Once upon a time, at the Maharaja’s study circle

Most of India’s rajas and maharajas have a well-earned notoriety of loving and living lives of debauchery, hedonism and leisure, often in scant regard to the interests of their subjects. But some like the Maharaja of Mysore were also known for the higher pursuits of life.

The last king of Mysore, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar (1919-1974), was, for example, a renowned scholar in philosophy, a versatile music composer and a writer and humanist. And like many others in the Wodeyar clan before him, a great patron of the arts and culture.

In 1954, A.V. Narasimha Murthy, then a post-graduate student in Indology at the Maharaja’s College, had the opportunity of witnessing a sitting of the king’s “study circle”, a thinktank in which the Maharaja soaked in and imbibed from the accumulated wisdom of the intellectuals of the land.

The study circle comprised Prof K.A. Nilakanta Shstri, Prof. S. Ramachandra Rao and Patankar Chandrashekar Bhat.

Narasimha Murthy, now a retired head of the department of ancient history at the University of Mysore, recently recounted the unique experience in a piece he wrote for the 33rd anniversary issue of Star of Mysore, reprinted here courtesy of the newspaper.

***

By A.V. NARASIMHA MURTHY

The Maharaja was not only a great scholar but also liked the company of scholars and to listen to their words of wisdom and knowledge. He used to arranged study circles regularly in a serene place in the City.

The palace officials used to carry chairs, tables, fruit baskets to the selected place. The scholars used to be taken in the palace cars in advance and the maharaja used to arrive at the appointed time. Then followed the discussion on a particular topic for about an hour. This was the procedure of the study circle.

I had a desire to see this at least from a distance but I was just a student and that was impossible.

I had no courage to ask my teacher, Prof Nilakanta Shastri this. Prof Ramachandra Rao was very friendly and hence I asked him if he could help me. He did not have the courage to permit me.

Then I approached Patankar Chandrashekar Bhat who was close to our family. First he said, ‘Savari (Maharaja) will not accept it.’ But I insisted.

He thought of a plan and said, “You should act like my attendant, carry my books and be there at the correct time before I reach the place. You should stand at a distance without speaking a single word and behave like an attendant.”

I was asked to wear a black long coat but walk without chappals. I agreed. Chandrashekar Bhat intimated me the day when the study circle was to meet on the lawns of Lalitha Mahal Palace.

I hired a cycle, carried the books given by him, went to the place and stood in silence like an attendant, but with all attention.

A palace car brought the three scholars and an official of the palace welcomed them and showed them to their seats, which they occupied.

After five minutes arrived the Maharaja in a Rolls Royce. Everybody stood up and bowed to the Maharaja and the entire scenario became formal. Though I was standing at a distance, I had lent my ears to their conversation.

The Maharaja asked them to start.

Ramachandra Rao submitted: “We would like to discuss Yajnavalkya Smriti if His Highness would be pleased with this topic.” The Maharaja nodded his head in approval.

Prof Nilakanta Shastri began the discussion by explaining the date and time of Yajnavalkya in a historical perspective. Ramachandra Rao analysed the contents of the Yajnavalkya Smriti and Patankar gave the details of the religious and legal aspects of the work in Kannada.

The Maharaja was generously silent but was asking questions in between. After an hour, the session concluded. His Highness got up, folded his hands and took leave smiling. The three scholars bowed to the Maharaja and stood till the latter go into his car. They got into the Palace car and left the venue.

The attendants of the Palace packed the chairs, tables, etc and left. I collected the books I had carried and returned to my house on my cycle. The next day I went to Patankar’s house, returned the books and him profusely for the opportunity provided to me.

He praised me for my behaviour the previous evening and jocularly said, ‘You looked a perfect attendant.’ But he felt sorry that I had to adorn the role of an attendant as there was no other way.

Though a student, I was greatly impressed by this study circle and it has remained green in my memory.

Photograph: Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur, the first governor of the unifited State of Mysore, inaugurating the new theatre of Mylapore Fine Arts Club in 1959 (courtesy The Hindu).

