Sandeep Balakrishna
The Unsullied Scholarship of M. Hiriyanna: Part 1
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

We have seen but just a small sample of Professor Mysore Hiriyanna’s scholarship in these pages in the past. And now it’s time to sate the innate human curiosity of wanting to learn about the person who wields the pen to such glorious heights.

As far as my reading goes, there is no one definitive biography of M. Hiriyanna apart from Shatavadhaani Ganesh’s Aardra Jyothi (Compassionate Light) in Kannada, which is a mini-biography of sorts. Decades before Aardra Jyothiwas written, the only work that speaks about M. Hiriyanna’slife, personality and work is a brief profile sketch written by DVG who was both his contemporary and long-time friend.

The following is my translation of DVG’s profile of M. Hiriyanna. This profile appears in one of the volumes of DVG’s monumental Jnapaka Chitrashaale. DVG titled it Hiriyannanavara Parishudda Panditya meaning “M. Hiriyanna’s Unsullied Scholarship.”

I had been impressed just by listening to people’s accounts of the eminence of Professor M. Hiriyanna much before I had the fortune of meeting him in person. An ordinary schoolteacher was among my many gurus. He had been a student in the Mysore Teacher’s Training College where Hiriyanna was at the time serving as its President. This schoolteacher was well-versed Sanskrit, and I was taking Sanskrit grammar lessons from him. He used to repeatedly speak in glowing terms about Hiriyanna’s integrity and work ethic. That set me on a quest to meet this great soul and take his blessings.

I was finally conferred this great fortune in 1913-14.

The Training of a Vedantin

That year, the Shankar Mutt in Bangalore had organized a lecture by Hiriyanna as part of its annual Shankara Jayanti celebrations. The lecture was attended by a small crowd of less than 100 people. However, the stature of almost all the attendees was immense. It included giants like K.A. Krishnaswami Iyer, Belavadi Dasappa, Ramaswamayya, V. Subramhanya Iyer, Karpura Srinivas Rao, and K. Krishnappayya Iyengar. All of them enjoyed the lecture and praised it profusely.

I too, happened to be there. The lecture was titled “The Training of a Vedantin,” and I came away thoroughly impressed both by the manner of its delivery and the richness of its substance. And so I requested Hiriyanna to give me a copy of the lecture so that I could publish it in “The Karnataka, “the English biweekly that I was running back in those days. The great man immediately agreed and gave me a handwritten copy of the lecture. That moment marked the beginning of my long association with him.

Hiriyanna was a high school teacher before he became the President of the Teacher’s Training College. He used to teach Mathematics, Geography and other subjects. After he came to the Teacher’s Training College, he wrote a few books in Kannada to help and guide students. One of them was titled “Smriti Shakti” (Brain/Memory Power), and another, “Bodhana Krama” (Method of Instruction). The names of these books may not be exact—I’ve quoted them from memory but I’ve definitely read the books. If I recall correctly, I think they first appeared in Bapu Subba Rao’s “Karnataka Granthamaale.” Later, they were printed as independent books. I’d be highly grateful if those of my esteemed readers, who have these books, can give them to me.

The talent-spotting abilities of H.V. Nanjundayya

Hiriyanna accepted the appointment in the Maharaja College as a Sanskrit lecturer after he quit the Teacher’s Training College. This appointment was one of the big successes of H.V. Nanjundayya, the first Vice Chancellor of the newly-formed Mysore University. Nanjundayya followed a really simple precept—he would identify the most eminent scholars of various branches of learning and would appoint them as the heads of the respective departments in the university. Thus, in a relatively short span, Mysore University was home to some of the finest minds of the time—of these, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, N.S. Subba Rao, C.R. Reddy, K.T. Shah, Radha Kumud Mookherjee, and R.Shama Sastri belonged to the highest order. Professor M.Hiriyanna stood shoulder to shoulder with these colossuses.

Hiriyanna was not a man of many words. He never rushed to the forefront aggressively. He didn’t lay claim to even those rights that came to him by virtue of his position.It is Nanjundayya’s greatness that he was able to unearth such a man and offer him a deservedly high position.

