Volume 1 :Assamese, Bengali, English , Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Konkani & Malayalam.
Volume 2: Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu & Urdu.
Volume 3: Annotated Bibliography Additional Pieces: 19 Languages.
Masterpieces of Indian Literature aims at providing a broad-based knowledge of the literary works in nineteen Indian languages. The three volumes are an invaluable source towards the understanding and appreciation of Indian literature in its totality, as they contain authentic information on the literary figures and their works poems, stories, plays, and prose pieces. Outstanding writings from each language have been selected with the help of scholars and litterateurs.
The first two volumes contain 500 articles summarizing, in alphabetical order (Vol. I: Assamese to Malayalam, Vol. II: Manipuri to Urdu), special merits of the great works of each language. About 1,600 additional pieces giving basic bibliographic information and a brief write-up on the thematic content constitute the third volume which is an innovative extension of the masterpieces. These volumes were brought out as special offering Golden Jubilee Celebrations of India’s Independence.
Dr K.M. George (d. 2002) is an eminent author and editor in English and Malayalam. He has authored sixty books in English and Malayalam, and has been associated with the following projects as Chief Editor: Malayalam Encyclopaedia (Kerala Government), Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi), Comparative Indian Literature (Kerala Sahitya Akademi & Macmillan India Ltd), Modern India Literature: An Anthology Sahitya Akademi). His works have received various literary awards including Bharatiya Bhasha Parisliad Award and the Kerala Government’s Ezhuthachan Puraska raw. He is also the recipient of the Soviet Land Nehru Award, Padma Shri, Fellowship of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi, and D.Litt. (Hon. Causa) from the University of Kerala.
The Nehruvian concept of the book was basically derived from his vision of India’s national freedom. Jawaharlal Nehru saw the book as the prime tool for freeing the human mind. But he did not deify it, making it a sacred idol meant to be worshipped casually. In his own way he adored the book. He valued it not for the price-tag of the publisher but for the value infused into it by the author. He always desired to keep the monetary value of the book within the reach of the common man. For he, like Gandhiji, believed that God must appear before the needy in the form desired by them.
After the attainment of Independence, Nehru sought to embalm his stand on the book by giving practical expression to it in a few national institutions which he set up during the early part of his prime ministership. The foremost among them, engaged in propagating Nehru’s legacy of a new, enlightened book-culture in the country, is the National Book Trust. Its acronym, NBT, has gained wider currency among our reading public. The NBT has been in the publishing market to promote general reading material, fiction and non-fiction, in all the Indian languages as far as possible, for all age-groups, in all divisions of society.
The worksheet of the National Book Trust is very large, ranging from the classics and science literature to children’s books and post-literacy reading material. Innovations are tried in each and every category of publications. The present work, Masterpieces of Indian Literature edited by Dr. KM. George would prove the claim of innovation in the NBT publications. It is a classic on two counts firstly, by being a collection of the best specimens from the classic works in the Indian languages and secondly, by being a classic among similar literary reference works. It is not only an anthology, a book of reference and a sourcebook of comparable texts, but also an endeavour to familiarise the peoples of a multilingual land with the rich repertoire of its writings in the various languages.
India could be rightly called the land of languages and literatures, considering their multiplicity in the country. The linguistic problem is one of the besetting it is India is heir to. It is paradoxical that our ancestors had succeeded in solving this issue far more effectively than we, the moderns, who have various devices to help us find a lasting solution to it. The Indian goddess of Wisdom, Saraswathy, does not favour any one language, even Sanskrit, but consecrates and blesses all It languages impartially and with equal affection. She is reputed as Sarva Bhasha 5.raswathy. Though the Greek historian Arrian found India fragmented into numerous kingdoms, India was an integrated cultural entity long before his time.
The two itthasas of India, Ramayana and Mahabharata, written in Sanskrit, found their way into almost all the languages of the land through such literary processes as translation, adaptation, epitomisation, and dramatisation. Kalidasa wrote his dramas not in Sanskrit only, but also in Prakrit dialects like Sauraseni, Maharashtri and Magadhi. Vidyapathi followed him in giving a multilingual bias to his writings. Asoka’s rock-edicts are found all over the country. Amir Khusrau was happy that India fostered many languages without any hitch.
