Shastri, Haraprasad

Shastri, Haraprasad (1853-1931) famous orientalist, Sanskrit scholar. Born on 6 December 1853, Haraprasad Bhattacharya (Shastri) hailed from the village Kumira in Khulna district. He stayed with iswar chandra vidyasagar, friend of his elder brother, at Calcutta and studied at the sanskrit college and presidency college. He passed his Entrance in 1871, First Arts in 1873, BA in 1876 and Honours in Sanskrit in 1877. Later on he received the MA degree and the Shastri title. In those days there was no MA examination; Honours graduates were later awarded MA degrees. Shastri had the opportunity of receiving education in modern schools and colleges instead of tols and Chatuspathis. Though a student of Sanskrit at the Sanskrit College, he had to study, according to the syllabus of the Calcutta University, English Literature, Philosophy, History, Political Economy, Algebra and Trigonometry. As a result he could keep in touch with his root, Sanskrit, and at the same time gained competence in many branches of modern education.

Haraprasad Shastri

Keeping the family tradition Shastri entered the teaching profession in 1878 as a translation-teacher in Hare School. In the same year he taught for some time in Canning College, Lucknow. In 1883 he became a Professor at the Sanskrit College, Calcutta and concurrently worked as an Assistant Translator with the Bengal government. Between 1886 and 1894, besides teaching at the Sanskrit College he worked as the Librarian of the Bengal Library. In 1895 he headed the Sanskrit department at the Presidency College, became the Principal of Sanskrit College in 1900 and retired from service in 1908 to join the Bureau of Information of the government. On 18 June 1921 he joined the Dhaka University as the Professor and Head of the Department of Bangla and Sanskrit and retired on 30 June 1924. In spite of his eagerness he never got the chance of teaching at the Calcutta University since he did not pull well with Sir asutosh mookerjee, though earlier they were friends.

At a tender age Haraprasad was favoured with Vidyasagar’s affection. During his student life his friend, philosopher and guide was Professor Rajkrishna Mukhopadhyaya (1845-86), whose Prathama Shiksa Bangalar Itihasa (1874) had become, as commented by Bankim Chandra, a good replacement for Indian Histories written by English authors. Rajkrishna’s historiographical ideas had greatly influenced Shastri’s researches.

It was Rajkrishna who introduced Shastri to Bankim Chandra and Shastri's maiden research article Bharat Mahila, written during his student days, was published in three consecutive issues of the bangadarshan in 1282 BS. Shastri gradually became one of the major contributors to Bangadarshan; about 30 of his articles on multifarious subjects as well as novels were published in this journal and Shastri established himself firmly in the realm of Bangla literature.

Bankim was Shastri's preceptor in literature and rajendralal mitra, one of the luminaries in the field of oriental studies, initiated him in research. Rajendralal took Shastri as his assistant and enrolled him as a member of the asiatic society. Most of Buddhist Puranas, included in Rajendralal's famous work The Sanskrit Buddhist Literature of Nepal (1882), were translated by Haraprasad. Rajedralal used to supervise project for the collection and preparation of the Descriptive Catalogue of manuscripts of the Asiatic Society and after his death, from July 1891 Shastri took over the charge of the Director of the Operations in Search of Sanskrit Manuscripts.

Haraprasad's labour and judgement in recovering the traces of old Sanskrit language and literature has become legendary. He prepared a descriptive catalogue of about ten thousand manuscripts with the assistance of one or two persons. The long introduction to the Catalogue contains invaluable information on the history of Sanskrit literature. He collected manuscripts of the compositions of the local bards and bhats from Rajsthan. In the process of collecting Sanskrit manuscripts he developed interest in the collection of old Bangla manuscripts and in this regard he got the assistance of Munshi abdul karim sahityavisharad (1871-1953) and dinesh chandra sen (1866-1939). Haraprasad included the task of collecting and publishing Bangla manuscripts in the research programme of the Asiatic Society.

He held different posts in the Asiatic Society including its Presidentship for two years (1919 and 1920) and later he adorned the post of its Vice President till his death. Besides the Descriptive Catalogue, he collected and published from the Society edited versions of many sources of ancient history, culture and literature, the most notable among them are brhaddharma purana, sandhyakar nandi's ramacharitam and Aryadeva's Chatuhshatika.

The famous economist romesh chunder dutt (1848-1909) associated Haraprasad in his work and with his help Datta published the translation of Rgveda Sanghita in 1885. Through his association with Datta, Haraprasad developed interest in economic history and published five articles, the most important of which was his Nutan Khajana Ain Sambandhe Kalikata Riviu-r Mat (Bangadarshan, Kartik, 1287).

During his drive for collection of manuscripts for the Asiatic Society he developed interest in bringing out clearly the different phases in the development of the Bangla language and literature. In search of ancient Bengali manuscripts Haraprasad visited Nepal four times in 1897, 1898, 1907 and 1922. In 1907 he discovered the manuscripts of Charyagiti, the oldest evidence of Bangla poetry. His research in the manuscripts for long 7 or 8 years proved that the language of the songs was old Bangla. In 1916, Bangiya Sahitya Parisat published his Hajar Bachharer Purana Bangala Bhasay Bauddhagan o Doha, in which Haraprasad edited two Dohakosas, Dakarnava along with Charyyacharyyavinishchaya. The last mentioned work, which Haraprasad had discovered and edited, was his greatest contribution in the field of research in Bangla language and literature.

English officials dominated in the affairs of the Asiatic Society. The aspiration of the Bengalis to have an institution of their own came to be fulfilled in 1300 BS, when the vangiya sahitya prishad was established through the efforts of the local intellectuals. Haraprasad greatly contributed to the consolidation of this institution, which has a glorious history of more than hundred years. For long he served this institution in various capacities; for 12 years he was its President. Under his leadership it developed research programmes in the Bangla language and literature, its journal was improved and the work of collecting, editing and publishing old manuscripts gained momentum. The institution of the Bengalis developed into their own cultural centre.

From his own researches Haraprasad strove to establish the racial identity of the Bengali people and came to the conclusion that there was very little of Aryan influence in it, most of it was indigenous. Aryan influence or Brahmanic influence was never all-pervasive. On the other hand Buddhism had deep influence on the society. In the pre-Muslim period Vajrayana-Sahajayana, the transformed version of Buddhism, had far-reaching influence among Bengal's general populace. Under the influence of this popular religious philosophy a rich literary tradition was developed, the most glorious example of it were the Charyagitis.

His literary activities were spread over a period of more than 55 years, from Bankim to Rabindranath. After a certain period he moved away from Bankim's tradition; he protested Bankim's endeavour to use literature for the propagation of religious ideas. In his revaluation of Sanskrit literature, especially Kalidasa's kavya and dramas, this attitude is very much evident.

Haraprasad was honoured by many institutions and the government and, the most notable were: Calcutta University made him a Life Fellow in 1888; the Royal Asiatic Society of England made him a honorary member in 1921; Dhaka University awarded him a honorary D Lit in 1927; he was the President of the Fifth Oriental Conference held in Lahore in 1928; he received the title of Mahamahopadhyaya from the government in the 60th year of Queen Victoria's reign in 1898 and he was conferred CIE (Companion of the Indian Empire) in 1911. He breathed his last on 17 November 1931. [Satyajit Chowdhury]