Jadunath Sarkar as I Know Him: A Heartfelt Portrait of the Great Acharya by his Close Friend, G.S. Sardesai

The first episode of a new series on Acharya Jadunath Sarkar. It is a deeply heartfelt portrait written by Sarkar's fellow-scholar and close friend, G.S. Sardesai, a stalwart of Maratha history.
Jadunath Sarkar as I Know Him: A Heartfelt Portrait of the Great Acharya by his Close Friend, G.S. Sardesai


READERS OF THE DHARMA DISPATCH are by now familiar with our intense and obsessive reverence for the luminaries of the modern Sanatana Renaissance. One of its Himalayan peaks, Acharya Jadunath Sarkar, has also appeared on a few occasions in these pages. We must equally record our gratitude to our readership who write to us, asking for more, and it is our profound duty and pleasure to oblige them.

Starting with this, we will publish some excerpts of an extraordinarily heartfelt and personal portrait of the great Acharya penned by his lifelong friend, Govind Sakharam Sardesai. Connoisseurs of scholarship and learning will immediately relate to this account in ways that are indescribable in mere words.

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Jadunath Sarkar as I Know Him: A Heartfelt Portrait of the Great Acharya by his Close Friend, G.S. Sardesai

G.S. Sardesai was himself an accomplished scholar of Indian history, most notable for his Riyasats written in Marathi, a majestic performance giving us the history of India spread over a thousand years.

Their friendship began with a letter that Jadunath Sarkar wrote in 1904 to Sardesai seeking his assistance with some Marathi primary sources for preparing his path-breaking volumes on Aurangzeb. Sarkar was thirty-four years old when he wrote him the letter, and Sardesai was thirty-nine. This portrait of Jadunath Sarkar is actually a mellifluous outpouring of affection for a fellow scholar and savant. It is also a fine and representative paragon of the cultural mien of the Sarasvata niche of the Bharatavarsha of that era. But more fundamentally, it is a shining mirror that reflects the temperament, dedication, habits and character of these luminaries.

Editor’s Note: Italics have been added to Sardesai’s original text and minor prose changes have been made for enhanced readability.

Read on!

Jadunath Sarkar as I know Him: Acquaintance and Friendship

Sometime in the year 1904, a letter in an unknown handwriting indicating vigour and precision and with contents severely formal and business-like, took me by surprise at Baroda. The name of the writer did not solve the mystery as I had not till then heard of him, nor was it likely that he should have heard of me as I was just then at the threshold of my literary career besides being confined to a secluded corner of the secretariat of an Indian State. However, this letter came like a divine windfall and my heart leapt with joy at the prospect of an honourable bargain with the writer of the letter who required my help in supplementing with Marathi sources his vast store of Persian materials regarding the reign of Aurangzib. And I myself in my scheme of the Marathi Riyasat, the first part of which was published in 1902 was just then feeling sorely the need of utilising Persian sources without knowing Persian; whereas the author of India of Aurangzib (published in 1901) was eager for an access to the historical domain of Maharashtra through the help of this humble author of Riyasat. In short, this letter became the pledge of future co-operation between the Mughal and the Maratha.

At this distance of half a century I remember how I made my acquaintance with young Jadunath then blooming into renown, through the good offices of a dear and deeply lamented friend of mine, Gopalrao Devdhar who happened to have met Jadunath sweating over the Persian manuscripts of the Khuda Bakhsh Library of Patna.

This acquaintance through correspondence soon ripened into a close intellectual friendship, and resulted in cooperative exchange of historical materials supplying our mutual needs during the lifelong progress of our researches. In this connection, I remember I lent him my copy of the Sabhasad Bakhair, which is still in my library proudly bearing marks of his own hand in hard pencil adding headings to the paragraphs in English.

With the help of grammar and dictionary added to the zeal of a neophyte, he acquired a high proficiency in the Marathi language in a wonderfully short time. Lure of the unknown in the realm of knowledge had always a fascination for Jadunath, and no barrier was too forbidding against his energy and indomitable will.

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As Jadunath advanced in his study of Aurangzib, he found himself face to face with a mass of original materials in Marathi on the eventful attempt of that monarch to put down the Marathas. It was Jadunath who first discovered the valuable correspondence between Aurangzib and his general Raja Jai Singh, which enabled him to oust the almost-great historian, Grant Duff, in the field of reconstructing the life of Shivaji. What his contemporaries in Maharashtra such as Rajwade, Khare and Parasnis had been doing in the field of Maratha history was already known to him.

Jadunath and the Maratha People

Jadunath’s Shivaji and His Times has by now gone into five editions, each succeeding one correcting the defects of the previous edition. Maharashtra has since then compelled Jadunath to divide his literary allegiance equally between the Mughal Empire and the Hindu-pad Padshahi of Shivaji down to the extinction of both. Jadunath has been accorded an honourable domicile in the affections of the Maratha people, though no historian has been so severe in exposing the weaknesses of our leaders which cost us an Empire.

But his heart is warm and his love and sympathy for our people deep and wide. He is a Herodotus in travels in the land of Maharashtra without the Greek master’s unsuspecting credulity, and in his treatment of Maratha history he is a Thucydides, calm and dispassionate, severely just and yet possessed of enough fire and firmness to inspire and admonish a brave nation about an unfulfilled political destiny in the eighteenth century.

Arduous Tours

Jadunath has wandered over the craggy hills and picturesque dales of the Maratha homeland spotting the scenes of the Maratha War of Independence and following the trail of the Mughal and the Maratha armies with a phenomenal zeal for first-hand knowledge and the eye of a military surveyor.

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Jadunath now began to wage war on two fronts, and won decisive victories in the year 1919 when his Shivaji and His Times was published in July, four months after the fourth volume of his History of Aurangzib.

Every chapter of his Shivaji and His Times vibrates with life and vigour born of the personal acquaintance with the country and the people figuring in his enchanting narrative. From Goa to Vijayanagar, from Tanjore and Sandur to Ellora and Ajanta, through K handesh and Berar, from Hyderabad in the east to Ahmadnagar in the west, he scoured practically every place of historical importance including the Konkan regions of Chiplun and Sangameshwar.

He then used to travel in the third class with a light kit, carrying with him his only guide, namely a bundle of large scale survey maps. He avoided rich hospitality and preferred hard fare to an uncomfortable obligation which his pride would shun. His spare frame was agile and tough and when his limbs seemed to succumb to fatigue, his ever-buoyant spirit pulled him up. He covered miles of rough country on foot, and climbed steep ascents with the cheerful fortitude of a soldier.

After much hardship, he paid a visit to the home of the historic Jedhe family descended from Shivaji’s early associate, who possessed that priceless chronology of Maratha history known to historians as the Jedhe Chronology. Such arduous tours only enabled him to locate accurately many old forgotten sites and set at rest many doubtful points and controversies. He spent a night at Sakharpa, a village near Vishalgad, which in the original Persian he had misread as Shankarpett.

To be continued

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