It is amazing to see so much intercourse among languages and literatures in the distant centuries when there were hardly any technological innovations that could work out such a situation of literary and cultural cohesion. The centrifugal forces of discord and mistrust are on the ascendancy in our times, notwithstanding the abundant supply of technical software necessary to unite a land. It looks as if the alchemy of cultural harmony is lost to contemporary India.
When the great Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi sang, ‘She has eighteen languages to speak, but the thinking is one’, it was more a prayer than an assertion. For we Indians speak eighteen languages as if we have eighteen modes of thinking. As Bernard Shaw pointed out, a country can be divided by the same language India happens to be divided by sister-languages which were coexisting in the land for centuries. A country is not a landmass, but a mass of mind. It is up to the writer to activate the mind of the people to realize its essential unity.
Masterpieces of Indian Literature is mainly concerned with the setting up of bridges of understanding among the various literatures in India. After a laborious and time-consuming process of evaluation and selection by the concerted efforts of numerous scholars, Dr. KM. George meticulously churned the ocean of Indian letters to bring out the ambrosia; in other words, the immortal gems from each literature. Without going into detail, I may say that this three-volume treasure-chest unfolds the cream of the great works in the literatures of India.
The National Book Trust is beholden to Dr. K.M. George for the smooth and easy manner in which he compiled and edited the work, overcoming with his soft touch all obstacles and hardships to give us a lasting monument of literary scholarship. With his flair for collecting data, evaluating and compiling them into an integrated work of reference, enriched by his extensive experience in preparing such cyclopaedic works of literary erudition on behalf of well-known literary institutions, I believe that the “masterpiece” of Dr. George in planning and editing could very well be this work. The scholars and students of Indian literature would ever cherish his name with great regard, just as the Trust would always remember him with deep gratitude.
I have immense pride and pleasure in presenting, on behalf of the NBT, this work of remarkable distinction to all those who are concerned with the values underlying the literature and culture of India and with their basic concord.
A great majority of literary-minded Indians, even the better educated among them, are not acquainted with the outstanding literary works in the various languages of India. Most of our readers are familiar with the writings in one or two languages only. It is extremely difficult to learn a new language with a new vocabulary, a new grammar and a new script, and gain sufficient proficiency to enjoy its literature. Then how can we learn a score of Indian languages possessing valuable literatures? Thus what little is available through translation in link languages like English and Hindi is the only resource we generally have. In this context, the role of Indian literature in its totality as the best expression of our composite and integrated culture assumes great importance. And I wish to recall a significant observation made by Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, the founder President of the Sahitya Akademi, in his stimulating Foreword to the Akademi’s publication History of Bengali Literature(1960) written by Sukumar Sen. He says:
It may not be possible for many of us to have a direct acquaintance with the literatures of our various languages. But it is certainly desirable that every person of India who claims to be educated should know something about languages other than his own. He should be acquainted with the classics and famous books written in those languages and thus imbibe into his being the broad and many-sided bases of India’s culture.
I had the exceptional privilege of working under Shri Nehru, the President and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the Vice-President of the Sahitya Akademi from 1955 onwards in its Secretariat along with Shri Krishna Kripalani and Dr. Prabhakar Machwe. This was a wonderful opportunity in my life to serve the cause of Indian literature so dear to me. I was able to read Nehruji’s Foreword before its publication and the passage quoted above moved me considerably. I asked myself whether I was really educated according to the criterion suggested therein. The answer was not a happy one. This was an added incentive for me to read and appreciate the literary treasures of the various languages available through translation in the languages known to me. And that was not much in those days. However, during the last 35 years, owing mainly to the efforts of the Sahitya Akademi, National Book Trust, a few regional Akademis and some far-sighted publishers, the situation has improved. Still a lot more needs to be done.
