Nine Years of Penance: How Jadunath Sarkar Wrote "India of Aurangzib"

This is the definitive story narrating the kind of superhuman effort that Acharya Jadunath Sarkar put in to produce his seminal masterpiece, "India of Aurangzib."
Nine Years of Penance: How Jadunath Sarkar Wrote "India of Aurangzib"

Read the Previous Parts in this Series

Nine Years of Penance: How Jadunath Sarkar Wrote "India of Aurangzib"
Jadunath Sarkar as I Know Him: A Heartfelt Portrait of the Great Acharya by his Close Friend, G.S. Sardesai
Nine Years of Penance: How Jadunath Sarkar Wrote "India of Aurangzib"
Journeys with Knowledge: G.S. Sardesai's Notes from Travels with Jadunath Sarkar
Nine Years of Penance: How Jadunath Sarkar Wrote "India of Aurangzib"
Jadunath Sarkar's Attachment to Sanskrit Literature and his Encyclopaedic Memory
Nine Years of Penance: How Jadunath Sarkar Wrote "India of Aurangzib"
Jadunath Sarkar as an Exemplary Student and how he Won the Daunting Premchand Roychand Scholarship

Jadunath first selected the early Mughal period of Indian History, but realising that this involved an extremely wide field, decided to work on Aurangzib’s life, a subject which was full of varied incidents and offered a virgin field for investigation, as it had not till then been attempted by anyone else.

He at once set himself to collecting original materials bearing on that subject and soon discovered many important Persian manuscripts in England and India, particularly at the India Office, the British Museum, the Bodleian Library and also in Paris, Lisbon and Berlin. He obtained copies of these works at his own expense, copies made by hand in early stages and later photostats. He also made an extensive search for materials in places like Delhi, Rampur, Lahore, Hyderabad and other former seats of Muslim power. He thus secured a large number of Aurangzib’s letters. For this enormous work he had to engage copyists.

Thus, after patient study and labour, he at last submitted his complete thesis India of Aurangzib in a comprehensive treatise with minute details of routes, battlefields and statistics. He also prepared special tables of varied information bearing on Aurangzib’s administration. The University rules required the thesis in a printed form, which he submitted in 1901 and then he received the remaining instalments of the stipulated prize. The effort involved full nine years of intensive study, 1892 to 1901.

The Premchand Roychand award has now been split up into smaller parts, each available to three or four persons at a time, so that its original glare and eminence have now disappeared.

Nine Years of Penance: How Jadunath Sarkar Wrote "India of Aurangzib"
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The earlier chapters of his history of Aurangzib, which deal with Shuja’s contest for the throne, Jadunath submitted to the Calcutta University under a nom-de-plume, competing for the Griffith prize, which was awarded to him in 1909. The book itself was ultimately completed in five volumes. He brought out Volumes one and two in 1912, which comprised the story of Aurangzib’s life up to his formal coronation in 1659.

As he began to work for the succeeding period, he got hold of some very valuable Persian material lying uncared for in the Archives of the State of Jaipur. With difficulty he got access to those records, which he found lying in disordered heaps full of dust and partly worm-eaten. He picked out some very important papers and managed to secure their copies to which he later added further material from other sources in India and outside.

This involved a lot of severe labour, the very first operation being cleaning, reading and arranging old papers. Then, after understanding their import, the next step was to fix their dates and context, and then to translate them in English. Such are the successive stages through which an explorer has to pass in constructing a fresh episode in Indian history. Jadunath in this way secured the firm basis of his life’s work.

Jadunath’s Professional Career

As mentioned above, Jadunath took his M.A. degree in 1892 and during the next five years while reading for the Premchand Roychand Scholarship, he accepted temporary work as a lecturer in English at the Vidyasagar and Ripon Colleges and spent his earnings on books, as was his wont even during his college course. But when he won the Scholarship he entered the educational service in Bengal as a lecturer at the Presidency College, Calcutta, in June 1898.

A year after, he was taken away to Patna as a Professor of English by Dr. C. R. Wilson, Principal at that college, which then required renovation, and as it had not been fully staffed. Jadunath was soon required to teach History, in addition to English. Later on, when a full history department was organized in that College in 1909, Jadunath began to work exclusively on history.

Nine Years of Penance: How Jadunath Sarkar Wrote "India of Aurangzib"
Anecdotes from the Acharya: The Sprawling Gurukulam of Jadunath Sarkar Home

And now, when we know him to be a sound scholar of history only, we must not forget that his knowledge of linguistics in general and of English in particular, is not only deep and widespread, but that it alone made it possible for him to put forth such a vast amount of literary output. His proficiency is visible in every line that he has published. This linguistic polish, brevity, accuracy and soundness are easily discernible even in his casual talks and letters.

Professor Jadunath served mostly at Patna since July 1899 with a return for only five months to Calcutta from June to November 1901. From August 1917 to June 1919 his services were borrowed by the Banaras Hindu University. When he left Banaras, he was promoted to the Imperial Educational Service and transferred to the Ravenshaw College at Cuttack as Senior Professor of History. Here he worked for about four years from July 1919 to October 1923 when he went back to Patna. He retired from service in August 1926 and earned his pension, when Lord Lytton, Governor of Bengal, appointed him Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University in an honorary capacity, a task which was accepted as a duty and which he quit as soon as his first term of two years was completed.

Since August 1928 he has been a free student devoting all his time to literary activities.

His Travels

Although Jadunath has not cared to travel to western countries, he is by no means a mere bookworm. He has travelled extensively in India and visited most of the historical sites, battlefields and old monuments by way of study and research rather than for enjoyment, not sparing fatigue and inconvenience.

In early life, he made it a practice to spend his vacations in going about different places during the short Dusehra holidays and carrying on his studies in the quiet and cool atmosphere of a hill station during the long summer vacations. His first visit to Darjeeling was in the summer of 1904 and he liked the place so much that thereafter he visited it almost every year during the summer and later he purchased a small house of his own there. He often took his family there along with him and as the house could not accommodate them all, he later purchased a charming site in picturesque surroundings and built a large two-storied house of his own in 1927. Here he continued to spend the major part of the year after his retirement from service and came down to Calcutta only during the winter months. He transferred his large library of rare books to Darjeeling and spent lavishly on it in order to make it perfect, although he had to leave parts of his books both at Calcutta and at his ancestral home Rajshahi. As he grew older he found Darjeeling unsuited to his health, so that he gave up residence there in 1940 and removed all his books to Calcutta. There he built a new house of his own, at 10, Lake Terrace, where he now spends most of his time.

Nine Years of Penance: How Jadunath Sarkar Wrote "India of Aurangzib"
Conscious Introspection of Learning is the True Measure of Sanatana Scholarship

When his younger brother Bijay went to join the Engineering College at Roorkee, Jadunath took him there in 1894. That was the first occasion he utilized in going around some of the large towns and historical places in North India from Hardwar to Banaras. In October 1904, he made a most enjoyable pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya in the distinguished company of Sister Nivedita, Rabindranath Tagore, Sir J. C. Bose and several learned ascetics of the Ramakrishna Mission.

Jadunath always projected his itinerary long in advance, closely studied the railway time-tables and Murray’s Handbook, and drew up his programme, leaving sufficient intervals for inspection of sites far away from the railway lines. To suit his scanty means, he invariably travelled by the intermediate (sometimes the third) class, carrying just enough clothing and articles of light weight to avoid worry.

His habits are simple and self-reliant. On arrival he would not waste a single minute in formalities of reception or complementary talks, but at once set to his legitimate work.

To be continued

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