A SANSKRIT SCHOLAR PAR EXCELLENCE
Mahamahopadyaya Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri,
The gifts of the spirit rise superior to all other gifts. Poets and philosophers, prophets and seers, inspired men of religion and leaders of thought, scholars and savants, discoverers and teachers of new truth--such persons are entitled to the respect and homage of men more than those whose achievements and services have been on the materials plane only. Like Dr. U.V. Swaminatha lyer, in the field of Tamil studies and Tamil literature, Mahamahopadyaya Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri, Professor of Sanskrit at Calcutta University from 1917 to 1947, was a monumental Sanskrit scholar who made Himalayan and timeless contribution to Sanskrit literature, particularly in the field of Advaita philosophy in which he was acknowledged as a living authority throughout India. Government of India honoured him with the title of `Mahamahopadyaya'. He not only wrote extensively on Advaita philosophy but also practised it with remarkable verve, devotion and dedication in his own private life. Towards the end of his life; he embraced `Apathsanyasa' renouncing his 'Poorva Ashramam' and became known as Advaita Ananda Saraswathi Swami.
Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri was born in March 1886 at Noorni in Palghat town. His father was Subramania Vadyar, son of Ramaswami Vadyar the Chief purohit of that village. His mother's name was Laxmi. His father was a great scholar in Dharma Sastras. Many villages in Palghat district in the last quarter of the 19th century were great centres of classical Sanskrit learning. William Logan who was Collector of Malabar in the 1880's and who lives !n history as the author of Malabar Manual paid tribute to the enlightened Brahmins of Palghat district in the following words: 'What after 'all has been the goal of all modern legislation, but, as Bentham's great dictum puts it: 'The greatest possible happiness of the greatest number'. To anyone who chooses to study the history of the Brahmins in Palghat District, it will become apparent that the race had advanced far towards the attainment of this modern aim, and this too, and it is all the more remarkable on that account, was the state of affairs among a people who I would like to describe as a Hindu community of the purest type."
No wonder Palghat District produced several outstanding Sanskrit scholars in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century. Chittur M. Ramanatha Shastri, Shekaripuram S.K. Ramanatha Shastri, Mimasa Kesari Ramanathapuram R. Subramania Shastri, Shekaripuram S.K. Padmanabha Shastri, Peruvamba Bhramashri P .R. Subramania Shastri and Cochin V. A Ramanatha Shastri were some of the great Sanskrit scholars of this period. In this galaxy of outstanding Sanskrit scholars, Mahamahopadyaya Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri shone like a pole star.A brief history of his scholastic and teaching career can now be told. In 1899 he joined the Vedashastra Pattasala of Chitoor (in Cochin State). After studying the Vedas and Sanskrit literature upto the fourth class, he left the Chitoor Pattasala to pursue further studies at the Pattasala at Chidambaram in February 1904. In the Chidambaram Pattasala he studied Vyakarana (Sabdarantharthana) and Prakarana Granthas in Tarkashastra under the famous Sanskrit scholar Sriman Harihara Sastrigal of Srimushnam till 1906. Soon thereafter he joined the Sanskrit College at Madras in the Vedanta Group. In his spare time he also paid attention to the study of Mimamsa and Dharmashastras.In December 1910 he contested in a competition in Advaita Sabha of Kalahasthi and was honoured with a `Thoda' and shawls in appreciation of his dialectic skills. Consequent upon this distinction he was appointed as the First Assistant in the Sanskrit College at Tiupati in 1911.
During his tenure in the Sanskrit College at Tirupati he took special initiative to edit and publish several unpublished manuscripts which gave him national prominence. The following are some of the original works and texts edited during his stay at Tirupati:1. Vivaha-Samaya Mimamsa
2. Abdhiyana Nirnaya
3. Chatus of Brahama-sutra with Bashya, Bhamati, Kalpataru and Parimala, exhaustive notes and introduction.
4. Introduction to Shastradipika
5.Complete Bhrama-Sutra-Bhashya with Shamti, Kalpataru and Parimala, with topical notes and enlarged introduction.
6. Shastradipika with Sambhubhattiya.
7. An original work called Mimamsa Shastra Samgraha.In May 1917 he assumed charge as Principal of a Sanskrit College newly started by the Taluk Board of Shermadevi at Kalladaikurichi in Tirunelveli District. But he served there only 3 months upto 10 August 1917.
