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Monday, September 20, 2010

A Maha Pundit of Letters: Harivallabh Bhayani

By Tushar Bhatt
It was a little after 3.30 p m,with the May sun mercilessly beating down on the red and white houses.As the mercury hovered around 44 degrees C.,even the society watchmen had hidden himself in a shade.The man who opened the door at 25/2,Vimanagar in Ahmedabad,however,seemed oblivious to the heat haze all around.
With a large forehead,marked by waves of wrinkles made perhaps by too much of thinking,sporting a mole on the left side,the receding hairline,the prominent nose and ears and a lined face with sunken eyes that have crow's feet all around,all told a story of how Dr Harivallabh Chunilal Bhayani,has been marching with time- and is oblivous of it too.
Born on May 26,1917, he was standing on that day in the doorway on the eve of his birthday; " it is a bonus time for me",he said,reflecting on how time had fled. A foremost exponent of Prakrit ,the ancient language,Sanskrit,and old Gujarati as also the modern one,Bhayanisaheb,as is he generally known,had,however,not allowed the sands of time to run away from the hour-glass of life so far without extracting,what he had set out to do some half-a-century ago.
Harivallabhbhai today is one of the handful people who can boast -- and ,he does not -- of being an authority in linguistics,not just a man of letters,of whom there are many in Gujarat and India,but a pundit of letters.
For all his contributions in research in the ancient works in Sanskrit,Priakrit,and in enriching the Gujarati language through original work on words and their roots,Dr.Bhayani has remained in the penumbra of popular accolade.Most have heard of him,but few have known of his pioneering work in linguistics.
Yet,Dr Bhayani had no regrets that he made Ahmedabad his home.A low-profile man,with an equable nature,intellectually, he is so towering a personality that he appears to be rather non-chalant about the contemporary disinterest in him and his work by his fellow human beings.The mere cataloguing of what he has done over the past 50 years is daunting enough to tell one about how tall are his achievements.The list of his published works number 69,topped only a few days ago by the publication of a short volume on etymology of the Gujarati language.
His works encompass texts edited from the original manuscripts along with notations from Sanskrit,Prakirt,Apabrahmsa,old Gujarati and old Hindi-- titles such as Lilavati-Sara,Taragana,Rasalila,Pamdavala,Bhasha Vyakaran.Those contianing papers on linguistic,literary and cultural studies of classical litrature include four books; those on renderings or translations from the ancient languages include seven books,on grammatical and liguistic sides include more than a dozen and those of collections of critical essays number a three-fourth of a dozen,folk-literary studies and collections of folk-songs numbering six,and five volumes of miscellaneous work.These are in addition to nearly a hundred research papers published on a variety of Indological subjects.Prakrit and Apbhramsa are the languages in which the old Jain literature had been written and in the beginning of this century,it looked if these languages would be lost forever.Thanks to the scholars like Muni Jin Vijay and Dr Bhayani,many texts from these have been rescued.
What sets him apart from other researchers in the ancient literature and languages is that he thinks that neither that literature or those languages are without any relevance today. " You have to blame the professors of Sanskrit for making people view that language as something of a dead language,and its literature supposed bereft of interest today. It is not so.Through ages,languages and the literary works have an important role in shaping the life;they are full of meaning for even the modern-day life." For instance, the old literature shows us how variagated and rich our social life was,how imaginative the people were,how artistic we were.It is a rich heritage of culture,which has a definite continuity in our modern existence too.
He was born in Mahuva,in Bhavnagar district of Saurashtra,into a family where his grand-mother had a stellar role to play,in the formative years of his life. He recalled:" My grand-mother had become a widow at a very young age and had brought up my father almost single-handed.Then,when I was about a year or so,my father died.Then the mother died,and so the grand-mother had to bring me up.I had a sister,but she too died young.I grew up listening to stories and bhajans,folk-tales and songs,in a Vaishnavite household." He went to M.N.High School in Mahuva,getting through the S.S.C. with flying colours in 1934.The small scholarship enabled him to go to Shamaldas College in Bhavnagar.The lonely child seemed to have a special love for books from the very beginning.He would spend hours in company of books in the college library. In 1939, Harivallabhbhai took his B.A.with Sanskrit as special subject,again with flying colours,bagging another scholarship to go