World literary fraternity lost another foremost indological thinker of India, Govind Chandra Pande, endowed with multifaceted prowess, on 21 May 2011. His stellar contribution to almost all the branches of indology, history, culture, art, philosophy, poetics and aesthetic is distinguished enough to mark him an illustrious scholar-writer. Pande was, perhaps, one of the worthy recipients of many national and international awards and honours for his literary achievements. But honouring him with the ‘Samswati Samman’ on 6 September 2004 for his collection of 250 Sanskrit poems, Bhagirathi was historic.
For the first time a Sanskrit literary work was honoured with one of India’s highest literary awards. “According to Sanskrit scholars such beautiful and powerful poetic compositions have been created after a long time,” said the K. K. Birla Foundation citation. Receiving the Sammman he said, “People ask me, is Sanskrit dead? Language is not human that can live or die. It is a form of expression that comes straight from the heart. The ancient Sanskrit grammar has never changed its form, and poetry in many other languages is indebted to this language”.
He was honoured with the ‘Moortidevi Award’ (2003) for literature in recognition of his highly acclaimed treatise on literature, aesthetics and culture titled 'Sahitya Saundarya Aur Sanskriti'. Sahitya Akademi also conferred ‘Fellowship’ on him in 2002 for his contribution to the areas of ancient history, philosophy and for his creative work as a poet. Accepting the Fellowship, he said, “I am thankful to the Akademi for the honour bestowed upon me. I am aware of my inadequacies and can only repeat old line Paraguanaparamanum parvatikritya santah etc”.
Over the years, Pande has written more than 60 books and 100 research articles and papers in various disciplines in English, Hindi and Sanskrit. His creative writing in Hindi and Sanskrit include seven collections of poems. In Hindi, he has tried to reach towards a classicist definition of form consonant with modern notions of rhythm. Philosophical questioning, appreciation of nature, and a wistful longing for the past are mark of his poems. In his Sanskrit poetry, Pande sought to combine the classical form with modern content. Agnibeeja, Hansika and Java have been especially well received by discerning critics. Poetry remains for him an exploration of the eternal mysteries of consciousness, time, and death.
His philosophical writings are: Mulya Mimamsa that fetched him a Union Government prize as an original Hindi work on philosophy. Shankaracharya: Vichar aur Sandesh (Life and Thoughts of Shankaracharya) critically investigates the historical as well as the philosophical problems connected with Shankaracharya’s thoughts. Meaning and Process of Culture discusses philosophy of history in the light of the Indian tradition. His three Vimrshas in Sanskrit: Bhaktidarsanvimarash (1991), Saundaryadarshanvimarsah (1995), and Ekam Sadvipra Bahudha Vadanti discuss the philosophy of bhakti, beauty and unity of religion. And his Aposiddhi and Nyuayabindu are translations of classic texts of Buddhist logic with a new gloss in Hindi.
Spread over both Shastra Rachana as well as Kavya Rachna and extend over three languages English, Hindi and Sanskrit, Studies in the Origin of Buddhism, his first publication in English, was described by The Journal of German Oriental Society in 1961 as the best work on the subject in the previous 20 years. His research in Pali and Buddhist literature establishes the view that original Buddhism must not be confused with Abhidhamma, nor there is any room for polemics between them, especially because of the nearness of the Vedanta to Mahayana.
Pande tried to render Vedic poetry into Hindi, seeking to capture its transcendental vision of life expressed through metaphors construed from nature and a theory of multiple correspondences. He has also done an annotated poetic translation of the Gathas to enlighten Prakrit lyrical poetry’s involvement with the life and emotions of the village folk, particularly women. His most acclaimed volume, a translation and explanation of the Rigveda, entitled Rigveda 2008), published by Lokbharti Booksellers and Distributors, Allahabad, in Hindi, is the first of four part series, and covers the third, fourth and fifth mandalas of the sacred text, dedicated to Agni.
Pande has written many books on the history of ideas and civilization one of which is Bauddha Dharma ke Vikaska Itihas which has been described as the best documented work of its kind in any language by Nakamura in his well known bibliography. Foundation of Indian Culture, a classic in two volumes, presents a view of culture as the unity of vision, symbolic forms and social reality. Bharatiya Parampara ke Mool Swara won the first ‘Sankara Award’ of the K.K. Birla Foundation, one of the four high level literary awards instituted by the Foundation. This was followed later Bharatiya Samaj; Ek Tattvik Vivechan (Philosophical and Historical analysis of the Indian Society) and the The History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture, Vol. I (Pt 1 & ll), marks a new monumental beginning in Indian Historiography. Lastly, his Vedic Sanskriti ably synthesizes Western and Indian scholarships.
