The Inspiring Life of Mahatapasvi Acharya Pullela Sriramachandrudu

A tribute to Acharya Pullela Sriramachandrudu, the Sanskrit and Telugu scholar par excellence who has bequeathed an inspiring legacy of dedicated service to Sanatana Dharma and Sanskrit.
The Inspiring Life of Mahatapasvi Acharya Pullela Sriramachandrudu

This tribute in Kannada authored by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh was originally published in the daily, Vijaya Vani in July 2015. Translated by Sandeep Balakrishna.

Any sensitive Indian who has dipped into the ocean of classical Sanskrit literature and Sastra (in the sense of philosophy) would certainly want to capture its essence if not touch the full margins of this ocean. However, not everyone will have the means to directly study these primary texts in Sanskrit. Forget ordinary people, even those who have obtained advanced degrees in Sanskrit are not equipped with the felicity to read these difficult works and digest them. Given this, what most people need are reliable translations of these texts.

In fact, there already exists a long and venerable tradition of such translations in foreign languages like English, German and French apart from Bharatiya languages like Kannada, Hindi, Marathi, and Malayalam. In spite of this, a demand for such translations continues to arise from time to time.

However, the number of translations that have actually been published in our own land is minuscule —the kind of translations which are accordant with our culture and tradition, faithful to the vision of the original, endowed with intellectual integrity, grasp the challenges of the contemporary world, and are true to the rooted Indian thought.

But then, it is not possible for merely a handful of people to undertake this task of translations on a large scale. It requires an entire army of scholars of the highest calibre as well as institutions that have both the vision and the conviction to lead and drive such an effort. Therefore the task of bringing out translations of such valuable works in various disciplines that are ground-breaking, reliable, and critically sound is truly an industrial-scale endeavour.

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In this realm, we can recall the flood of extraordinary scholarship in the form of the 300-plus volumes of the Kannada translations of Veda-Shastra-Purana-Agama texts, published under the aegis of Sri Jayachamarajendra Grantharatnamala, Mysore. Apart from this, we can also cite the singlehanded accomplishment of Sri Sacchidanandendra Saraswati Swami who translated the Vedanta corpus, Dr. K. Krishnamurthy who translated the texts of Alankara, Sri Pandharinatha Galagali who translated the Puranas, and Dr. S.V. Parameshwara Bhatta’s translations of Sanskrit Poetry and Drama.

Another brilliant luminary of colossal scholarship who belongs to this peerless class is Dr. Pullela Sriramachandrudu from Andhra Pradesh who cast away his mortal coil in 2015. He was a one-man encyclopaedia and a one-man university. His sacred vow of learning knew no fatigue and his service to Sanskrit remains limitless.

In a life spanning eighty-eight years (October 23, 1927—June 24, 2015), he devoted more than sixty years to constant study, writing, teaching, organizing, and collating, all of which continues to remain as radiant beacons to a life of fulfilment and immense accomplishment.

Unshakeable conviction, integrity, fearlessness, courtesy, vigour, and equanimity were his life-breath. These qualities enabled him to carry out an astonishing range of literary and scholarly activity that included research, textual discovery, commentary, translation, preparing anthologies, writing introductions, and reviews in Sanskrit, Telugu, Hindi and English on an astonishing diversity of subjects like poetry, drama, devotional literature (Stotram), and Shastra (Philosophy).

Although Dr. Pullela Sriramachandrudu has contributed prolifically in the realms of poetry, textual fidelity, compilation of dictionaries, collections of proverbs, and comparative analyses, his effort and rigour find fruition in his translations and commentaries from Sanskrit to Telugu. Even in this zone, beyond his translations, summaries, and reconstructions of contemporary Sanskrit texts on Sastra, he becomes immortal chiefly due to his work in translating primary Sanskrit texts, explaining their word-by-word meaning, commentaries, notes, explanations, critiques, and anthologies. This is at once a very arduous, thankless, and non-rewarding endeavour.

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Sri Pullela has translated the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Telugu, complete with word-by-word meanings. The following partial list of his translations gives an idea of the kind of work Sri Pullela undertook in his long and illustrious life:

  • The Sanskrit drama, Ratnavali

  • Neelakantha Dikshita’s Shatakatraya

  • The Aryas of Sundara Pandya

  • Agnipurana

  • Laghusiddhantakaumudi

  • Vaakyapadiiya of Bhartruhari

  • Yaagnavalkya Smriti

  • Dhammapada

  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali along with Vyasa’s commentary

  • Brahmasutra, Bhagavad Gita, Isha, Kena, Katha, Prashna, Mundaka, Mandukya, and Aitareya Upanishads with Adi Shankara’s commentaries on each.

  • Adi Shankra’s Vivekachudamani, Sarvadarshana Sangraha, Siddhantalesha Sangraha, and Kautilya’s Arthashastra with Dr. Pullela’s commentaries on each of these works.

  • Chanakya and Somadeva’s Neeti Sutras containing word-by-word meaning, explanatory notes, and critiques.

  • The various texts of Alankara Shastra authored by Bharata, Bhamaha, Dandin, Vamana, Anandavardhana, Abhinavagupta, Kuntaka, Mahimabhatta, Rajashekhara, Kshemendra, Mammata, and so on. These works are also characterized by the aforementioned explanatory notes and commentaries.

