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Krishna Kanta Handiqui: A Brief Profile

An illustrious son of Assam, Professor Krishna Handiqui is one of the greatest Sanskritists and Indologists of the World, and above all, an educationist with uncommon ability and vision. During his life time he became a legendary figure, and even today the very name K.K. Handiqui Stands for all the good and great qualities of a Saintly person. A man given completely to profound study and never bothering about popularity, power and fame Handique was a strict disciplinarian in the domain of educational administration. He always thought of getting quality rather than quantity.

From 1930 to 1948 Handiqui served as the founder Principal of the Jorhat Jagannath Baruah College, which was the first Non-government Degree College of the entire North-East region of India. From 1948 to 1957, Prof. Handiqui served as the founder Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gauhati, the oldest University of the entire North-East region of India. Addressing the young graduates in the first Convocation of the Gauhati University held in 1951 he said : " I need not remind them of then nascent responsibilities and the great tradition they have to carry forward as worthy citizens of India. They must remember that it is not degrees but character and the purity of the heart that will entitle them to the dignity of man. In a world full of temptations they have to keep their balance and resist the forces of evil." Inaugurating the convocation Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan rightly remarked, " Your Vice-Chancellor is not only a Vice-Chancellor but also a great scholar" Handiqui adopted the same recruitment policy as Sir Ashutosh Mookherjee did in the Calcutta University, viz., to recruit the best qualified persons as teachers from any part of India, irrespective of cast, creed or community. This put the University not only on a sound footing but also enhanced its prestige. Under his strong leadership, this institute grew from strength to strength. In 1952 Handiqui was elected the President of the Inter-University Board of India.He presided over the Vice-Chancellors’ Conference at Madras University and the Annual Conference of the Board at Waltair, Andhra in the same year.

Prof. Handiqui inherited in his veins the blue blood of an aristrocratic Ahom Family of traditional administrators connected with the Ahom monarchs of medieval Assam who ruled over the kingdom of Assam for six hundred years at a stretch till 1826 when the kingdom got annexed to the territory under the sway of the East India Company. His family name Handiqui appears to be an Anlicised form of Assamese word Sandikai pronounced in Assamese as handikai or xandikai. The word is however derived from the Ahom (Tai) language meaning a bridge (hun) to lay (dikai).

Born at Jorhat in Upper Assam on July 20, 1898, he was the eldest son of the illustrious Raibahadur Radha Kanta Handiqui, a reputed tea planter and philanthropist of Assam. His mother Narayani Aideo was a sister of another illustrious son of Assam, viz., Padmanath Gohain Baruah, a pioneering writer of modern Assamese literature. Handiqui had his early education at Jorhat Govt. High School and then at Cotton College, Guwahati. He got a First Class in B.A. Honours in Sanskrit Securing Prasanna Kummar Sarbadhikari Gold medal as a student of Calcutta Sanskrit College in 1917 at the age of nineteen. During his college days, he contributed illuminating articles to Assamese magazine Banhi edited by Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezbaruah. His English articles were published in research journals like The Modern Review and The Indian Antiquary, Bombay. All of his articles bear stamp of wide study and clear exposition. He was one of the pioneers who started Asom Chatra Sanmilan and one of the Chief aim of the organisation was to encourage the student community to study and write for the advancement of Assamese literature. In 1919, Handiqui got a First Class in M.A. Sanskrit of Calcutta University with special papers on Vedic literature. In the M.A. Class he had the privilege of studying as the only student of the Vedic group in that batch under as great a scholar as Mahamahopadhyaya Sitaram Shastri who used to teach Vedic literature in traditional way through the medium of Sanskrit. With this thoroughly classical and traditional background Handiqui proceeded to England in 1920 and did his M.A. in Oxford University with honours in Modern History in 1923. Justice S.K. Dutta, an eminent educationist and a close associate of Handiqui is quite right in saying, "Handiqui was on the one hand a Sanskrit Pandit, on the other hand an Oxford don. There was a beautiful blend of Oriental and occidental culture in him."

