Once upon a time, at the Maharaja’s study circle

Most of India’s rajas and maharajas have a well-earned notoriety of loving and living lives of debauchery, hedonism and leisure, often in scant regard to the interests of their subjects. But some like the Maharaja of Mysore were also known for the higher pursuits of life.

The last king of Mysore, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar (1919-1974), was, for example, a renowned scholar in philosophy, a versatile music composer and a writer and humanist. And like many others in the Wodeyar clan before him, a great patron of the arts and culture.

In 1954, A.V. Narasimha Murthy, then a post-graduate student in Indology at the Maharaja’s College, had the opportunity of witnessing a sitting of the king’s “study circle”, a thinktank in which the Maharaja soaked in and imbibed from the accumulated wisdom of the intellectuals of the land.

The study circle comprised Prof K.A. Nilakanta Shstri, Prof. S. Ramachandra Rao and Patankar Chandrashekar Bhat.

Narasimha Murthy, now a retired head of the department of ancient history at the University of Mysore, recently recounted the unique experience in a piece he wrote for the 33rd anniversary issue of Star of Mysore, reprinted here courtesy of the newspaper.

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By A.V. NARASIMHA MURTHY

The Maharaja was not only a great scholar but also liked the company of scholars and to listen to their words of wisdom and knowledge. He used to arranged study circles regularly in a serene place in the City.

The palace officials used to carry chairs, tables, fruit baskets to the selected place. The scholars used to be taken in the palace cars in advance and the maharaja used to arrive at the appointed time. Then followed the discussion on a particular topic for about an hour. This was the procedure of the study circle.

I had a desire to see this at least from a distance but I was just a student and that was impossible.

I had no courage to ask my teacher, Prof Nilakanta Shastri this. Prof Ramachandra Rao was very friendly and hence I asked him if he could help me. He did not have the courage to permit me.

Then I approached Patankar Chandrashekar Bhat who was close to our family. First he said, ‘Savari (Maharaja) will not accept it.’ But I insisted.

He thought of a plan and said, “You should act like my attendant, carry my books and be there at the correct time before I reach the place. You should stand at a distance without speaking a single word and behave like an attendant.”

I was asked to wear a black long coat but walk without chappals. I agreed. Chandrashekar Bhat intimated me the day when the study circle was to meet on the lawns of Lalitha Mahal Palace.

I hired a cycle, carried the books given by him, went to the place and stood in silence like an attendant, but with all attention.

A palace car brought the three scholars and an official of the palace welcomed them and showed them to their seats, which they occupied.

After five minutes arrived the Maharaja in a Rolls Royce. Everybody stood up and bowed to the Maharaja and the entire scenario became formal. Though I was standing at a distance, I had lent my ears to their conversation.

The Maharaja asked them to start.

Ramachandra Rao submitted: “We would like to discuss Yajnavalkya Smriti if His Highness would be pleased with this topic.” The Maharaja nodded his head in approval.

Prof Nilakanta Shastri began the discussion by explaining the date and time of Yajnavalkya in a historical perspective. Ramachandra Rao analysed the contents of the Yajnavalkya Smriti and Patankar gave the details of the religious and legal aspects of the work in Kannada.

The Maharaja was generously silent but was asking questions in between. After an hour, the session concluded. His Highness got up, folded his hands and took leave smiling. The three scholars bowed to the Maharaja and stood till the latter go into his car. They got into the Palace car and left the venue.

The attendants of the Palace packed the chairs, tables, etc and left. I collected the books I had carried and returned to my house on my cycle. The next day I went to Patankar’s house, returned the books and him profusely for the opportunity provided to me.

He praised me for my behaviour the previous evening and jocularly said, ‘You looked a perfect attendant.’ But he felt sorry that I had to adorn the role of an attendant as there was no other way.

Though a student, I was greatly impressed by this study circle and it has remained green in my memory.

Photograph: Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur, the first governor of the unifited State of Mysore, inaugurating the new theatre of Mylapore Fine Arts Club in 1959 (courtesy The Hindu).

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