13th July 2013
An article I had published in 1982: Elegant Eminence of Deccan College
I'm on an archaeology binge and will stay on this subject for a while.
A first thing would be for me to refresh my memory of the Deccan College which I visited so often during 1980-82. Its library was my main source of books on psychology (with some from British Library), being one of the two subjects I took for the IAS exam (the other being mathematics).
And since my cousin was living and studying there, I met practically everyone on many occasions, both social and academic.
Deccan College was just about half hour from home (Kahun Road). The map (below) shows the bicycle route I followed to the Deccan College, across the Bund Road. On the way back many a time I'd ride up the hill to a ham shop owned by an Anglo-Indian and have a ham sandwich (or just munch on the ham) while sitting on top of the hill, watching the Mulla river and the traffic go by.
Curiouis about the Deccan College, I wrote a longish article about it which was published in the Maharashtra Herald. I discussed a draft of this article with Prof. Sankalia who was by then retired and living in a small house on the campus. I was learning to type (by myself) and my draft article had tens of typographical errors (over-writing by typewriter) and Prof. Sankalia did not form a very good impression of my first draft. But I gather that he and other faculty were generally happy with the final outcome, although I realise upon reading it today that my language skills of 1982 left much to be desired.
Elegant Eminence of Deccan College
By Sanjeev Sabhlok, Sunday Maharashtra Herald, 7 February 1982
Without doubt, the Deccan College: which was, at one time regarded as one of the top two colleges in the Bombay Presidency, can lay claim to a kind of quiet eminence which would be the envy of many other institutions.
The magnificent Gothic architecture of the Main building lends to it an air of erudite authority. But more than the buildings is the effort of excellence afoot within its precincts. Perhaps one could do with a brief survey of the Deccan Collegee and lose oneself in its unobtrusive endeavours for a little while.
"1864", says the stone at the head of the building: Sir Mortimer Wheeler exclaimed on seeing it that this institution is a monument in its own right. BLit the story of this place begins even earlier than that — in the vicissitudes of the fateful Battle of Kirkee which was fought in November, 1817. From the ruins of that battle rose the Poona Sanskrit College in 1821, set up on the behest of Elphinstone. This was how the college began. At first it was housed in the ancient palace of the Peshwas. (It is of some interest to note that the Battle of Kirkee was fought on its very grounds).
In 1851, a school was amalgamated into this institution, and it was then named as the Poona Colleee. When Bombay University was founded in 1853, this college was affiliated to it, and in 1862, the first graduate of the University, R.G. Bhandarkar, the future great orientalist, passed out of this college with honours. It was due to the handsome grant of Sir Jamshetjee Jeejabhoy that the present building was founded (in 1864) and when in 1868, the college shifted here, it was given the name of Deccan College. The list of the Principals is very impressive and included, among others, Edwin Arnolds, and the grandson of Wiliam Wordsworth, and the brother of P.G. Wodehouse. R.G. Bhandarkar was its most famous Indian Principal. Many of its alumni were equally distinguished, for example, Lokmanya Tilak and the great historian V.K. Rajwade.
But in 1934, the British Government decided to close down this college because of declining student clientele: the focus of the students had shifted to the city colleges, from where the freedom movement was being spearheaded. However, its alumni and many other persons would not hear of such blasphemy. After much litigation, they won the 'battle' but it was decided that the college would henceforth not concern itself with undergraduate teaching, and would exclusively cater to the advanced study of some of the subjects that were at that time badly neglected in India.
So the latest phase of the eventful story of this institution began in 1939, when it was declared as a Post-graduate and Research Institute. It was to specialise in the 'exotic' subjects of archaeology. anthropology and sociology, and that nascent subject — linguistics.
With new vigour and determination the restructured Institute began the task of carving out a niche for itself in the fraternity of learning. The famous sociologist Mrs. lravati Karve graced this Institute from its inception till her death in 1970. The first Director of this Institute was Dr. U.S. Taraporevala followed by Dr. S.N. Katre, Dr. H.D. Sankalia, Dr. Ghatge and now Dr. Deo, each of them an outstanding personality in his own right. Probably the greatest contribution to the college was by Dr. Katre, during whose period most of the new buildings were constructed. Dr. Sankalia (Padma Bhushan) however, is more well-known to the public through his innumerable writings in popular newspapers and magazines. The latest Director has been expanding and diversifying the efforts of his predecessors.
