A true researcher, multilingual scholar, newspaper editor, a farmer, cowherd, doctor, humanitarian, freedom fighter, an erudite free thinker and scientist,– these are but some of the attributes of the great scholar, Karlamangalam Srikantaiah, a simple and humble personality who drew the attention of distinguished scholars. Karlamangalam Srikantaiah’s ability to digest even the most difficult treatise by reading it just once, ready acceptance of challenges, inventions and in depth analysis of problems were inherent to him. He was both an intellectual power as well as personality who dedicated his life to academics and disseminating the knowledge that he accumulated for public good.
His early life – schooling
Srikantaiah was born on September 14, 1902 in Karlamangala, a small village located on the Magadi – Savanadurga route. Magadi, a town of scholars is situated 33 kilometers to the west of the city of Bengaluru in the south Indian state of Karnataka.
Born in a noble Brahmin family to Subbaiah – a famous Harikatha Vidwan and a farmer and Bhramaramba, Srikantaiah inherited noble qualities of his father.
Even as a child, he was a free thinker but his humble background allowed him to study only till the second grade after which he became a shepherd. Srikantaiah had an insatiable appetite for knowledge; the hills and sprawling forest of Savanadurga where he brought his herd of cows for grazing became his school. He took to reading books from his father’s library and persevered in his pursuit of knowledge. After exhausting the books from the library, he began borrowing books from scholars to broaden his outlook. He also traversed the length and breadth of the country seeking new areas. His trips included visits to libraries and historical places that helped expand his knowledge in various fields such as literature, treatises, Vedas, Upanishads, philosophy and comparative study of edicts and inscriptions. Further, his ability to express himself in multiple languages – Kannada, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Tamil, Telugu, Shooraseni, Marathi, Magadhi, Ardhamagadhi, Apabhramsha, Hindi, Bengali and Urdu enabled him to acquire and enrich his knowledge in the Vedic-Jainism-Buddhism philosophies, the Christian Bible, Greek history and as well as the Quran.
His presentation of ideas, erudition, reasoning ability and clarity of thought caught the attention of both Indian and foreign scholars.
His youth – accolades, writings and publications
Following the sad demise of his elder brother, Kumarayya in 1932, the onus of bringing up of his son, Shankarappa fell on Srikantaiah’s shoulder who decided to remain single.
Later, after his his nephew, Shankarappa came of age and married the pious Lalithamma. Srikantaiah resumed his literary and academic interests with great passion. What followed was the deciphering and interpretation of the large and unique numeric – lingual treatise, Siribhuvalaya and the subsequent publication of self-penned books.
Aside, he also launched a monthly magazine, Brahmana on March 12, 1935. The publication was in circulation for almost four years. Some of the topics covered in the magazine included Vedic prayers, nobility, astrology, Vedic and other religious writings, aircrafts in Vedas, introduction to Vedas, Rigveda Samhita, amongst others. Contributors to the publication included great scholars such as D K Bharadwaj, Trishulapani, M Yamunacharya, Ranganatha Bhat, Sri Kshetresha Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Devudu Narasimha Shastry, M S Gopalaiah, K Krishnaiyengar, Dr. Balakrishna and R Sunandadevi.
Srikantaiah took a lot of pride in Kannada as a language, his state and its culture. In 1930, he published Gumpina Guttu by incorporating the knowledge of various castes and communities of Karnataka, a rare work that integrated the usage of Kannada words alone without incorporating a single word in Sanskrit. His writings span seven books and a book on his writings has also published.
It must be said that Karlamangalam Srikantaiah played a leading role in the formation of Kannada Paksha in Bangalore along with Anakru and M. Ramamurthy, to mention but two. The first public meeting of the Paksha took place at the KSRTC bus stand, erstwhile Subhashnagar in Bangalore. His address on Siribhuvalaya lasted four hours. In 2012, Suresh Moona wrote about Sri Karlamangala Srikantaiah in the first edition of Bengaluru Nagara Nirmapakaru-1, a collection of Moona’s columns.
