Book Review by – Prof. L. S. Seshagiri Rao
A Unique Poem that belongs to All Mankind – Siribhoovalaya
In his introduction to “Siribhuvalaya”, which the Governor of Karnataka Sri T.N.Chaturvedi released on 9th March’ 2003, Dr. S.S.Marulayya says, “We need not hesitate to place the ‘Siribhuvalaya’ among the Wonders of the World. This is a religious poem based on numerals, a poem at once rare, matchless and exceptional. It is a Jaina Poem. It employs Kannada numerals, but encompassing 718 languages of the world, it is a miraculous and especial work of art and a challenge to the study of languages itself. Hence it is that Kumudendu Kavi has called it ‘a Karnataka poem that comprises all languages’ and ‘a poem for all mankind’.”
This work does not employ any alphabet. It is set in a frame of squares and is in a numerical script. The metre is mainly the ‘Saangathya’ of Kannada poetry. Numbers from 1 to 64 represent the letters of the alphabet in each composition. These numerals are placed in 729 squares formed by a super square of 27 squares horizontally and 27 squares vertically. These numerals have been arranged in a variety of patterns. The poet himself has named some of these – Chakrabandha, Hamsabandha, Varapadmabandha, Sagarabandha, Sarasabandha, Kruanchabandha, Mayurabandha, Ramapadabandha, Nakhabandha etc. Essentially, his is a religious outlook.
Dr. T.V.Venkatachala Sastry, who has edited the present version, sums up the contents of the work in these words: “Editors and scholars have said that in this exceptional work, matters relating to the basic sciences, matters relating to philosophy and lore relating to medicine, atomic science, astronomy, mathematics, history and culture, as well as extracts from the Vedas and the Bhagavadgita, have been embedded.” The numerals in the 729 squares have been arranged in different patterns. As the patterns are identified and decoded, the work surrenders its treasures. Lie hidden in the work 718 languages and 18 scripts. Apart from Kannada, several languages like Prakrita, Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil and Marathi have been woven into this text. It has been claimed that several ancient works like the Ramayana, the Mahabharatha and the Rigveda are also embedded. One of those intimately connected with this work, Karlamangalam Srikantaiah, has claimed that the then available knowledge in several disciplines like alchemy, the science of matrimony, atomic science and space science is stored here and that medical science in particular has abundant material. He claims that the work contains instructions for travel in water and space travel. It is also said that the work contains information about the production of modern weapons.
Dr. S.Srikanta Sastry is a revered name in the study of Indian history and culture. He has elaborated the importance of this work in these words: “This work is of great importance in the study of Kannada language and Literature and the literatures of Sanskrit, Prakritha, Tamil and Telugu. It throws light on the history of India and the history of Karnataka. This is an important source for the study of Indian Mathematics. It is helpful in the study of the development of Physics, Chemistry and the Life Sciences in India. It helps in the study of sculpture and iconography. If the versions of the Ramayana, the Mahabharatha, the Bhagavadgita, the Rig Veda and other ancient texts can be decoded, a comparison of those versions with the present day versions would be rewarding. Some Jain works which have been lost may be recovered from this work.”
But before all this materializes, two tasks have to be completed. First of all, more information and more authentic information has to be unearthed about this Kumudendu Muni (or Yathi). Who was he? To what age and what place did he belong? These questions must find acceptable answers. His date is particularly important. In his lengthy preface to the first edition, Karlamangalam Srikantaiah says the work might have been composed in around 800 A.D. Dr. Venkatachala Sastry, in his lengthy introduction to the latest edition, is of the view that the author belonged to a village called Yalavalli near Nandidurga in Chikkaballapura Taluk in Kolar District. He places the work in the 1550-1600 period and suggests it might be even more recent. (Prof. S.K.Ramachandra Rao says that the component ‘Bhu’ means ‘all existing creatures’ and ‘valaya’ means ‘circle’, and that the title suggests that the work concerns all living creatures of the earth.)
The second task is that of exploring the treasures of this mine. What has been done so far is very limited. What is yet to be done is considerable. This work has never received the attention it merited. The history of the work is as thought-provoking as it is interesting.
Sri Srikantaiah says that the original manuscript of the work is not available. A lady Mallikabbe by name had a few copies made and gave them away as a religious act. One copy survived . The copy was in possession of a renowned Jain scholar, Dharanendra Pandit, of the village Doddabele. On his death his sons inherited it. They were in a state of crippling poverty and began to sell away the precious manuscripts they had. A gentleman Yellappa Sastry by name was deeply interested in this work. He married the daughter of Dharanendra Pandit’s brother, in order to secure the manuscript. The owners of the script were not in a position to give away the work free. Yellappa Sastry gave a pair of his wife’s gold bangles in exchange for the manuscript. This is how this one copy survived. Srikantaiah became acquainted with Yellappa Sastry in 1935, and his interest was aroused. His devoted efforts made possible the publication of the first part of the work in 1953, and the publication of the second part in 1955. With him toiled Sri Ananthasubba Rao. (The first president of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, became interested in this work.) The work was in the possession of Sri M.Y.Dharmapal, the son of Sri Yellappa Sastry. Sri Y.K.Mohan was his colleague in the Hindustan Aeronautics of Bangalore; he is also the proprietor of the publishing house, ‘Pustaka Shakthi’. The work fascinated him. Sri Mohan, his daughter-in-law Vandana Ram Mohan and their associates toiled for two years and have now brought out this edition. An editorial board was constituted and Dr. Venkatachala Sastry was entrusted with the work of editing. His scholarship, dedication and toil leap to the eye here. All these who have taken such care of this precious work deserve our gratitude.
The picture on the cover of the new edition offers an artist’s conception of Kumudendu Muni at work. It shows him sitting under a tree, lost in his composition. The circle in which he is enclosed contains Kannada and Arabic numerals from 1 to 64, with corresponding letters from Kannada, Hindi and English. This edition includes the preface to the first edition by Karlamangalam Srikantaiah, the introduction to the present edition by Dr. Venkatachala Sastry, a foreword by Dr. K.R.Ganesh, chapters 1 to 8 of the work, tributes to the work, the views of scholars, photographs, and a guide to the study of the work.
Had this work been found in America or any Western country, a Foundation would have been formed exclusively for the study of this work. Seminars would have been held and research publications would have been brought out. What is now called for is a devoted but objective study of this work by scholars belonging to different disciplines. Sri Y.K.Mohan has done the spade work with exemplary devotion. Universities, academics and affluent persons interested in the heritage of the land have now to build on this foundation.