Let us now move into the buildings and see what is being done here. Here is the administrative block; room after room is stacked neatly with old journals, documents and books. We also find in this building rooms where researchers are busy sorting out the stone implements that have been recovered from various sites; these tools number virtually in lakhs! The tools are carefully measured and the data is fed into computers which help in their classification into scrapers, choppers and so on.
Attached to the main building is the library which is easily the best in India as far as Indological studies are concerned. In all there are about 1,10,000 books in the library: recall that these books cater to only a very few subjects. To keep up-to-date, the library subscribes to about 225 journals. The research scholars are allowed to take as many as ten books at a time to their study rooms and they can legitimately hoard these books until someone else needs them.
A new visitor to this place is often surprised to find it quite uninhabited, except for a stray bookworm groggily winding his abstract way under the trees. This is to be expected with 125 acres allotted to a very small population. But apart from this, the students are generally dispersed in the departments, in the laboratories, the library, the study rooms and the hostels, or, if not in these places, then they are possibly out of Pune on fieldwork. We note the absence of the hustle and bustle of a degree college. The tranquil atmosphere is decisively conducive to learning.
The impressive archaeology department is built across the road. It houses laboratories, a lecture room and a beautiful museum. There are three Professors and a number of Readers, Lecturers and other members on the faculty. Each member is busy working on his special projects which take him throughout the country. Indeed some of the members seem to come to Pune only to consolidate their work or to relax! The rest of the time they spend at their sites, with their feet quite bare, tiny dental instruments and little paint brushes in their hands — working diligently at the excavations, and on preservation of their findings.
There are about 35 students presently working for their Ph.D's in archaeology; over 85 have already received their doctorates. There is a welcome note of diversity among the students (of all departments): not only do they come from all over India, but, if we include those who are-studying for their post-graduation we find students from literally all the continents, with a preponderance from Asia. Australian and American students are seen in plenty. There is also a special American Institute of Indian Studies located near the main block, where distinguished American scholars come to pursue their studies on India. The staff of this department, like all others here, is very highly qualified and well-known abroad, in keeping with the high standards expected; and talent is encouraged: for example, in the department of linguistics, we find a reader of the age of 27 and, indeed, Dr. Sankalia became, a professor at the age of 30.
(Click for larger image of my drawing. Note the shadows are misplaced. The rest of it is accurate)
Many activities on the international level are a part and parcel of the functioning of all the departments. For this department, one would probably mention that almost all the top-flight archaeologists of the world have visited this place: Grahame Clark, Allchin, Mulvaney, Zeuner, Ranov, de Lumley and Golson, among others. The latest visitor was J.D. Clark, who gave a lecture here in December on the work done recently at african sites on the origin of man. He has just discovered in Ethopia the oldest hominid (the australopithecus) dating to four million years ago. On the 30th of January, the Bulgarian education minister visited this institute and paid handsome compliments to it.
In 1978, the International Conference on Recent Advances in lndo-Pacific Prehistory was held here. This year, the department has sent many/ artifacts and data, from the lnamgaon excavation to be displayed at London, where the Festival of India is being, organised by the British Council and the British Museum.
A very large number of archaeological sites have been discovered: these have helped to unravel the stone-age cultures of India, as well as to dorrelate the vedic and other literary evidence with the archaeological findings. One may mention the most important sites being worked on today (there are many others, too), each under one professor: near Nagpur, under Dr. Deo, at lnamgaon under Dr. Dhavalikar and Dr. Ansari, and at Didwana salt lake, Rajasthan, under Dr. Misra.
Among the major sites, one can describe the one that is the closest to Pune. It is the one at Inamgaon: the site was discovered in 1967 by the department and ever since then excavations have been going on there and many fascinating results have been obtained. Village communities dating from the pre-Buddhist era of 700 B.C. to as far back as 1700 B.C. have been excavated. The surprising thing is that the house sites found there and also some of the artefacts, have a great resemblance in many respects to the contemporary settlements in this area. The art displayed on the well-designed pottery is exquisite.
Thinking or art, one is reminded of how a one-time pupil of Dr. Sankalia discovered the site of Bhimbekta (in Madhya Pradesh) in 1957. The institute has itself been working upon this site since 1973. At the site are found the remains of stone-age men living as long back as one lakh years ago. The cultural splendour of the site is displayed in the numerous cave-paintings which range in age from one thousand to about ten thousand years ago.