His role on the freedom struggle
Karlamangalam Srikantaiah took an active part in India’s struggle for independence . In 1928, he was one of the bodyguards assigned to Mahatma Gandhi during his visit to Bangalore. Being a staunch follower of Gandhiji, he offered himself to the freedom movement. Having received the Congress flag from Gandhiji, he walked from Bangalore to Magadi and under his leadership established the Magadi Congress Committee. During the freedom struggle, he was arrested and jailed in Ahmedabad where he also met Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
He played the lead role in Shivapura Satyagraha in 1939. Srikantaiah was also instrumental in giving ‘Rama Bhajan Deeksha’ to Harijans (Untouchables) and in this crusade for the upliftment of untouchables, he faced a lot of opposition and accepted the ire from members of his own caste. Later, he served as the editor of Ahimsa, a newspaper published from Bangalore between the years 1931 and 1932.
His achievements in agriculture and medical service
Srikantaiah was an expert in traditional medicine and helped cure those suffering from stray dogs and snake bites. He used to grow food crops for his family’s consumption and reared and nurtured ‘Lakshmi’, a cow that bagged the first prize at the All India Animal Exhibition in 1942 in Bangalore. He and his family were recognised by the government of India for the high yields of paddy and maize from his plantations.
His role as medico-chemical researcher cum scientist
Driven with dreams for welfare of mankind, he was attracted by the practice of Pushpayurveda (flower therapy) and Rasavidya (Knowledge of Mercury). He conducted many experiments and prepared Rasamani (Mercury ball), a feat that is still considered a miracle by his family members.
Study of Siribhuvalaya
Siribhuvalaya is a unique work in the history of mankind. Written by the Jain monk Kumudendu 1200 years ago, it is a universal poetry intertwined with 718 languages in Kannada language. The complete credit of the breakthrough in the method of deciphering, reading of the original work, its interpretation and penetration into its inner meaning goes to Karlamangalam Srikantaiah who started his perpetual study on this treatise at the age of 28 years.
The founder of Sarvartha Siddhi Sangha, Sri Yellappa Shastry, an Ayurvedic doctor had received Siribhuvalaya as an ancestral property from his wife’s family. Siribhuvalaya copy was in the possession of Yellappa Shastry’s father-in-law Sri Dharanendra Pandit of Doddabele. Karlamangalam Srikantaiah who was present when Yellappa Shastri wanted to dispose away this numeric-lingual treatise along with his old newspapers took it with him and devoted his entire life to its research. As a result of his dedicated efforts, a part of Siribhuvalaya was first published and released in March 22, 1953 in Kannada Sahitya Parishad by the then Education Minister Sri A G Ramachandra Rao.
The uniqueness of this treatise is that the entire work is written in numbers – not in any language script. It consists of 27 x 27 matrices (matrix being denoted as Chakra) with each matrix filled with numbers from 1 – 64. As per the ‘Shabdanushasana’, a Kannada grammar treatise of Bhattakalanka Muni, the total number of Kannada alphabets is 64. By replacing 1-64 numbers in the matrices by 64 equivalent Kannada alphabets and reading using different patterns, Lo and behold! There emerges Kannada literature in the ‘Sangatya metre’!
In the Kannada Sangatya poems, if the first letters of each line are stringed together, literature in one language, if the middle letters are stringed, then another language literature will be revealed. Thus by various combinations of many alphabets, literature in many languages will unfold. Srikantaiah has already revealed and demonstrated literature in Kannada, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Paishacha, Magadhi, Shooraseni, Ardhamagadhi and Apabhramsha languages embedded in this wonderful treatise. The specialty of this work is, if any part of Siribhuvalaya are lost or destroyed, it is possible to recreate the lost part with the help of the matrices in other chapters. The author Kumudendu himself reveals that this is possible since the whole treatise is based on mathematics.
In the appreciation letter written by Shri Sunithi Kumar Chatterjee of the Kolkata Legislative Council dated April 22, 1959, it is written: “I take this occasion to express my great admiration for the single hearted devotion as well as for the scholarship of Sri Srikantaiah who has been working on this work for nearly two generations.”
