Rudrapatnam Shamasastry (1868–1944) was a Sanskrit scholar and librarian at the Oriental Research Institute Mysore who is known for discovering and publishing the Arthasastra, an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy.
Shamasastry was born in 1868 in Rudrapatna, a village on the banks of the Kaveri river in Karnataka, to a Sankethi Brahmin family. His early education started in Rudrapatna. He later went to the Mysore Samskruta patasala and obtained the Sanskrit Vidwat degree with high honours. In 1889 Madras University awarded him a BA degree. Impressed by his ability in classical Sanskrit, Sir Sheshadri Iyer, the then Dewan of Mysore Province, nurtured him and helped him to join the Government Oriental Library in Mysore as its librarian. He "had mastered Vedas, Vedanga, classical Sanskrit, Prakrit, English, Kannada, German, French and other languages."
The Oriental Research Institute was set up in 1891, as the Government Oriental Library, Mysore. It housed thousands of Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscripts. Shamasastry, the librarian, examined these fragile manuscripts daily, to determine their contents and catalogue them.
In 1905 he discovered the Arthasastra among a heap of Palm leaf manuscripts. He transcribed, edited and published the Sanskrit edition in 1909. He proceeded to translate it into English, publishing it in 1915.
The manuscript was in the Grantha script. Other copies of the Arthasastra were discovered later in other parts of India.
Until this discovery, the Arthasastra was known only through references to it in works by Dandin, Bana, Vishnusarma, Mallinathasuri, Megasthenes, etc. This discovery was "an epoch-making event in the history of the study of ancient Indian polity". It altered the perception of ancient India and changed the course of history studies, notably the false belief of European scholars at the time that Indians learnt the art of administration from the Greeks.
The book was translated into French, German and many other languages.
The discovery was hailed over the world by Indologists and Orientalists such as Julius Jolly, Moriz Winternitz, F. W. Thomas, Paul Pelliot, A. Berriedale Keith, Sten Konow and others. J. F. Fleet wrote of Shamasastry: "We are, and shall always remain, under a great obligation to him for a most important addition to our means of studying the general history of ancient India."
In India, it was acclaimed by Asutosh Mookerjee, Rabindranath Tagore, and others. Shamasastry also met Mahatma Gandhi in 1927 at Nandi Hills. The discovery brought international fame to the institute.
Shamasastry was awarded a doctorate in 1919 from the Oriental University in Washington D.C. and in 1921 from the Calcutta University. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and won the Campbell Memorial gold medal.
He started his career as Librarian, Government Mysore Oriental Library. From 1912-1918, he worked as Principal, Sri Chamarajendra Samskrita Maha Patashala, Bangalore. In the year 1918, he returned to the Government Mysore Oriental library and joined as Curator and later Director of Archeological Researches in Mysore and continued in this work until his retirement in 1929. Apart from discovering Kautilya's Arthasastra, he pursued his research in the Vedic Era and Vedic Astronomy and made valuable contributions to Vedic studies. The following are among his works:
- Vedangajyautishya - A Vedic Manual of Astronomy, 8th Century B.C.
- Drapsa: The Vedic Cycle of Eclipses - a key to unlock the treasures of the Vedas.
- Eclipse-Cult in the Vedas, Bible, and Koran - A supplement to the Drapsa. It is this Cult that has given rise to epic and puranic tales in India. The mathematical aspect of eclipse-cycles is treated at great length and eclipse-tables have been appended. Dr. E. Abegg, Professor, University of Zurich, Switzerland, stated- 'I see with admiration that R Shamasatry, a thorough scholar in the difficult problems of Vedic Astronomy and Calendar, things of which European Indianists have very rarely a true Knowledge'.
- Gavam Ayana- The Vedic Era- is an exposition of a forgotten sacrificial calendar of the Vedic poets and includes an account of the origin of the Yugas.
- Evolution of Indian Polity. This book is a compilation of Ten lectures delivered in Calcutta University. Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, Vice chancellor of Calcutta University, personally invited Sastry to deliver these discourses. In this work, the ancient Indian administrative systems and various levels of administrative set-up are critically examined, on the basis of Vedas, legends, Arthasastra, Mahabharata, Jainagama works etc.
- The Origin of Devanagari Alphabets
All his works received great attention from many great Scholars around the world, particularly European Indianists. Several titles were also conferred on him, including Arthasastra Visharada by the Maharaja of Mysore, Mahamahopadhyaya by the Government of India, and Vidyalankara and Panditaraja by the Varanasi Sanskrit Mandali.
Recognition in Germany
An often-told anecdote involves the visit of the then-king of Mysore, Sri Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV, to Germany. When introduced as the king of Mysore, he was asked by the vice-chancellor of a German university whether he was from the Mysore of Shamasastry. On his return, the king honored Shamasastry and said "In Mysore we are the Maharaja and you are our subject, but in Germany, you are the master and people recognize us by your name and fame."
Shamasastry continued his research work on Indological problems. He later became the curator of the institute. As Director of Archaeological researches in Mysore, he discovered many inscriptions on stone and copper plates.
His house 'Asutosh', in the Chamundipuram locality of Mysore, was named after Sir Asutosh Mookerjee. As of 2012, he is survived by his daughter Smt. Lalithamma, who is in her nineties. All other children including M.S. Srinivas, Smt. Kamalamma, Smt. Sharadamma and Smt. Shantamma have left for heavenly abode.
- Prof. AV Narasimha Murthy (June 21, 2009), "R Shamasastry: Discoverer of Kautilya's Arthasastra", The Organiser
- Sugata Srinivasaraju (27 July 2009), "Year Of The Guru", Outlook India
- Richard Mattessich (2000), The beginnings of accounting and accounting thought: accounting practice in the Middle East (8000 B.C. to 2000 B.C.) and accounting thought in India (300 B.C. and the Middle Ages), Taylor & Francis, p. 146, ISBN 978-0-8153-3445-3
- Ram Sharan Sharma (2009), Aspects of political ideas and institutions in ancient India (4 ed.), Motilal Banarsidass Publ., p. 4, ISBN 978-81-208-0827-0
- A monumental heritage, The Hindu, October 27, 2001.
- "Annual Convocation". University of Calcutta.
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|Database entry Q11024070 on Wikidata|
- Article in Organiser
- Article in Outlook magazine, also in Star of Mysore
- Text of 1915 Shamasastry translation