June 10, 2009ArthashastraAsidehistoryRealism

The librarian of Mysore

It’s been a hundred years since Rudrapatna Shamasastry published the English translation of Kautilya’s Arthashastra

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

The Star of Mysore has an article (linkthanks JK) by A V Narasimha Murthy marking the centenary of the publication of the very first English translation of the Arthasastra:

Around 1905 there was a librarian by name Rudrapatnam Shamasastry (1868-1944) who hailed from the celebrated village Rudrapatna on the banks of Kaveri, famous for Karnatak music. He belonged to the Sanketi Brahmin community and by 37 he had mastered veda, vedanga, classical Sanskrit, Prakrit, English, Kannada, German, French and other languages. He had also learnt the various ancient scripts of India.

As the librarian daily he was examining each manuscript to know its contents. It was not an easy task either. Most of the palm leaf manuscripts were fragile and to handle them was a big problem. This routine examination continued day by day, month after month and even after years, without great success. But Shamasastry was hopeful of finding out some new spectacular manuscript which was not known to the world. His assistants always taunted him but unmindful of all these, Sastry continued his work with all devotion and sincerity.

One fine morning in 1905, he picked up palm leaf manuscript from a heap. He examined this palm leaf and was pleasantly surprised to know that it was a work on Arthasastra or administration written by an author called Kauitlya, Chanakya or Vishnugupta before the dawn of Christian era. Some people thought that it must have been a hoax: others looked at this with suspicion; But the introduction written by Shamasastry in 1909 giving the details of the author and its authenticity convinced that it was a genuine literary wonder of the ancient world. [Star of Mysore]

The text of Dr Shamasastry’s translation is available online.

Related Posts: R P Kangle’s magnificent translation and commentary; and Reading the Arthashastra series on this blog.

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