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Tribute to Professor Saletore

A Towering Tribute: "Social and Political Life in the Vijayanagara Empire"

by. Jyothsna Kamat

Reprinted from the Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society, 
Vol. XCIII and Issue No. 2, April - June, 2002  

Dr. Bhaskar Anand Saletore (1902-1963) wrote books and scores of articles during his lifetime, considered short by modern standards of longevity. The voluminous work "Social and Political Life in the Vijayanagara Empire" though his first work, is considered his magnum opus by many. Based on his thesis submitted to London University in 1931, it is in two bulky volumes of 470 and 525 pages respectively. The bibliography of books and articles he referred, run to 55 pages, providing glimpses of the painstaking research he had put in. The Errata for both volumes consists of just 22 words and those are non-English words or missing diacritical marks showing what a perfectionist the Learned Professor was.

Perfectionist he certainly was. Scholars who have no access to original sources he used to quote extensively, can bodily lift the passages from his volumes! He used to be very particular right to a comma or an an apostrophe, while quoting.

Compendium and Reference Work

This stupendous and scholarly work became a landmark for following decades. It is both a compendium and a high-class reference book. Seventy five years ago when Dr. Saletore undertook study, most of the Kannada classics that are seen in print today, were still in palm-leaf manuscripts. Dr. Saletore job was more difficult. He exercised extra caution with the printed books and compared them with the ones in manuscripts. Keladi Nripa Vijayam was still a palm-leaf book to which he has access in India Office Library, London. We see him quoting extensively from Karnataka Kavicharite volumes of R. Narasimhachar. He has also quoted profusely from Sanskrit classics as well. The only drawback one experiences is the absence of English translation of these extensive extracts which a non-Kannada student may find difficult. But that would have been tremendous task adding another 100 pages to the already bulky volumes! It seems, Dr. Saletore left no book unturned, pertaining to social life of Karnataka irrespective of the period under study.

It is worthwhile to have a general idea of all time-relevance of this book.

He was the first scholar from Karnataka, to establish firmly, Kannada origin of the founders of Vijayanagar Empire, with fewer sources at his disposal. He has dealt with the topic extensively in the first volume while dealing with political history. Being an eternal student, he years later, disproved Prof. N. Venkataramanayya's theory about Telugu origin of the founders in no uncertain terms, this time on sounder basis, using entirely new sources, including literary and numismatic evidence. The controversy regarding origin continues to date, as some fresh source, literary or epigraphic in Kannada or Telugu, comes to light now and then. The rulers and the ruled of the empire were cosmopolitan and broadminded. The region was multi-lingual. Pressing need being fighting the enemy, language was no barrier to leadership. But Saletore established that the roots of the empire were in the Karnataka region only. Whatever the later scholars of this region have done till now, is only to add and confirm to the already established theory of Dr. Saletore.

Clear-cut Division

Second important point is the clear-cut division of topics into chapters for the study of political and social history. The first volume consists of 1) Revenue administration 2) Administration of central government 3) Administration of local government 4) Law and Justice 5) Foreign relations and 6) The army.

Without exaggeration, it could be stated that each chapter rendered itself for in-depth of the topics leading to doctorate independently. Over the years scholars did choose for Ph.D. study the above topics, one by one. Similarly for cultural history i.e. volume II, Dr. Saletore dealt at length with 1) Social institutions 2) Position of women 3) Social legislation 4) Public service 5) Habitation, food and dress 6) Corporate life and 7) Festivals, games and amusements. They are as varied as interesting.

Perhaps, till Dr. Saletore's study of social history, the stress was mainly on political history and administration. For Dynastic history as well, study of society came only as an appendix. It goes to his credit that he gave equal importance to social conditions as much as political. He is certainly a pioneer in this field. Universality and all time relevance could be identified in his in-depth study.

Filled Gaps of in Earlier Studies

Some scholars feel that Dr. Saletore has included information of the earlier and later period than the one under study. But we have to realise that previously there was no study of topics like 'Status of Women' or 'Social Legislation', which have everlasting relevance till Prof. Saletore himself took up. He has done full justice to the role, women of Karnataka played in political, social and religious fields over centuries. They were administrators, governors, trustees and heads of Mathas. They enjoyed more freedom and actively participated in festivities, sports, pastimes and religious rites. During the same period, women from north suffered severe restrictions and had to observe purdah. In a country where traditions and customs last over centuries, social history does not change much.

Similarly he quotes from Chola inscriptions. Government of the day permitted widows to own land, jewels and other valuables of their deceased husbands, which is not practised even in our 'enlightened' age! He also quotes a corporate effort of Brahmins in the 14th century. The Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Lata Brahmins of Padaividu locality met to the fight the evil of bride price system. The party that accepted money and the party that offered it, were to be excommunicated. State interference was sought if their efforts failed. Dr. Saletore concludes that there is possibility of these Brahmins' influence having worked, when the king ordered remission of taxes on marriage of all classes, referred to in another contemporary inscription.