To the best of my knowledge, no scholar or writer in the past has ever accomplished this standard of prolific performance both in quality and quantity in Telugu. Even in other languages, such industry and output is rare.

But if this feat had been accomplished in English (i.e. in the West), the author would have become a global celebrity almost instantly. An example of this phenomenon is the volumes from the Murty Classical Library of India. The Clay Sanskrit Library can also be cited as a similar example.

On the one hand we have such mammoth and expensive endeavours backed by enormously wealthy sponsors endowed with a colonial mind set, promoting questionable prefaces and interpretations, which are far removed from genuine and rooted Indian sensibilities. On the other, we have fantastic native luminaries such as Pullela Sriramachandrudu, Sripada Damodar Satavalekar, Revaprasad Dwivedi, Sri Rama Sharma (from Haridwar’s Gayatri Ashram), Sudhakar Chaturvedi, Charla Ganapati Sastri and Baladeva Upadhyay, each a powerhouse in their own right. The fact that none of their outstanding accomplishments have received even a basic acknowledgement from the so-called Bhadralok inhabiting our nation’s academic-literary-cultural landscape is profoundly tragic.

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Sri Pullela Sri Ramachandrudu was born in a family of traditional scholars in the East Godavari region of Andhra Pradesh. He attained mastery in Vyakarana (Sanskrit Grammar) in his boyhood, and later moved to the Chennai Sanskrit Mahapathashala from where he graduated after securing the first rank in the Vedanta Shiromani (literally: Crown Jewel of Vedanta) examination. He also pursued English education and obtained an MA in English and Hindi, and a PhD for his thesis on Panditaraja Jagannatha’s Rasagangadhara.

Sri Pullela Sriramachandrudu’s scholarship rests on his work in Sanskrit literature and its analysis, Vyakarana and his expositions of the Sanskrit language, Advaita Vedanta and the analysis of (what may broadly be called) Values. It is clearly obvious that the corpus of his work falls within this framework.

He taught Sanskrit mostly in the Osmania University in Hyderabad and retired as a Professor from there. Apart from his regular teaching job, he also developed the Sanskrit Academy at the University. It was through this body that several of his translated (and curated) works were published. Among these, the celebrated Sanskrit Grammar treatise titled Kashikavritti (together with Nyasa and Padamanjari) is noteworthy.

Sri Pullela also founded the Surabharati and Samskrita Bhashaa Prachara Samiti and taught and disseminated Sanskrit to tens of thousands of students. He explained the various nuances and hidden beauties in Sanskrit literature through his lectures and discourses and by writing several monographs, booklets for the lay audience, and inspired other scholars to follow this path.

Sri Pullela also laboured tirelessly for the rejuvenation of Sanatana Dharma, the soul of Sanskrit. In this effort, he cut across castes and sects. He wrote and publicized several books that upheld the grandeur and greatness of Indianness by citing the true reasons for such greatness through numerous beautiful episodes from our heritage, which he explained using the tremendous force of reason. His enormous contribution in this area can be gleaned from this list of books he authored:

  • Selected verses from the Vyakarana Mahabhashyam

  • Encyclopaedia of Sanskrit proverbs

  • Sanskrit translation (in verse form) of Persian proverbs

  • Mahabharatasaara Sangraham

  • Hindumatam

  • Koundinyasmriti—this is a unique work in verse form. It can be called a Naveena Smriti (or the “New Smriti”) in which Sri Pullela has brilliantly attempted to furnish Sanatana Dharma’s practices and traditions as applicable to the contemporary era in the backdrop of its original, eternal form.

  • A large Sanskrit work that captures the essence of Western Philosophy written for the audience of traditional Sanskrit scholars who don’t know English.

  • History of Sanskrit literature

  • History of Prakrit literature

  • Introductory work on ancient Indian scientists written in Sanskrit, a one-of-its-kind work.

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Dr. Pullela Sriramachandrudu also inspired and encouraged a significant number of scholars and ordinary people to undertake the work of service to Sanskrit.

In an overall estimate, Sri Pullela has authored more than two hundred books in Sanskrit, Telugu, English and Hindi and sculpted numerous disciples over the course of his long life. He served various academic-literary-cultural institutions including the Kendra Sahitya Akademi in various capacities and received distinguished awards like the Padmasri, Rashtrapati Puraskar (President’s Award), Sahitya Akademi, and earned the respect of national and international academic bodies. Acharya Pullela Sriramachandrudu obtained a place of pride and reverence in the hearts of millions of ordinary people and became a living legend.

I’ve had the great fortune of personally receiving several of his autographed books. That apart, this courteous and friendly scholar was also in touch with me over letters and phone. However, because he wanted no distractions from his devoted service to Sanskrit, he had cut himself off from all manner of worldly intrusions, and therefore gently declined my offers inviting him to speak at seminars and lectures.

Acharya Pullela Sriramachandrudu had undertaken a sacred vow to write at least forty pages or more every single day. Indeed, but for this vow, it would have been impossible to produce this volume of scholarship. He had forgotten his numerous personal problems by devoting himself to this lifelong service.

Sri Pullela Sriramachandrudu is indeed a Mahatapasvi, and it is only fitting that greater numbers of people learn about his accomplishments and take inspiration from him for their own work and life.

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