Prahlad Pradhan was primarily a Buddhist scholar of international repute. With a sound Sanskrit background he had mastered various other languages like English, Hindi, Bengali, Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese which enabled him to retranslate and restore into Sanskrit and edit two basic Buddhist treatises, namely, Abhidharmasamuccaya and Abhidharmakosabhasya from Tibetan and Chinese sources, which were lost in India. Besides other Sanskrit texts he has worked on Pali Dhammapada. He has also contributed substantially to the study of Odishan as well as Indian culture and literature by writing in Odia and Hindi.
Shyam Sundar Mohapatra is a retired Professor of Odia and Principal, Vidya-Bhavana of the Visva-Bharati central university. He has mainly worked on Odia and Santali folklore. Besides, he writes humorous and satirical poems. He has translated a number of books from Bengali, English, Polish and Santali into Odia.
Writing a monograph on Professor Prahlad Pradhan was a matter of particular pleasure to me. I admired him as one of the great scholars of the country. I also regarded him as an ideal man from our very first meeting at Santiniketan.
Pradhan was the founder member and Head of the Department of Odia at Visva-Bharati where I had the occasion to serve for over three decades. I came to know about him only after I joined that department. He had left Visva-Bharati about twenty years back and I had some information about him and his activities from my senior colleagues. But I had no occasion even to see him once. That opportunity came after a few years when Professor Pradhan came to Santiniketan to attend a meeting.
The memory of my first meeting with Professor Pradhan is ever lasting. In fact as a young lecturer I was feeling diffident to meet such a doyen of scholars. I though that the scholar of his repute must be a man of reserve. Again, who knew, the meeting might convert into a serious interview where I might find myself at sea. But to my great relief all my conjectures went in vain. Pradhan welcomed me with a smiling face and asked me to sit by his side. He asked me about my native place, my work, activities of the Odia department, the old inmates of Santiniketan and so on. Within no time I found that I was quite in a homely atmosphere with a person full of sympathy and humanitarian outlook. I mustered courage to enquire of him about his early life, education, etc., which he unfolded in a nutshell. As he neither wrote about himself nor liked publicity, I proposed to him to tape-record his Santiniketan experiences which he accepted. After about an hour or so, when I left the room, I felt as if I had actually seen in him, the tangled boughs of ocean and heaven representing profundity of his knowledge and his broad-mindedness.
I developed a special fascination for Pradhan as I noticed a great similarity between his early life and that of mine. The backward area, mountainous region full of rivers and forests, lack of communication and modem facilities, lack of modern education and prevalence of traditional school or caisali, the peasant society indifferent to moder education, encouragement of teachers and patronage of well-wishers, journey to distant places for higher education and so on. I felt deeply the strength of determination and intensity of struggle that might have been required for a school boy of such an area to receive higher education.
That Pradhan was a self-made man and daring by character from his early years appealed to me most and obviously that he worked in the same university and the department where I worked, from where he soared up to a great height, was inspiring to me. Therefore I had no way but to accept the offer of the Sahitya Akademi to write a monograph on him though I was assure of the derth of published materials on his life and works.
During the golden jubilee year of the Department of Odia, Visva-Bharati, I was searching for its history, particularly of the early period. I was happy to find the name of Prahlad Pradhan frequently appearing in the Visva-Bharati news. He had then only started his work on Sanskrit manuscripts of ancient India. I found some of his papers on the subject in the Visva-Bharati Patrika (Hindi) at the Rabindra Bhavan library while collecting materials for the monograph. I wrote to Debendra, his younger brother, who supplied me with two of his publications containing some articles on Prahlad Pradhan. The other publication which was most useful to me was the souvenir published by the Department of Culture, Government of Odisha edited by Dukhishyam Pattanaik. Bhagirathi Nepak has published a book entitled Professor Prahlad Pradhan in Odia, basing on that souvenir with some valuable additions. Dr. Sankarlal Purohit a research scholar of late Professor Pradhan has rendered yeoman service by writing a monograph on him for Odisha Sahitya Akademi. These publications were of immense help to me.
It was also difficult to collect the published works of Professor Pradhan. Fortunately the last copy of the Abhidharmasamuccaya was available at the Research Publication Section of Visva-Bharati to purchase. The Abhidharmakosabhasya and the Sahityayana were available at the Central Library of Visva-Bharati. Some issues of the magazine Caturanga containing Pradhan's articles were also available there. But the second edition of the Kosabhasya was not found either at the Central Library or its sectional libraries. It was, however, available with Professor Suniti Pathak, an eminent scholar of Tibetology, who also apprised me of Pradhan's contribution to Buddhist study. The introduction to this second edition by Dr. (Mrs.) Aruna Haldar was very useful to me.
I had the information that the family members of late Pradhan had donated some of his valuable collections (several volumes of the Tripitaka) to the Dhauli Buddhist monastery of Bhubaneswar and the rest to the library of the Jagannath Sanskrit University of Puri. So I went to Puri to see his collection. I was happy to find that his books in Odia, Sanskrit, Hindi, etc., were preserved in almiras though due to want of enough space the books were arranged in two to three rows in each shelf. The books have been catalogued. But the condition of a huge collection of Chinese books was precarious. A number of books were found packed tightly in sixteen wooden containers as they were shipped from China. What was more shocking was that a similar number of books were dumped on the floor uncared for. On my query the library staff informed me that there was no Chinese knowing person in the library to handle them. Consequently there is every risk that such a valuable collection of Chinese books will waste away if not preserved properly.
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