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Shrinivas Rath (1933–2014)

Shrinivas Rath (known as Rath Sahib to his friends, admirers and students) was born in 1933 at Puri in Odisha. He studied in the townships of Gwalior and Morena in Madhya Pradesh and Varanasi. His father was a traditional Sanskrit pundit and Rath Sahib learnt Vyakarana and other Śāstras with him. Pt. Baldev Upadhya became his favorite teacher at the Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

 

He started his career as a lecturer in Sanskrit at Madhav College, Ujjain and retired as Professor of Sanskrit at Vikram University, Ujjain. As the secretary of Kālidāsa Samiti of this University and as in Charge Director of Kālidāsa Akademi, Rath Sahib was responsible for organizing a number of conferences, national and international seminars and various other academic activities, not to talk of the famous Kālidāsa-Samāroha—the week long Festival for Kālidāsa held every year at Ujjain.   He also contributed to the development of Sanskrit theatre at Ujjain and was considered a theatre-person of his own standing.  He authored several drama-scripts based on Sanskrit plays for theatre performance.

 

He started writing poetry in Sanskrit in his early youth. His only collection of poems Tad eva Gaganaṃ Sā eva Dharā (The same earth, the same sky) was published from Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan, New Delhi in 1995. He was a lyricist par excellence. His poetry is characterized by emotional fervor and expression of deep anguish over the contradictions and dichotomies of our age, and deepest thoughts on the traumatic situations of modern life; but at the same time it leads to pinnacles of sheer delight by attaining rare heights of imagination and very subtle imagery. With his wonderful sense of refinement and classic elegance, Rath Sahib was a master of melody and rhyme beauty.  His songs in Sanskrit have the resonance of great classics and they present an entirely new canvas of emotional fervor with a modern sensibility.  

 

Listening to him reciting his own songs as well as pieces from classical Sanskrit poetry with his resounding rich voice, one could experience the most sublime of the oral traditions of Sanskrit. He became an iconic figure in this respect and was emulated by young scholars and poets.

 

On January 7th, 1997, he chaired the Sanskrit Kavi Sammelan organized under the X World Sanskrit Conference (3–9, January 1997) held at Taralabalu Kendra, Bengaluru. A spell-bound audience of the 13th World Sanskrit Conference at Edinburgh gave a standing ovation when he finished the recitation of his Sanskrit songs in the Kavisamavāya programme of this conference.

 

In 1999, Rath Sahib was honored with the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Puraskāra by the Sahitya Akademi (The National Academy of Letters), New Delhi in 1999 for his Tad eva gaganaṃ sā eva dharā.  He was also honored by the President’s Certificate of Honor for Sanskrit scholarship.

 

A number of Ph.D. studies were carried out on his literary oeuvre in Indian Universities. A paper on his poetry was presented in the All India Oriental Conference (41st Session) held at Sri Jagannatha Sanskrit University, Puri during 14–16 December 2002. Dr. Harsha Dev Madhav, one of the most renowned Sanskrit poets of our times and Dr Harekrishna Meher, a poet and scholar, have published papers on his poetry in Drik, a journal of critical studies on modern Sanskrit writings. Professor S.P. Narang edited a felicitation volume in his honour.  

 

He breathed his last on June 13, 2014 at Ujjain. Rath Sahib was one of doyens in the world of Sanskrit scholars and poets.