Sanskrit Study

Hiriyanna had learnt Sanskrit in the traditional way. His father lived in Shivarampet in Mysore. The three sons—M. Hiriyanna, M.N. Krishna Rao[i], and N. Seetharamayya—were the direct disciples of the renowned Mysore scholar, Periswami Thirumalacharya who taught at the “Sadvidya Shala” school. The school taught Sanskrit in the traditional fashion, which included memorizing the entire Amarakosha [ii], and the dhaatupaata[iii].After successfully completing this traditional schooling, they embarked on English education.

Hiriyanna’s scholarship reflected the immense strength of this solid foundation of traditional learning. The manner in which he used to explain the origins and derivation of various words was a superb illustration of the thoroughness and integrity of his scholarship. I was not blessed with the fortune of learning from him, book in hand. However, I’ll narrate a personal experience, which I hope will shed some light on the method of his instruction.

Diligence of Instruction and Study

I had occasion to visit Mysore to attend a wedding at my younger brother’s house. Several of my scholar friends had also graced the function. However, Hiriyanna was not in attendance on the day of the wedding. He came the next day, in the afternoon.

Me: I was awaiting you yesterday. That happiness is mine now.

Hiriyanna:I could’ve come yesterday but I don’t think we would have had time to talk—you would be busy attending to lots of relatives and guests. But I anticipated that you would be relatively freer today—here I am.

Me: In my community there is a ritual known as the “Neelalohita puja,” which is performed as part of the wedding ceremonies. What would you say is its intent and significance? The Bharatavakyam[iv]. of Kalidasa’s “Shakuntala,” has this verse—”kshapayatu neelalohita.” Is there a connection between that and this wedding ritual?

After this our conversation veered off in various directions. Later, Hiriyanna got up to take leave. I walked with him till his house in Lakshmipuram. There he gave me the notes he had made on the word “Neelalohita” when he was teaching Shakuntala. These notes occupied two or three student notebooks. Beautiful handwriting. Neatly spaced out. The handwriting by itself was a visual treat. He had written out the explanations given by various scholars and commentators on the word “Neelalohita.” He had also written the corresponding sentences and usage of the word.

No Coercion

Once I finished reading his notes, I asked him, “What could be the final conclusion?”

He replied, “I’ve placed before you all the material I could find on this word. It’s difficult for me to say anything conclusively.”

To this, I quoted some verses from the Rudra Suktam:

Namo astu neelagreevaaya|
Draape andhasaspate daridranneelalohita|

Hiriyanna said, “The Vedas could be the root of this usage.”

I said “we can synthesize this usage with sentences like this:

Neelagreevaasshitikantaahsharvaa adah kshamaacaraah|
Neelagreevaasshitikantaah divagm rudraa upashritaah|

Meaning, the world is full of secrets wherever we look; there are things that we cannot explain thoroughly, and there are causes for fear everywhere we look. The word “Neela” is an indicator of secret, and the word “Lohita” is an indicator of fear or terror. This is how I perceive the meaning of this word.”

To this, Hiriyanna simply said, “That is correct. It’s worth pondering about.”

The purpose of recounting this incident is to show Hiriyanna’s extreme diligence in study. Take any subject; he would pay utmost attention to every minute aspect, study it thoroughly, examine every sentence and every word, and make elaborate notes. This was his method of preparation. He would never force anything upon anybody, never coerce his opinions and views, and he would not utter even a single syllable frivolously. Neither did he ever ignore even trivial things although the power of his position would let him get away with it. This was the extent of his integrity.

…Continued in the next part.


[i]M.N. Krishna Rao went on to become the Diwan of the Mysore State in 1941. He has a landmark park named in his honour in Basavanagudi, Bangalore

[ii] Amarakosha is the Sanskrit thesaurus written in verse form by the medieval scholar, Amarasimha.

[iii] Dhaatupaatha means memorizing the root forms from which words can be derived. Any word in Sanskrit can be broken down to, and its origins traced back to a dhaatu. The word “Dhaatu” means “root.” The Sanskrit language has more than 2000 Dhaatus. Traditionally, every student of Sanskrit had to compulsorily memorize these dhaatus in order to pass in the examination system of the day.

[iv] Bharatavakyam in Sanskrit drama turgy typically marks the end of the play.