Whether in English, Hindi or in Sanskrit, Pande’s works are engaged with the perception of the continuity and contemporary relevance of Indian tradition. In course of time he discovered that nowhere has the beauty of nature been expressed so exquisitely as in India, especially in Sanskrit literature: and no other tradition has explored the mystery of death so profoundly as the Indian tradition. For more than half a century Pande has tried to discover the original forms of India’s many traditions that have over time been distorted by western stereotypes and misconstructions.
As an able biographer, Pande has made contributions to the Makers of Indian Literature Series of the Sahitya Akademi. He has written a book on the life and works of Mahamohapadhyay Gopinath Kaviraj, which is much in demand. His works in English, Hindi or in Sanskrit reflect his perception of the continuity and contemporary relevance of Indian traditions. An eminent authority and scholar, Pande has delivered several lectures at national and international seminars. He delivered ‘Samvastar Lecture’, the annual lecture of the Sahitya Akademi, annually given by a distinguished writer and creative thinker. He spoke on ‘Literature and Consciousness’.Pande began the lecture defining the nature of truth. He discussed literature is a branch of culture and culture as a mode of self consciousness. What one may remember is that consciousness.
Historian by profession, the celebrated scholar was born on 30 July 1923 in Allahabad. He did his Intermediate in 1940, securing first division and the third position in U.P. He won distinction and first position in Sanskrit. He graduated and postgraduate from the University of Allahabad, obtaining first class first in both the examinations, Pande took the D. Phil. degree from the same university in 1947. Well versed in Sanskrit, Prakrit, he studied Sanskrit under well-known traditional and modern scholars like Pt. Raghuveera Dutt Shastri, Pt Ram Shankar Dvivedi and Pt. K Chatopadhyaya. After acquiring a working knowledge of foreign languages French, German, Budh Chinese, Pande studied Buddhist Chinese under W. Pachow. He had working knowledge of Greek, Latin and Persian.
This apart, he has from time to time held several distinguished positions: Member, Committee for the Review of the Work of the UGC (1975 77); Member, National Commission of Cooperation with Unesco (1982 84); Member, Board of Governors, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath (till 1996); Member, Board of Governors, S.S.S. Institute of Higher Learning, Prasantinilayam (1981 84); Member, Executive Council, BHU (1982 85); ICHR (1987 93); ICPR (1988 91); Member, Societe Asiatique De Paris, Indian Historical Records Commission, Indian Advisory Board of Archaeology, Editorial Board of the U .P. Gaztters, the Council of Shastri, Indo-Canadian Institute, the Council of the American Institute of Indian Studies.
He started his professional career as a lecturer in Allahabad University in 1947. He also was Reader in the Department of Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology till 1957 and was promoted as Dean, Faculty of Arts. Pande rejoined the Allahabad University in 1978 as Vice¬-Chancellor after a gap of 20 years and held the office till his retirement in 1984. During 1984-88 he was Visiting Gaekwad Professor at BHU. He was the first National Fellow of ICHR from 1985-86 and was the President cum Chairman, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Presently he is the Chairman of the Allahabad Museum Society and the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, and Editorial Fellow, Project in Indian History of Science, and Philosophy and Culture.
Quite well known in USSR, England, Mexico, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, New Zealand, China, Sri Lanka as a versatile scholar, philosopher, thinker, and poet, Pande has delivered a number of prestigious endowment lectures. In recognition of his position as an outstanding scholar in the areas of ancient history, philosophy and of his creative work as a poet, various honorary degrees and awards have been bestowed on him e.g. D. Litt (Honoris Causa, BHU, 2001); Vidya Varidhi, (Naves Nalanda Mahavihara, 1981) equivalent to D. Litt; Sahitya Vachaspati (Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, Allahabad); Maha Mahopadhyaya (Lal Bahadur Shastri Rastriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, New Delhi 1999); Vakpati, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, 1998; Sansthana Samman (Hindi Sansthan, Lucknow); Manisha Sammana,(Bharatiya Bhasa Parishad, Kolkata); Mangala Prasad Award, Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, Allahabad; the Darsana Vijnana Award; and the Naresh Mehta Award, and Padma Shri (2010).
History, Philosophy, Culture: Revisiting Professor G C Pande’s Thought and Works (2010), published by Aryan Books International, edited by Sibesh Chandra Bhattacharya, is a collection of essays which serves as a suitable introduction to Pande’s in depth interest and expertise. The volume provides useful insights into his mind and thoughts as well, reflects his variety of scholarship covering widely diverse fields. History…, a fair glimpse of the wide reach of his value of work, is a great tribute to a multi faceted scholar. His death is, no doubt, a great void.
Dr. Ashok K Choudhury, a post doctoral scholar & lit critic, is with Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.