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V S Sukthankar – Eminent Indologist - Editor Critical Edition Mahabharata

Vishnu Sitaram Sukthankar (1887 – 1943) was born in Mumbai to Sitaram Sukthankar, an engineer, and Dhaklibi. V S Sukthankar was the general editor of the Critical Edition of the Mahabharata published by the Bhandarkar Oriental Institute from 1925.

V S Sukthankar studied in Mumbai (1902-03), Cambridge (1903 – 07), Edinburgh (1909) and Berlin (1910 – 14). With his mathematical Trips (1906), M.A. Degree from Cambridge (1912), Ph.D. of Berlin (1914) in Philology and Philosophy and a critical edition of Sakatayana’s Grammar with Yakshavarman’s commentary Cintamani, along with German translation and notes (Pub. 1921), he became known as an outstanding Sanskrit scholar.

He served the Archaeological Survey of India during 1914-19. There his epigraphical knowledge and study of inscriptions proved very valuable. His knowledge of English, French, German, Italian and many Indian languages widened his field of study and writing. His lectures at different universities in the USA were much appreciated. His Chief Editorship of the Journal of the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic Society added to his fame.

His valuable contribution to Indology includes a large number of book reviews in various Indian and foreign journals and his scholarly articles like ‘Miscellaneous Notes on Mammata’s Kavyaprakasha’, ‘On the Home of the so-called Andhra Kings,’ Curiosities of Hindu Epigraphy,’ etc., editing of some inscriptions, English translations and Bhasa’s Svapnavasavadatta (Studies in Bhasa), lectures on ‘An Excursion on the Periphery of Indological Research,’ and the series on ‘Epic Studies’. On the Meaning of the Mahabharata (Bombay, 1957) is a work which reveals the depth of his study and thought.

Sukthankar was proud of Hindu dharma and culture. He called the Mahabharata ‘the national saga of India’ and ‘the content of collective unconscious’. On January 4, 1943, the Bhandarkar Institute specially honored him by conferring a ‘Distinguished Services Medal’ for his great service to the Mahabharata’s Critical Edition on the day of its Silver Jubilee celebrations.

On January 5, 1943, V S Sukthankar read his statement before the learned audience, giving a timely warning that there is a danger that in our pseudo-scientific mood we may be tempted to discard this great book, thinking that we have outgrown it. That would be a capital blunder. He said that would, in fact, mean nothing but an indication of our will to commit suicide, national suicide, the signal of our national extinction. He described the Mahabharata as ‘the deathless traditional book of divine inspiration, unapproachable and far removed from possibilities of human constitution.’

V S Sukthankar had a plan to start some other studies about the ‘genesis of the significant variant readings in the Mahabharata textual tradition.’ But a little more than a fortnight after his last memorable statement, he passed away on January 22, 1943.