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Soil and soul connect with Sanskrit at Melkote

At Melkote, Sanskrit's relevance to every aspect of our life is being show-cased.

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To many, Sanskrit is a dead language. Some think it's a 'useless' language. Quite a few Hindus preen themselves that it is exclusively theirs. But did you know serious scholars are beginning to marvel at the rigour, reach and secularism of Sanskrit? Many of these --all over the world-- are mining it for values the modern world can benefit by. But nearly no one does this exposition with greater commitment, catholicity and religious neutrality than Prof M A Lakshmi Thathachar at the Academy of Sanskrit Research, Melkote, Karnataka. On the 15 acres of the Academy, the assertions in Sanskrit texts regarding ecology, farming, health and right living are on view. The Professor is a farmer, livestock breeder, conservationist, researcher, teacher, computer adept and most of all, a man who embodies all that is best in the Indian tradition. He is a Renaissance man unique to India.

An ancient seat:

Melkote [pronounced 'May-l-kottay'] claims a connection with Sanskrit since the mythical times when Saint Dattatreya is said to have taught his disciples the 'true knowledge'. More certainly, history confirms a connection at least since the 12th Century when Sr Ramanujar, scholar, social reformer, father of the bhakti movement and founder of Vishistadvaita philosophy made Melkote his home. One of his devotees -- Ananthalvan -- is a direct ancestor of Lakshmi Thathachar. Their family, has been custodians of Sanskritic heritage ever since. One of the country's oldest, formal Sanskrit college was formed in Melkote in early nineteen century.

Young Lakshmi Thathachar was a robust young man, farming the acre behind his house. He produced all the vegetables and fruits for the family. He tended the household cattle. He had a scientific bent of mind too and wanted to study science in college. But his father forbade him 'sciences'. It was feared he would be distracted by the western way of thought and miss the self-contained scientific system in Sanskrit. Thathachar -- now 68 -- feels his father was right. He worked for his Masters in Sanskrit at Madras university. While at it, he was also a pupil at a small gurukulam run by the great Sanskrit scholar, Sri Karappankadu Venkatachariar. The learned man was ageing and repeatedly urged Thathachar to build a centre that will bring the works of Sri Ramanujar to the world. That message was to remain with him throughout his career in Bangalore University as Professor of Sanskrit.

In nearer history, Melkote had been ruled by a dynasty founded by Yaduraya. His clan had built several water retaining structures --kalyanis-- of great effectiveness and beauty. A small scholarly community had thriven there. In early 19th century, Tipu Sultan's army descended on a Deepavali day and massacred 800 citizens, mostly of a sect known as Mandyam Iyengars. Sanskrit scholarship had been their forte. [To this day Melkote does not celebrate Deepavali]. That slaughter rendered Melkote a near ghost town. Its environmentally connected life was broken, kalyanis went to ruin, water shortage became endemic, the hills went brown. Sanskrit lost a home.

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