Saluting Dr. Filliozat, Padma Shri awardee
When a French Sanskrit Scholar Dr. Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, a resident of Mysuru, was awarded the prestigious national civil honour Padma Shri, I was not surprised. Star of Mysore had the honour of introducing him to its readers many years ago as a Sanskrit scholar, who had done research on the great Sanskrit grammarian Panini and author of many books on ancient Indian culture.
Much as I wished to meet him soon after the announcement of the Padma awards by the Central Government before the Republic Day, it was not possible. At last, I could make it yesterday and it was indeed like being in the presence of a Jnana Yogi that Lord Krishna mentions in Bhagavad Gita. He seemed to be an embodiment of scholarship in Sanskrit. Tall, frail and smiling, he was an epitome of humility.
I was received by Dr. Filliozat and his wife Dr. Vasundhara Kavali Filliozat, who is a noted Historian and Epigraphist. She was also a recipient of Kannada Rajyotsava Award. Age seems to have taken toll of their younger days. Dr. Filliozat is 87 and Dr. Vasundhara Kavali Filliozat is 84. They live in an old house, spacious and with a huge backyard at Yadavagiri. The interior of the house has the characteristic of a heritage house. Understandably, it has a spacious library where they must be spending more time doing what is close to their heart and passion.
Dr. Vasundhara gave me a Kannada book titled Alidulida Hampe (The Remains of Hampi). The book was written in 1975 giving an overview of the Vijayanagar Empire and its capital. She said when she visited the place again in October 2023, she was shocked to discover that a couple of temples in ruins that she had seen were not there. Instead, there appeared in its place a hotel.
Dr. Vasundhara Filliozat’s achievement in her given field of study is equally admirable. It is not surprising therefore that she was invited to deliver the ‘Eleventh Pupul Jayakar Memorial Lecture’ on Apr. 19, 2019 at INTACH, New Delhi. She is of the opinion that there are misconceptions and wrong interpretations on the history of Hindu Kingdoms which should be corrected. Sadly, the post independent India’s education policy was totally lopsided so much so we were taught more about Muslim rule, which was dominant in Northern India, and the history of British India and very little or nothing about the ancient history of Hindu India or the Hindu dynasties and kings of Southern India. It was interesting to know that Dr. Vasundhara Kavali Filliozat had also played an important role in bringing Hampi among the world heritage list of historical monuments being recognised by UNESCO.
I was just browsing through a book about Hampi and Vijayanagar Empire published by INTACH and authored by Dr. Vasundhara Filliozat and felt elated to read her observations about the way the history was written about India (apparently patronised by the rulers) which is similar to my own opinion on the subject. Let me quote her and leave it to our readers to reflect on what was taught to us in the past 75 years of Independence:
“It was the British administrators’ idea that to rule permanently over India, our real Indian history should be conceived and written in accordance with the legends, dubious copper plates and later literary sources, so that the scholars would fight amongst themselves on those points, instead of searching for true facts.”
Dr. Vasundhara in her book records: “Vasucaritra of Bhattamurti calls Vijayanagara, Karnata Kingdom. Evidences complied but suffice it to show that the real name of what is well-known as Vijayanagara empire is Karnata-samrajya or Karnataka empire.”
Dr. Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat told me that he came to India for the first time in 1955, eight years after independence and when I asked him how he found the administration, he said, without batting an eyelid, “Well, it was like colonial India.”
Again when I asked him if he is finding any change now, his answer was ‘Yes’. I thought it could be positive and asked him to explain. He then told me how certain values which were special for India are disappearing. Actually I was thinking he would touch upon the political situation. However, he was far removed from politics. He is a man of culture and scholarship. He said, giving an example, the attire of Indian women saree is very unique and also beautiful. However, these days saree seems to be yielding place to other types of dress.
At this point, his wife Dr. Vasundhara joined him and said, “Very true, our sarees are very very unique and beautiful. When I went to France in 1965 people there looking at me dressed in a saree thought that I was a princess.”
As I was about to take leave of them, there entered two visitors — Dr. Gil Ben-Herut, tall handsome, all smiles, accompanied by R.S. Shankar of Ramakrishna Ashram with fruits, flowers and a shawl to honour the recipient of the Padma Shri award. The moment I saw Dr. Gil with Shankar whom I knew personally, I wished them with namaskar followed by shake-hands. Shankar introduced me to Dr. Gil, a Professor at the University of South Florida, USA, a Fulbright Scholar, who has come to India to do research on Vachana Sahitya. No wonder he spoke to me in Kannada. It was my pleasure to join them in felicitating the octogenarians Dr. Filliozat and Dr. Vasundhara.
I saw a couple of oil paintings of unique style done by Dr. Filliozat. Apparently, they were done many years ago as the artist’s signature was almost erased to a pale shadow. Couple of them are produced above.
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