***

Also read: Once upon a time, a 50’x50′ site for 50 rupees

‘My father, His Highness, the Maharaja of Mysore’

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15 Responses to “Once upon a time, at the Maharaja’s study circle”

  1. twistleton Says:

    Professor Slughorn…:D

  2. gjlraj Says:

    This study circle is akin, atleast in principle to The National Advisory Council. The NAC is intended to be a body of independed scholars that encourages debate and provide ideas and contains illustrious stalwards like Dr Madhav Gadgil, Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze. Unfortunately NAC has become a powerful body without any accountability and a means to provide an office to Sonia Gandhi.

  3. Deepak Says:

    Would we have been better off ruled by the benevolent Wodeyars, as compared to the Gowdas, Siddus, Reddys and Yeddys who lord over us? We will probably never know the answer.

  4. bs_sunil Says:

    There is a similar account in SL Bhyrappa’s autobiography ‘Bitthi”; not so flattering of the Maharaja though.

    It is at a some congress or conference on Philosophy held in Madras; presided over by C. Rajagopalachari. The “scholarly” JCW had a professor of Philosophy (Bhyrappa’s thesis advisor??) write up an article to be published as JCW’s!!!. And C.R. had something very witty to say about it. I don’t remember much.
    But the remark about Maharaja’s generous silence in the article spoke something!

  5. vinty Says:

    Damn dictators. Attenders should not wear chappals.

  6. maisuru Says:

    @ The Maharaja was generously silent but was asking questions in between….

    It is obviously a typo !

    It should be : The Maharaja was generally silent but was asking questions in between..

  7. kaangeya Says:

    Most of India’s rajas and maharajas have a well-earned notoriety of loving and living lives of debauchery, hedonism and leisure, often in scant regard to the interests of their subjects. But some like the Maharaja of Mysore were also known for the higher pursuits of life.

    If by “most” you mean the 100s of small and tiny jagirs turned kingdoms that would be true. But not if you were to consider the largest princely states, whose monarchs merited 21,19, 17 gun salutes. Mysore, Udaipur, Kolhapur, Baroda, Gwalior, Kapurthala, Patiala, Travancore, Jaipure, Jodhpur, Cooch Behar and several others were ruled by enlightened kings and managed by administrators of distinction and integrity such as, Sardar Panikkar, Dewan CP Ramaswamy Aiyar, and Sir Mirza Ismail. Whatever urban decor exists in our cities today is due to the visionary monarchs of yesteryear. Maharaja Bhawani Singh of Jaipur aka Bubbles served in the Army retiring as Brigadier. As a special forces officer the Col.Bhawani Singh led the 10 Para (SF) on several missions during the 1971 war earning the Maha Vir Chakra.

  8. Gokulam 3rd Stage Says:

    We Mysoreans tend to overdo the nostalgia-for-maharaja bit. The monarchy was popular after Tippu because of a) the stability that British control brought and b) the ministers. The maharajas themselves were mediocre men with enough good sense to stay out of the way of progress. For that, we have to be thankful.

  9. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Deepak,

    Depends on point of view.

    Maybe you think you would have been better off under the benevolent wodeyars, but vast majority i.e. gowdas, siddus, reddys, yeddys and all the others would think they are better off under their own rule.

  10. Super Nan Maga Says:

    @Deepak,
    Its better to have a benevolent dictator than these guys.Once he becomes too autocratic we can have a revolution and have democracy.

  11. Gaby Says:

    I think the word the author intended to use was ‘generously’. The intention at a sychophantic peak is to show that even his silence was a generous one to allow lesser humans than his royal highness an opportunity to talk of weighty things!

  12. Gaby Says:

    In Kannada it might have gone something like- ‘ sannidhanavu dhaaraala manasinindha mounavagiddharu etc etc.

  13. Doddi Buddi Says:

    What is the point of this article?!!

  14. Pulikeshi the Last Says:

    How smart do we have to be to realise that ghost writers have eked out a living in all climes and times?

    Even if the man had the erudition and the compositional skills attributed to him, why should we be surprised. He had abundant resources and time to cultivate those habits of mind.

    Let’s by all means not think about the family’s taste for venison.

    Folks like Haajabba and Saalumarada Thimmakka should mean more to us commoners.

  15. rajasekhar Says:

    It is amusing a maharaja spends an hour listening to three brahmins talking about totally worthless fiction branded as a scholarly discussion.
    If this is the level maharaja’s brain trust it is no wonder we are still in dark ages.

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