The great turning point in his life was his meeting with Sir Ashutosh Mookerji, legendary Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, at Tirupati in 1917. Sir Ashutosh Mookerji was overwhelmed by the Himalayan scholarship of Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri and appointed him as Professor of Sanskrit in Calcutta University 1917. He served in Calcutta University for 30 years from 1917 to 1947, teaching mostly M.A. classes and guiding students in Post Graduate Doctoral studies. He was also an examiner for Sanskrit in various universities like Calcutta, Benaras, Allahabad and Patna etc. !n this context it is of great historical interest to note that it was Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee who had discovered the genius of Sir. C.V. Raman whom he invited to join Calcutta University in the first decade of his century. It was also Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee who had invited Sarvapalli Radhkrishnan to join Calcutta University.What is little known is the fact that it was Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee who invited the attention of Lord Curzon the Viceroy of India, to the legal and judicial brilliance of Sir. P.S.Shivaswami lyer of Madras in 1900. It was indeed an age of intellectual giants and genuine scholarship. Men of learriing were nationally respected despite linguistic barriers unlike today. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan was a colleague of Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri in Calcutta University during this period and wrote the forword .to a number of books edited and written by Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri.During his tenure in Calcutta University Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri wrote and published the following works:
2. .Karma-Pradeepa with his own commentary named Prabha .
3. Vedanta-Paribhasha wtth his own commentary- 2 volumes
4. Sanathana-Dharma-Pradeepa contain.Ing about 1,600 pages in 2 Volumes.
5. Advaita-dipika-2 volumes '
7) Vedanta-Rakshamani-2 Volumes
8) Brahma-Sutra-Bhashaya with 9 commentaries, one of which Pradipa being his own in 2 volumes
9) Advaita-Siddhi with 5 commentaries
10) Saugandhya Vimarsa and Chaturgranthi; his original works
11} Numerous original articles contributed as founder and editor of ttie Sanskrit Sahitya. Parishad Patrika, a monthly journal, from Calcutta.
He was closely associated with the activities of Bengal; Assam, Bihar, Orissa and Mysore Sanskrit Associations for several years.
In 1948 he joined the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Bombay, founded by K M Munshi, as Principal of the Githa Vidyalaya and Vachaspatya Course. Later he served as Hohorary Professor of Sanskrit in Benaras Hindu University. During this period, he published a book named Bhagavad Gita Bharatiya Darshani Cha (Gita and Indian Philosophies). During his stay in Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan he also prepared an original work on the six Puranas and sent them to His Highness the Maharaja of Benaras for publication. He elicited and collected the opinions of Dharmacharyas of Bombay and Madras about the possibility of reconversion based on the Dharma Shastra with regard to the victims of Noakhali.
The pinnacle of his intellectual achievement was the publication of his highly original and provocative work called 'Satha Bhushani' ---a polemical work on Advaita Vedanta in answer to the numerous criticisms levelled against the doctrine of Advaita by Sri Vedanta Desika in his 'Satha Dhushani'.
Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri was the recipient of many awards and titles. He was made an Associate Member of the Royal Asiatic Society. He was awarded the title Mahomahapadhyaya by the Government of India. Sringeri Shankaracharya Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi conferred on him the title of Shastraratnakara Satabhushani. Shankaracharya of Puri gave him the title of Sarvatantra Swathanthra. In 1961 President Rajendra Prasad gave him the President's Gold Medal for Sanskrit.
President Babu Rajendra Prasad used to invite him almost every year to Rashtrapathi Bhavan during the Dusherra festival to hear his spiritual and religious discourses. Babu Rajendra Prasad was indeed captivated by the Vedic learning and intellectual prowess of Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri.Apart from being a great scholar and writer he was also, a tireless worker in the field of practical propagation of Sanathana Dharma. He actively associated himself with organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha, the Brahmana Maha Sammelan, the Arya Samaj and All-India Vidwat Sammelan of Madras, Bombay, Belgaum etc.He also participated in a Hindu Satyagraha in Pandaripur. In his personal spiritual life he gave cubic content to the words of Romain Roland 'Thought without action is an abortion and a treachery and thought in order to justify itself must lead to action'.
Noorni Ananthakrishna Shastri seems to have had a premonition regarding his death. On the 15th of November 1964, after completing his daily poojas, at 11.10 am he entered what is known as Apatsanyasa and passed away at 12.20 pm the same day. So lived and passed away this great soul, who devoted his whole lifetime to the study of Hindu Philosophy and Sanskrit literature. His life and achievements will live and abide with us all as a cherished possession, a sweet and radiant presence, to be bequeathed as a treasure to coming generations.
What is, his life's message to, all of us today? Though, he passed away at Noorni village in Palghat in 1964, yet he seems to whisper into our ears all the time the following inspiring words:
‘'When I survey the life of India during the last 3000 years and bear in mind our literature, traditions and ideals, the searchings of our philosophers, and the work of our artists, the music of our sons and daughters, and the nobility of the Hindu religion we have evolved and when from these elements I form in my mind a picture of an ideal India and an ideal earthly life. l confess it is difficult for me to imagine a more powerful source of inspiration, a deeper- well of truth to draw upon'.