Not only did I familiarise myself with the famous literary works as also the historical surveys of various literatures, but also did give serious thought to the ways and means of helping readers like me with new works offering facilities for better acquaintance with the cream of Indian literature. Here, I might mention a few attempts in which I was involved. As the first Chief Editor of the Sahitya Akademi s important reference work, An Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature, it was given to me to prepare a comprehensive project note and compile the basic topic list. But, I had to give up the editorship when the Akademi decided to shift the office from Trivandrum to Delhi. Comparative Indian Literature (2 vols. 1984/1985) sponsored by the Kerala Sahitya Akademi and published jointly by the Akademi and Macmillan India was the next project planned and edited by me. It is essentially a history of Indian literature framed with the generic approach specially designed to facilitate comparative studies of the various constituents of Indian literature. After this comes another sumptuous work titled Modem Indian Literature—An Anthology in three volumes. This is the third part of a comprehensive and composite anthology of Indian literature covering the periods— ancient, medieval and modem. The modem period is significant for its variety, richness and grandeur. The late Professor V.K. Gokak, the then President of the Akademi, was keen that I should take up the chief editorship of the project and I was happy to agree as the project office could be set up in Trivandrum.
Thus we come to the present project of national importance, namely, Masterpieces of Indian Literature, a scheme sponsored by the National Book Trust, India in 1993, based on a detailed note prepared by me. Now, all the projects referred to above cover the same field “Indian Literature”, but each is independent and has a definite and distinct function to fulfil, though in their totality the schemes are complementary. They provide ample facilities for keen students of literature to get a fair acquaintance of the literatures of various regions of India.
Masterpieces of Indian Literature is planned to be a valuable source-book in English highlighting the basic content of about 500 great works, ancient and modern, which have been acclaimed as masterpieces of the major literatures of India. Hundreds of worthwhile literary books are there in each major language and readers of other languages can have recourse only to a selection of such books which have been accepted as classics or outstanding works of the contemporary period. This means firstly, a strict and judicious selection of really great books and secondly, highlighting them by giving authentic information in a link language like English.
The translation of such works into the various regional languages is also important. It may, however, be noted that a regional classic need not always find the same acceptance in a different language as in the original. Experts in the target language are as important as experts in the source language when a decision regarding translation of a book is taken.
This obviously means that a write-up in English summarising the content and highlighting the distinct features and the special merits of such works is a very important step. Such a step embracing all the major literatures of India has not so far been attempted. The massive source-book, Masterpieces of World Literature in digest form has been doing this on a global scale; but unfortunately very few of Indian classics find a place in this. Several editions of this book as also the alternatively titled Master plots have been published since 1949 when the first edition saw the light of day. In a more recent edition of Master plots (1976), out of a total of 2,010 titles from world literatures there are only five from India, four from Sanskrit and one from Indian writing in English. As in many other works in English with a grandiose claim to represent the WORLD, there is a clear Western dominance in this work too. One of the reasons for the promoters ignoring great works written in the rich languages of India might be the absence of authentic information in English regarding them. Perhaps the more important reason is their value system. The following sentence from the editor’s preface (Master plots, 1976 edition) gives a clue to their approach. ‘We have also awn, to a small degree, on the vast reservoir of Oriental literature, an area of ‘world culture long neglected by Western readers. Here they seem to blame the .s± of interest of Western readers as an excuse for not giving adequate representation to oriental literature. The editor also expresses his hope thus: ‘How ever. we are now in an age of world-wide cultural intercourse, a force that ff2ppily transcends temporary political considerations, and as the wisdom, the humanity, the delights of oriental literature come to the attention of the mass of Western audience, interest in this field is sure to widen.
We also share his hope and expect that oriental literature will find more coverage in future editions of Master plots.
Masterpieces of Indian Literature, in any case, will serve Indian readers who re in dire need of such a source-book to understand and appreciate Indian literature in its totality with its great variety and charm.
While determining the pattern of articles for Masterpieces of Indian Literature. the great book Masterpieces of World Literature provided good guidance; u we had to have our own innovations. In order to give the maximum information the quickest time, we have also given a Reference Data before the digest. Therefore in a quick glance one could get a grasp of the type of work, author tp. time of plot, locale, etc. Following this will be found a list of main characters and their mutual relationships. After that the text starts with a brief introduction of the author which is not provided in the Master plots. Then comes the summary of the work which is the most important part of the article. And the article ends with a brief appraisal of the literary quality of the work in question. This is the general pattern for the majority of the 501 articles included in Volumes & 2. There are also some articles among them which follow a different pattern end as ‘essay-review’ type. Without singling out a particular work as the author’s masterpiece, these articles deal in general with the literary achievements of the selected author.