A new feature was developed by Dr. Deo (the new director). A multi-disciplinary approach has been adopted. One finds specialists in chemistry, archaeozoology: geology: anthropology, paleobotany and paleontology working under one umbrella to study different aspects of the data found at the sites. This makes it possible to follow the latest techniques: for example, to study clay minerology, aerial photography and satellite imageries, techniques like SEM, X-Ray diffratometer and Mossbauer spectrometry are being used. These efforts have a direct relevance to a proper understanding of future climatic changes and also in preserving the ecological balance.
There is of course the inevitable complaint of shortage of funds. Most of the sophisticated apparatus is beyond the reach of the Poona University (of which this institute is a department level organ). Even the basic process of archaeology, viz., radiocarbon dating, is not done here, but at two busy laboratories at Ahmedabad-and Lucknow. Often the dating process for each specimen takes as long as'a year to be completed, and involves a lot of running about and wastage of time. No wonder sometimes a student who sends his thesis to the best foreign authorities has to face relevant comments about the scantiness of data: for example, where the foreign authority might expect a hundred dated samples, the student can submit only ten or so But this is an 'occupational hazard' and the students cheer-fully (and a mite courageously, if one may say!) submit themselves to the rigorous standards of the very best in the world. Naturally, the products of this institute are welcome abroad.
At first the Sanskrit Dictionary project was a part of the department of linguistics, but since 1967 it has been recognised as a separate department. This project is unique because such a detailed and ' comprehensive study of the growth of any language has not been undertaken anywhere else in the world. To give the bare facts: 1 500 works of Sanskrit literature (till the 18th century) are being consulted. These have been grouped into 55 branches like the Vedas, Grammars, Systems of Philosophy, medicine and astrology. Till today two volumes in six fascicules have been published, and it is estimated that the work will take at least fifty more years! To illustrate the extensive nature of this project: the standard dictionary of Sanskrit by Monier-Williams (1899) contains 1333 pages. The work done till today covers 19 pages of this book, and already has spanned 1477 pages! In other words, when complete, this dictionary will encompass over one lakh pages!
Why is this dictionary so exceptionally difficult to make? That is because it describes in detail the historical evolution of each particular word. The first occurrence of the work in the Sanskrit literature is specified. To make it a ready reference, copious citations of passages from the literature are included.
I was puzzled at first about the social significance of such a project, but I found that it is indeed very useful. All those interested in Indology will have many occasions to refer to it. Also, many needless controversies in Hinduism and other Indian religions will be quickly resolved because the words will be known in their proper perspective.
To the layman, the word linguistics sounds rather recondite; but to a realise what it means, one can possibly mention its social and applied sides. In the first place, it is of the utmost importance in producing speed-scripts like shorthand. For example, Pitman devised his shorthand in consultation with the phonetician Prof. Henry Sweet: he was the same person based on whose life Bernard Shaw created the character of Professor Higgins in his play, Pygmalion. Also, the basic groundwork for typewriter keyboards and for deciphering secret codes (cryptography) is done in linguistics. Other applications are in phonetics (correct pronunciation), in teaching languages, especially the second language; and in speech therapy (curing stammering, for example).
The department can legitimately lay the claim of being the Mother of Linguistics in India. That is because almost all the earliest scholars of linguistics in India were trained in this institute. Most of them were trained in the language project (1955 – 58) held in this department. For example, B. Kachru, Yamuna Kachru and K.C. Bahl are full professors in American Universities. In India, the notables are: H.S. Biligiri, A.R. Kelkar, H.S. Ananthanarayana. Further, J.D. Singh retired as the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Rohtak university, R.S. Hiremath retired as the V.C. of the Dharwad university, and V.I. Subramaniam is the present V.C. of the Tamil University, Thanjavur. All these are among those trained in this department. Today there are about 15 universities imparting training in linguistics, and some of their best students come here for their doctorates, apart from many foreign students. At present, 30 Ph.D. scholars are studying here, and about 100 have already received their Ph.D's in linguistics from this institute.
As expected, the department specialises in all four families of Indian languages; the Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and the Austro-Asiatic. It also houses the Linguistic Society of India, which was founded in 1928 at Lahore but shifted to this premier department in 1954. Regular journals are being brought out; and some of the most sophisticated techniques (like a language laboratory) are in use. The staff consists of three full-professors and others. Dr. Katre mentioned earlier, was the Professor al Linguistics here.
Six generations from Pune have passed by while this institute has been growing, now in one direction and then in another, from strength to strength. This is the 161st year running, and it can be expected that as time passes on, the experience that has been gained will take this institute to far greater heights. One is genuinely proud of having Deccan College in our midst.