The contents of Siribhuvalaya
Siribhuvalaya encompasses the entire wealth of all knowledge pertaining to all languages, literature, science and all its branches – metallurgy, water, space, atom, medical, marital life, Rasa theory, among others.
In the present decimal system, achieving precision in calculations is impossible. However, Siribhuvalaya is structured using the precise, error free ‘Navamanka or Nonary (Base 9) system’. Thus Siribhuvalaya is a cryptic treatise encompassing ‘all knowledge, all language and all literature’ using 64 Kannada phonetic letters. Further the author indicates that 718 languages out of which 18 major languages and 700 minor languages are embedded in the treatise. Since Kannada language comprises 64 letters and as other languages contain lesser number of alphabets than this, other languages can be embedded only in the Kannada metre (Chandas) and thus he has constructed this poesy. The author further proclaims that this was achieved only through the mathematical process.
Author of Siribhuvalaya
The author, Jain monk Kumudendu hails from “Yalavalli”, a small village near Nandi hills, close to Bangalore. He belongs to the ancient ‘Yaapaneeya sect’ of Jainism. According to him, he is a Jain Brahmin and belongs to Sena Gana and Saddharma Gotra. Karlamangalam Srikantaiah has unearthed all the 163 shlokas of Bhagavadgeeta found in the original ‘Jayakhyana / Jaya / Jayabharata’ written by Sage Veda Vyasa (Jayabharata contains 10368 shlokas).
Brahmarshi Sri Daivarata of Gokarna, the preceptor of the first President of India, Dr. Babu Rajendra Prasad being enticed by the erudition of Karlamangalam Srikantaiah visited Karlamangala twice. He made then President of India, Dr. Babu Rajendra Prasad, realise the significance of Siribhuvalaya and on his advice, the Indian Government took necessary steps to microfilm the Srikantaiah’s handwritten draft of ‘Siribhuvalaya’. This has been preserved intact till date in National Archives Museum, New Delhi.
In 1956, having recognized the scholarship of Karlamangalam Srikantaiah, the Principal of Yuvaraja College, Mysore, Sri. L Seebaiah, Sri M C Mallappa, and Agaram Rangappa demanded that Mysore University bestow upon him a honorary doctorate and gesture was flatly rejected by Srikantaiah. Jain Guru Pujya Deshabhushana Muni and founder of Jnanpith, Sri Shanthi Prasad Jain, having heard of Srikantaiah’s fame invited him to Kolkata. During the course of conversation, Srikantaiah quoted a shloka from ‘Mahadhavala’, a Jain treatise, which was vehemently disputed by the scholars present then. Upon verification, Srikantaiah was proven right. Everyone present was astonished and surprised at the amazing memory of Srikantaiah.
Present status of Siribhuvalaya
Kannada newspapers like Udayavani and Prajavani have published Karlamangalam Srikantaiah’s articles on Siribhuvalaya. Some scholars have communicated to his family members in 1990s regarding Siribhuvalaya. Despite this, the lack of interest of the Establishment Kannada Sahitya Parishad members, and scholars of the erudite world, prominent political leaders, intellectuals, artists and elite towards Siribhuvalaya is regrettable.
Karlamangalam Srikantaiah who lived as a well-wisher of Kannada died on March 11, 1965. However, the regrettable thing is the lack of recognition of the enormous talent and scholarship of Karlamangalam Srikantaiah by the entire Kannada erudite world. It is indeed tragic that though his articles and research became a milestone in the history of literature, they did not receive the appreciation and encouragement.
Famously known as “Karnataka’s Socrates”, it appears that the doors to immense wealth of knowledge in ‘Siribhuvalaya’ have been shut with him. Will the doors to this profound knowledge be reopened? Only time will reveal!
Note: The article is based on excerpts from an interview with Sri. Karlamangalam S Nagendrakumar, the son of Sri. Shankarappa, the nephew of Sri. Karlamangalam Srikantaiah.