National Book Trust, India, has approved 19 languages for its operation, 18 languages recognised under the Indian Constitution as major languages and English which is used by many Indians as their writing medium. These languages are taken up in the alphabetical order and the articles relating to the first nine (Assamese to Malayalam) are Included in Volume and the next ten languages (Manipuri to Urdu) in Volume 2. Under each language the articles appear in the alphabetical order of the titles. In Volume 3 we have included nearly 1600 items of annotated bibliography covering three major areas: Poems, Stories, and Plays & Prose. The inclusion of short, informative accounts of ‘Additional Pieces’ from all the approved languages is an important innovation. These selections, dealing, by and large, with shorter Items, would provide a wider net of creative writings which in turn would enhance inter-literary exchanges on a national scale.
Thus we have in three volumes provided basic information about 2100 outstanding literary works representing 19 languages. This significant assortment of literary pieces reflects our regional cultures and tastes as also our national composite culture and the Indian heritage. The works included are representative of the places and times from which they emerged and they have been held in high esteem by masses of readers over a period of time; this establishes their value. Some of them might appear exotic, even quaint, to certain readers who are unfamiliar with the special culture of the region. However, taken as a whole, they represent a large canvas of culture, India being one of the oldest civilisations of the world. They also offer glimpses of interrelatedness in the glaring diversities that our literatures display.
One of the most difficult and risky tasks in this endeavour was the selection of masterpieces. This was done by a three-man Selection Committee for each language. One member of the committee functioned as the editor for the language and he was actually the link between the Chief Editor and the contributors. The committee in turn had consulted about 20 distinguished men of letters of the language concerned and they have also helped the Chief Editor in selecting the right persons to contribute articles.
The language editors have been holding a key position in the organisational set up of the project. At a meeting of the editors held in Delhi early in 1993 to discuss and formulate the scope and pattern of the entries, a suggestion was made that it would be desirable if the members of the Selection Committee desisted from recommending their own works for inclusion. Though not a mandate, many committees adhered to this suggestion. However, in certain languages this could not be observed fully, especially in the less developed ones, as such a step would have affected the general standard of selections.
The language editors, generally speaking, are happy about the cooperation they received from established writers in their languages; but a few of them have voiced their disappointment at not getting the cooperation of certain reputed scholars leading to last-minute replacements
With the publication of Masterpieces of Indian Literature, the National Book Trust has provided another important sourcebook which would help Indians to get themselves better acquainted with ‘the classics and famous books’ of all the Indian languages. This single work perhaps serves better he need voiced implicitly by Jawaharlal Nehru and helps us realise his dream of being really educated Indian citizens. lam indebted to the National Book Trust for accepting my proposal to sponsor this important literary project. When I submitted the note to the Trust, Prof. U.R. Anantha Murthy was its Chairman. His response was quick and positive. Later, Prof. Sukumar Azhicode took over the chairmanship of NBT. I enjoyed the confidence of both these esteemed litterateurs of national stature who were extremely helpful in the administrative and academic aspects of the work. I feel grateful to both of them. Dr. Azhicode, who was Chairman during the major part of our tenure found it possible to associate himself with the project further by contributing a few articles. To crown it all, he has also written an insightful Foreword which places the work in the proper perspective. Shri Arvind Kumar, the energetic Director of National Book Trust, fully appreciated the significance of the project and offered his valuable assistance. Shri M. Subba Rao, Editor, NBT, functioned as an effective link between the Project Office and National Book Trust. I thank them both sincerely.
If this project is a success, the illustrious Language Editors, the Selection Committee Members and the esteemed Contributors of articles are responsible in a large measure. Despite their being busy with their own chosen avocations, they have offered their time and expertise and helped me complete the work on time. Let me express my grateful thanks to them.
My sincere thanks are also due to Prof. G. N. Panikkar, an eminent writer in Malayalam, who served the project efficiently as the Executive Editor as also to the administrative staff of the Project Office.
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