to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Bombay for further studies in Sanskrit.He passed his M A with six papers in Sanskrit and two in Ardhmagdhi,in first class,winning Bhagwandas Purushottamdas Sanskrit prize.In 1951,he completed his Ph.D. in Prakrit.He got interested in comparative philology even while in college.He was greatly influenced by a Jain acharya,Muni Jin Vijayji,who was a distinguished researcher in ancient literature,as also by the work done by Sir Ralph Turner, a renowned Indologist and expert in linguistics,who had done pioneering work in India and Nepal.From 1945 to 1965,Dr Bhayani lived in Bombay ,undertaking teaching at post-graduate level and research in Apbhramsa the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.His output has been great eversince,underlined by qualities of meticulous research,notations and explanations of ancient works,many of which would have been lost in the mist of time. "Even today,there are hundreds of manuscripts in Prakrit and Apbhramsa,lying at a number of place in Gujarat,waiting for scholars to rescue them,and bring to the notice of the people."
He considered his job as that of a link, a bridge between our ancient literature and modern one; "It is an important assignment to my mind because it helps enrich our present-day literature and language,establishes our link with the past.The past does not remain a dead burden but gets merged into the modern era through such efforts." His only regret is that there are not enough people interested in serving as these essential links with our past. " It is difficult even to get people who can do the correct proof-reading of such literature."
In 1965,Dr Bhayani shifted to Ahmedabad as professor of linguistics at Gujarat University,devoting a decade to the job.Between 1975 and 1985,he was an honorary professor of Prakrit at the L D Institute of Indology in the city.
During this professional career,his real contribution was in guiding innumerable students for their doctoral work,and in applying scientific methods to the study of the Gujarati language. In 1993,he was given the honorary fellowship of the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. Prof. J C Wright has noted a " strong correlation" between the careers of Dr.Bhayani and Sir Ralph Turner,who was the first scholar to apply then then modern "neogrammarian" methodology to the study of Gujarati.Dr Bhayani, who had first seen a work by Turner,even while in college in Bhavnagar,has just brought a volume on the Gujarati language on the pattern of what Turner had done some three decades ago.Among the innumerable awards that have come to him are Ranjitram medal for contribution to Gujarati literature in 1965,the President's award of certificate of honour as an outstanding scholar of Sanskrit in 1985,and a Sahitya Akademi award for the best Gujarati book of 1980-81.
Despite his life-long study of ancient literature, Dr Bhayani is a modern critic.He regretted that there is a trend in modern literature that took it away from the real life. " I am not saying that literature should preach or propagate,but how can it remain aloof from the contemporary society and its ways? How can it behave as if literature has nothing to do with society.Our literature should also not aim at becoming the literature of the Bhadralok only.He regretted that while literacy had spread,literary development was lacking.
He perceived that a habit to turn away from the real life in literature not only made it ireelevant but also led to a dead-end.It was a pity that some people thought that literature had something to with form and language,and had little to do with contentt.If the concept of content -- or matter -- was taken out from literature,it would lost meaning. A reader could then well ask: Why should I read such literature ?
As a critic,Dr Bhayani has been forthright,but never venomous. He hates getting into a slanging match just to prove that he was right. His detractors say that he too much of a soft-hearted man to get into controversies.
Long past the prime of life,Dr Bhayani loves to listen to music,meet friends for discussions and go for walks whenever possible.He has an even temperament.Said his wife: " I have never known him to lose his temper." The only son of the Bhayanis live in Bombay while the old couple leads a life contented,but as busy as that of a bee in Ahmedabad.He has formally retired from work;but he is neither tired,nor has he called it a day in his research work.


Keshav said...

Sir, it's a brilliant write-up about Bhayanisaheb. Apart from the language its the details of his life that is worthy for anybody who wants to any research work. But sir, one thing that confused me is you do not have written the date of his death. Since your such an in-depth article is dated 20 September 2010, I could not find his departure from us.
- Alkesh Patel

Anonymous said...

Dear Tusharbhai,

I am looking for his books on etymology of Gujarati words.I am also looking for phone nos of Hasmukhbhai Vyas, who is following in his footsteps.Can you pl help?
my cell no is 9825800418