Prof. V R Ramachandra Dikshitar (1896-1953)
Dr.Nagaswamy, formerD irector of rchaeology, government of Tamilnadu and an internationally acclaimed archaeologist and historian has paid this tribute to Prof. V R Ramachandra Dikshitar: ‘Prof. V R Ramachandra Dikshitar, was a shining luminary in the horizon of South Indian History and Culture. Deeply rooted in Vedic and Sanskrit tradition—his ancestors were eminent Vedic Scholars and performers of Vedic Yagas—he took it as his life’s mission, to expound the history and culture of the soil to which he belonged—the Tamil region and worked tirelessly in that direction till his death. Very early in his life, he started studying ancient Tamil literature, which he soon mastered…. His intimate understanding of Tamil texts enabled him to translate the immortal Tamil works—Silapathikaram and Tirukurral into English. These two Tamil translations, classics by themselves, reflect truly the inner meaning of the classical texts and remain closest to the original among many that have appeared to this day. His studies in Mauryan and Gupta Polity, and also Wars in Ancient India are pioneering works in the field. He realised the importance of the study of Puranas and brought out three volumes of ‘PURANA INDEX’ under the auspices of the University of Madras. His work, Hindu Administrative System, is indeed a landmark in administrative history’.
Professor Dikshitar was born on April 16, 1896 at Vishnampettai in Thanjavur District in Tamilnadu, in an orthodox Brahmin family. He had his school education in the Sir P S Sivaswami Iyer High School at Thirukkattupalli. Later he went to St. Joseph’s College, Thiruchirapalli for his college education and he graduated from that institution with distinction in 1920.
In 1923 he got his M A Degree in History and Diploma in Economics. From 1923 to 1927, he pursued his studies as a Research Scholar in the Department of History and Archaeology of the Madras University. In 1927 he went to Bangalore to serve as a lecturer in History in the St. Joseph’s College there. In 1928, he was appointed as Lecturer in the Department of History and Archaeology in the University of Madras. He was promoted as Reader in the Department of History and Archaeology in the Madras University in 1946 and one year later was elevated as Professor in the same Department, a post that he held with great distinction till he passed away on November 24, 1953.
When Dikshitar joined the University of Madras in 1928 as a Lecturer, it gained a great historian of India with multi-faceted versatility, gifted with a wide world vision, perceptive understanding and untiring industry. No wonder he was able to set new standards of academic study and research, marked by an exceptional dynamism committed to the pursuit of excellence, in all the things he took up. Dikshitar’s publications in book form in the field of Tamilology date from 1930 when his ‘Studies in Tamil Literature and History’ was published by Luzac and Company, London. In his Preface to this volume, he spoke eloquently about how he entered the field of Tamil studies out of a felt necessity for it in his arduous researches: ‘To the earnest student of Indian history and particularly of South Indian History, a deep and critical study of ancient Tamil literature is of utmost importance. The necessity for such a study came home to me strongly in 1923 when I was nominated to Research Studentship of the University of Madras. In the course of the investigation on the subject of Hindu Administrative Institutions, I felt more and more the need for an intensive study of the priceless treasures of Tamil and Tamil Literature’. His guide and helper in the study of ancient Tamil literature was Mu Raghava Iyengar (1878-1960), a great Tamil scholar and savant who made history through his researches with a historical orientation rooted in Tamil heritage and who worked on the staff of the Madras University Tamil Lexicon Project from 1913 to 1939. According to Dr. J. Parthasarathy, the bond of intellectual kinship between these two great scholars, based on their allegiance to Tamil lasting throughout their lives, proved very beneficial to the cause of advancement of Tamil studies in many ways.
In the first volume of ‘Studies in Tamil Literature and History’, Dikshitar introduces us in a short campus to the whole field of ancient and middle Tamil Sangam legends and classics and prominent poets of the period. Thirukkural is classed in the corpus of ethical poems. He deals with mystic saint poets like the Nayanmars and the Alwars of the Bhakthi period. He also deals with the mystics of later centuries like Thayumanavar and Ramalinga Swamigal. To quote the words of Professor Dikshitar in this context: ‘There has been an unbroken and noble succession of religious mystics in the ancient land of the Tamils and thanks to these mystics our religion and our religious faith were saved from extinction during many an hour of peril and crisis’. There is a separate chapter devoted to Thiruvalluvar. It is especially valuable for the enumeration of parallels cited there between the Kural couplets and Sanskrit texts like the Bhagavad Gita, the Arthasastra, the Manava-Dharma-Sastra and the Kama-Sutra.
Professor V R Ramachandra Dikshitar with His Excellency Lord Erskine, Governor of Madras and his wife Lady Erskine during the Tri Centenary Celebrations of the City of Madras in 1939.
