slowly.
As Shri SNS’s former apartment was on my way back, I decided to test my luck to see if I could gather some information regarding his works and book collection. A kind neighbor pointed me to another apartment of his neighbor, Shri Arivazhagan, Shri SNS’s friend.
Shri Arivazhagan was elsewhere outside his apartment. Knocking on another neighbour’s door, I got his contact number and called him on his mobile phone. After introducing myself and my quest, Shri Arivazhagan, a softspoken man, replied, “After listening to you, I am compelled to help you. Call me on Tuesday. I’ll try to contact Desikan sir’s family and let you know the details.” Content that the gears are in motion slowly, I walked back away from the Housing Board quarters.
Success – the disc
I tried to meet Shri Arivazhagan for at least two months. Every single time I tried to call him, he was supportive to my cause but circumstances prevented my quest from reaching fruition. I almost lost all hope. Finally, after weeks of searching, Shri Arivazhagan called me to announce success – he had finally found the disc containing his work. Shri SNS had given him a disc many years ago.
The treasure chest of a disc contains all of his original work. The following are some of the works (spellings as typed on the CD cover) burned on the disc:
- Avvaiyar niti works – Sanskrit translation
- Subramania Bharatiar’s works – Sanskrit translation with English exposition
- Ettutokai (Sangam literature – paripadal) Sanskrit translation
- Naladiyar – Sanskrit translation (with Tamil and English expositions)
- Susrutha samhitha – uthrasthanam (Ayurveda text) – Tamil translation
- Andra kavi Vemana padyamulu – Sanskrit and Tamil translations
Before I parted ways with Shri Arivazhagan, he asked me a question,”When did you decide to study Sanskrit, Abhinav?”
“A few months ago, sir.”
“This is destiny. This is how God has decided that you come to receive and learn from Shri Desikan’s work despite all the struggle. May God bless you.”
Thanking him and my stars, I turned to return home while sadly contemplating on how many Sanskrit scholars passed away in relative obscurity, far from fame and family.
- Kannan, Neduntheru S. Genius of a rare kind. The Hindu. July 14, 2011. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/genius-of-a-rare-kind/article2226673.ece.
- S.N. SRI RAMA DESIKAN – IYENGAR. BISPINDIA.COM Brahmin Information Service Provider. [Online] [Cited: July 14, 2017.] http://bispindia.com/content/sn-sri-rama-desikan-iyengar.
- [Online] [Cited: July 14, 2017.] http://sriramadesikan.com.
- Sri. Sirungattur Nadathur Sriramadesikan. Sri. Sirungattur Nadathur Sriramadesikan at Sriramadesikan.com. [Online] [Cited: February 7, 2011.] Accessed date is archived date. Archived page currently accessed on 14th July 2017. https://web.archive.org/web/20110207115233/http://sriramadesikan.com.
- Publications at Sriramadesikan.com. Sriramdesikan.com. [Online] [Cited: February 6, 2011.] https://web.archive.org/web/20110206030540/http://sriramadesikan.com:80/publications/.
- Sriramadesikan.com. Contact at Sriramadesikan.com. [Online] [Cited: February 6, 2011.] https://web.archive.org/web/20110206030458/http://sriramadesikan.com:80/contact/.
- Press Clippings at Sriramadesikan.com. Sriramadesikan.com. [Online] [Cited: February 6, 2011.] https://web.archive.org/web/20110206030503/http://sriramadesikan.com:80/press-clippings/.
- Photo Gallery at Sriramadesikan.com. Sriramadesikan.com. [Online] [Cited: February 6, 2011.] https://web.archive.org/web/20110206030444/http://sriramadesikan.com:80/photo-gallery/.
- Letters From Famous Personalities at Sriramadesikan.com. Sriramadesikan.com. [Online] [Cited: February 6, 2011.] https://web.archive.org/web/20110206032839/http://sriramadesikan.com:80/letters-from-famous-personalities/.
- [Online] https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/5,+Turnbulls+Rd,+Nandanam+Extension,+Nandanam,+Chennai,+Tamil+Nadufirstname.lastname@example.org,80.2460999,18z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x3a5267b1a3a8900d:0xd5713e6169fe547f!8m2!3d13.0283421!4d80.2455638?hl=en.