Labourers' Striking Work

He gives a single instance where agricultural labourers struck work in Tondaimandalam. When rains failed and cultivation suffered, the labourers struck work until their masters promised to continue their privileges. Soliciting, presenting betel and trying gentle means to induce them to work, continued. Dr. Saletore feels that none of the foreign travellers refer to this corporate aspect. But this may suggest that such old custom (Purvada maryade) existed for resisting tyranny or ruthlessness of landlords.

Prof. S. Krishnaswamy Aiyangar's short foreword sums up Dr. B.A. Saletore's efforts in a nutshell.

"The very extent of the subject and the vastness of details available, would baffle in this direction ordinarily. But Dr. Saletore has succeeded in producing a creditable work bearing on the vast subject..... The work gives a correct and complete view of the life of the people under the empire, during the three centuries of its fight to preserve Hindu institutions and Hindu civilization".

Nearly 70 years have passed since the publication of this voluminous work. As already stated several inscriptions and literary works have come to light since then. But a good number of scholars from all the states of South India who have specialised in one aspect or the other of Vijayanagara history, have referred to these two volumes of the great book. Most scholars agree that it is pratically impossible to find a parallel research work of such magnitude. It is a compendium and reference book for all times.

There could not have been a better towering tribute, as tall as the Gopuram of Shri Virupaksha temple of Hampi (Titular Deity of Vijayanagara rulers) to the memory of the great empire that united the whole of South India politically and culturally. That is Dr. Saletore's legacy to scholarly world.

After dealing with all-time relevance of Dr. Saletore's work, it may not sound out of place to know, his opinion about the study of history and the norms a good historian has to follow while writing. This is all the more important in these days of interpreting and re-writing history to suit the ideology or leanings of those in power. We are experiencing one controversy or the other regarding text books or reference books published recently. Dr. Saletore made certain solid observations as early as 1957.

He noticed three traits of historians trying to write history. These were racial, national and political. Foreign writers merely distorted facts to suit their end. This amounted to racial. National standard was to examine history of India as a whole, the annals of the provinces being considered as negligible. According to political standard, facts of history, which are not to our taste, were re-narrated to suit avowed political creed. As propaganda, all three systems were not harmful. But singularly they were not conducive to the advancement of historical knowledge. Political standard was a poor and artificial criterion which would ultimately make scholarship subservient to authority. He warned that if historians were to write history according to pre-conceived patterns, on subjects suggested by those, who could dole out patronage, they would cease to be in the vanguard of learning and could be like panegyrists.

Dr. B.A. Saletore was quite independent as a historian. Hence the universal appeal of all his books.

Builder of the System of Gujarat College, Ahmedabad

Yogendra Sonawala and Dr. Shirin Mehta *

In those days it was a proud privilege to seek an admission into a Government College like Gujarat College, Ahmedabad. It was the institution of great glamour and prestige, running both Arts and Science faculties. The college in fact was made a prominent seat of learning and kernel of multifarious cultural activities by the professors like B.A. Saletore. The college was moulded and shaped by the devoted, sincere principals like Walenkar, Virmitra Divetia, M.S. Shah, Dr. Patwardhan etc.... and Professors like Dr. Saletore, T.C. Swaminarayan, Dr. Dhirubhai Thakore, Dr. Anantram Raval, N.B. Naik etc... During 1930s in the heydays of the British rule it was nucleus of intellectuals and nova riche among middle class. The college was established in 1879.

Dr. Saletore's span of years in Gujarat College (Arts Section) were from 1940s to 1952. He was the Professor highly respected both by the colleagues as well as the students. He was a direct recruit by the Government. He possessed degrees from Germany and U.K. A widely traveled academician, he was a person of vast experience. He had imbibed high sense of dignity, honour, discipline, and abilities of planning and organization from European countries.

As a class of Professor of History, he carried a lot of weightage in the common room of the college. He had inculcated the similar sense of discipline and sincerity among his students. He was smart, well dressed, always in suit and tie, looking every inch an Englishman. He spoke chaste excellent English with Oxfordian accent. He had tremendous faith in the sense of British justice, liberty, democracy and rationality.

*Both are brother and sister, and both had offered history as the main subject. Mr. Yogendra Sonawala was Officer in Punjab National Bank. Dr. Shirin Mehta was the former Professor and Head History Department, Gujarat University, Ahmedabad. 
Address: F-2, Ayojan Nagar Society, Ahmedabad - 380007.

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