Dikshitar’s passionate involvement in Tamil History as gleaned from ancient Tamil Literature, led him to take upon himself the difficult task of translating Sillapathikaram (the Epic of the Anklet) into English. This work was favourably reviewed in England and Europe. The introduction to this translation running to 80 pages is of course rich in providing varied information with related discussions on the Epic and the Culture and History based upon it. We have here the full portrait of Senkuttuvan, the hero of the Epic’s III book, the most memorable figure in the history of ancient India, as Dikshitar calls him, piecing together details of his rule from Vanchi (identified with Karur), his expeditions and campaigns, and far reaching conquests, his veneration of Vedic Gods etc.
In the last six years of his life Professor Dikshitar addressed himself to two main questions: Who are the Dravidians? What was their Original Home? Two endowment lectures titled Origin and Spread of the Tamils (1947) and Pre-historic South India (1951) established his claim to be placed among the great pathfinders of Tamilological Studies. Let us listen to the words of this genius in this context: ‘Particular modes of life lived by a people for ages together in a particular locality produce specialised forms of human types and it is therefore unscientific to speak of RACE. The racial characteristics of skin, colour and nose forms are due to climate and geographical influence. There was no racial distinction as Aryan and Dravidian in Indian Literature…. Whenever the term Aryan is used, it is either a resident of Aryavartha, who speaks an Aryan tongue or a nobleman, an honoured one…. So also a Dravidian was a resident of Dravida-Desa, who spoke a Dravidian Language. Dravida was the home of the ancient Tamils. It is a name just like Anga, Vanga or Magadha’. This magisterial declaration would give a rude cultural shock to all the dastardly communal, barbarous and racist Dravidian ‘leaders’ of Tamilnadu!
Through telling linguistic and other examples, Professor Dikshitar cited scientific evidence of the diffusion of Dravidian Culture in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Mediterranean, Eastern Archipelago and America.
Dr A Lakshmana Swamy Mudaliar, Vice Chancellor, unveiling the portrait of Professor V R Ramachandra Dikshitar at the Centenary Building, University of Madras in 1963.
His brilliant essays on the ‘Anthropo-Geography of Vedic India’, ‘the History of Early Buddhism in India’, ‘Origin and Early History of Caityas’, ‘Buddhism in South India (300 B.C.-300 A.D.)’, ‘Dharma Vijaya: a new interpretation’, ‘the Culture and Date of the Arthasastra’, ‘the Religious Data in Kautilya’s Arthasastra’, ‘South India in the Ramayana’, ‘Geographical Data of the Dekhan and South India’ as gathered from the Ramayana, ‘The Puranas: their historical value’, ‘Some Aspects of Kural Polity’, ‘Public Opinion in Ancient India: A Bird’s Eyeview, ‘The lunar cult in India’, ‘A Hindu University at Kanchi’ etc.—are all marked by a delectable combination of great intellectual power, historical sweep and breadth of understanding and vision.
In all his writings Professor Dikshitar seems to give us this inspiring message: Objective History has its foreground and its background: and it is principally in the management of its perspective that one artist differs from another. Some events must be represented on a large scale, others on a diminished scale; the great majority will be lost in the dimness of the horizon; and a general idea of their joint effort will be given by a few slight touches. In every sense of the word, as a historian, Prof. V R R Dikshitar was a great touch artist.
To conclude Prof. V R Ramachandra Dikshitar taught us all that we can achieve self-knowledge through the study of History and that it has a crucial part to play in liberal education—a basic precondition for each one of us to lead a life of creative self-fulfillment. Through his life and example, he showed that the study of history is not a luxury, but a prime duty that every responsible citizen must discharge. The testament of personal faith given by the great English Historian and Philosopher R G Collinwood (1889-1943) applies with equal force to Professor V R R Dikshitar’s life and work: ‘When we think of History as merely a trade or profession, a craft or calling, we find it hard to justify our existence as Historians. What can the Historian do for people except turn them into Historians like himself? And what is the good of doing that? It is not simply a vicious circle, whose tendency is to overcrowd the ranks of the profession and to produce an underpaid ‘intellectual proletariat’ of sweated teachers. This may be a valid argument against the multiplication of historians, if history is merely a profession, but it cannot be if history is a Universal Human Interest; for in that case there are already as many historians as there are human beings, and the question is not ‘Shall I be an historian or not?’ but ‘How good an historian shall I be?’’ Judged by any yardstick, Prof. V R Ramachandra Dikshitar was an outstanding Historian of South Indian History and Culture.
(The writer is a retired IAS officer)
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