Top French honour for Pondy Sanskrit scholar
Bosco Dominique | TNN
BIRTHDAY GIFT: S Sambanda Sivacharyar, Sanskrit scholar and research assistant of French Institute of Pondicherry
Puducherry: He has been working more than 10 hours a day for the past five decades, collecting palm leaf manuscripts in different scripts from various parts of country and categorising them after researching their content.
On his 83rd birthday, S Sambanda Sivacharyar, Sanskrit scholar and research assistant at the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP), got the pleasant news that he had been selected by the French government for one of the oldest and prestigious civil awards ‘Ordre des Palmes Académiques’ for his contributions to the study of the languages, texts, history and cultures of the Indian subcontinent.
The scholar, who joined IFP in 1969, extensively collected and studied Saiva manuscripts on palm leaves under the guidance of pandit N R Bhatt. He was instrumental in publishing critical editions of the Saivagamas, one of the 28 main texts (agamas) of Saivasiddantha (philosophy and scriptures of the Saivas), tracing the historical evolution of its doctrines and the Saiva ritual system dating back several centuries.
He is currently in charge of the upcoming edition of Suksmagama of the IFP, which has one of the richest collections of palm leaf manuscripts on Saivasiddhanta.
The institute’s palm leaf manuscript collections have been included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
The researcher said palm leaf manuscripts available in the institute were in several scripts including Tamil, Grantha, Telugu, Malayalam, Tigalari, Sarada, Nadinagiri and Newari.
His work primarily focussed on cataloguing the manuscripts based on their contents and transliterating the contents from one script to another, Grantha to Devanagiri script, for instance, enabling present generation researchers to access and understand ancient contents.
“IFP has about 8,000 bundles of palm leaf manuscripts mostly on Saivasiddhanta followed by grammar, palmistry and Thevaram in various scripts. We have categorised a little more than 25% of our collection and brought out several publications on Saivasiddhanta. transliterating the contents from ancient scripts to Devanagiri script,” Sambanda Sivachariar told TOI. He said in ancient times, Tamil-speaking people used Grantha script to write Sanskrit and most of the manuscripts on religious text were written in Grantha.
“The use of Grantha to write Sanskrit declined subsequently in the last century and Devanagiri became a widely popular script for Sanskrit,” he said.
Born on January 6, 1927 in a family of temple priests, Sambandan learnt temple rites at the tender age of seven from his father and the Vedas from eminent scholars before joining the Ahobila Math Sanskrit Padashala, Madurantakam. He studied at Raja’ College, Thiruvaiyaru and Mylapore Sanskrit College.
Before joining the IFP, he worked at the manuscript library of Theosophical Society and the Government Manuscript Library, Chennai and was also closely associated with the Saraswathi Mahal Library, Thanjavur, Thiruvanandapuram Manuscripts Library and Mysore Oriental Research Library in 1950s.
He has to his credit the establishment of a printing press with Grantha and Devanagiri scripts and printed and published many books on Agamas. Presently, he is editing an almanac, ‘Thiru Koil Anushtana Vakya Panchangam’ for the past 15 years and running a publishing company, which comes out with books on temple rituals.