During his seven years sojourn in Europe Handiqui spent four years in France and Germany. He studied and learnt many a language like Latin, Greek, French, German, Russain, Italian and Spanish. Instead of going for higher degrees, he considered it worthwhile to learn as much of European literature and as many of European languages as he could, and as a result of this love for learing languages, Handiqui had the distinction of knowing as many as thirteen languages including his mother tongue. When in Europe, Handiqui’s heart was in Assam, and he occasionnaly contributed valuable articles in Assamese to journals like Banhi and Cetana. His pioneer works in Assamese on Western literature and criticism acquainted the readers with various aspects of Spanish, Greek, Russain and German literatures. It is to be noted that his assessment on foreign literatures is based on his knowledge of the original work. [ In 1927 Handiqui came back to Assam with a huge personal collection of books purchased during his stay in Europe. He then got married with Hemolota Aideo, the eldest daughter of U.N. Buragohain of Nowgong. They had one son and two daughters. For three years Handiqui looked after the management of the family Tea Estate located at Tirual near Jorhat.

His well kept personal library at Jorhat contains ten thousand rare and valuable books in eleven languages of the world. Eight thousand books of this library now a part of the Gauhati University library out of which 842 books are in Greek, 337 are in Italian, 565 in German, 336 in French, 283 in Latin, 100 books in Spanish and Provincial languages, 2052 in Sanskrit, 73 in Buddistic Sanskrit, 193 in Pali, 342 in Prakrit, 191 in Prakrit and Sanskrit (Jain literature), 253 books on Archaelogy, Arts and Painting, 85 Dictionary. This multilingual approach to scholarship made him a keen student of comparative literature. It is for his library works that the world of letters will be ever indebted to Prof. K.K. Handiqui.

The English translation of Sanskrit Mahakavya "Naisadhacarita" published in 1934 as the first ever translation immediately made Prof. Handiqui known to the whole world."Naisadhacarita" composed in circa twelfth century, is the toughest of all the Sanskrit epics. Handiqui was recognized as a scholar of International fame at the age of thirty- six. His first monumental work Naisadhacarita of Sriharsa has been very well received by the eminent scholars like Prof. A.B. Keith (Edinburgh), Prof. M. Winternitz (Prague), Prof. M.B. Emeneau (California), Mahamahopadhyaya (Benares) and other distinguished scholars from home and abroad. Some comments of Prof. A.B. Keith are quoted below : " The Poem is far from easy, and the translation has distinct merit. The extracts from commentaries hitherto unpublished add greatly to the utility of the work, while the appendices dealing with philosophical allusions contain much helpful matter, and prove the translator’s familiarity with the leading exponents of Indian speculative thought. Special value attaches to the most important vocabulary, which is rich in contribution to Sanskrit lexicography. I note with pleasure that the translator is to publish another work dealing with Kavya literature as a whole, a task for which he is clearly well qualified."

"Yasastilaka And Indian Culture", the second monumental work of Prof. Handiqui earned more eminence. The book was published in the year 1949 by Jain Sanskriti Samrakshaka Sangh of Sholapur (Moharastra), and the second edition came out in 1968. The general editors of the book Dr. A.N. Upadhye and Dr. H.L. Jain wrote in the Preface : In fact, sanskrit studies have become richer by Professor Handiqui’s contributions on the Nasadhacarita and Yasastileka. ……… .. Obviously his zest for Indian learning is a part of his personality; and his devoted self-training in Western Universities has equipped him with the knowledge of many European languages, Catholic taste and Critical outlook." L. Renou, Professor of Sanskrit in Paris University, wrote as follows in French in the Journal of the ‘Academic des Inscriptions et Belles Letter’ : "Except for a note by Peterson, nothing had been written on Yasastilaka. It required the remarkable zeal of Mr. Handiqui, which had already found expression fifteen years ago in a vastly learned work on Sriharsa’s Naisadhacarita, to incorporate the Yasastilaka in the general current of Hinduism. This is now an acquisition." Eminent Italian Scholar Oscar Botto has described it as '………….. it dottissimo lavoro di K.K. Handiqui’, which means ‘The most learned work of K.K. Handiqui.'

The merit of Handiqui’s work was duly acknowledged by scholars of the All India Oriental Conference held that year in Bombay and Handiqui was elected the president of the next Classical Sanskrit Session of the All India Oriental Conference held in Locknow in 1951.

Handiqui's third monumental work "Pravarasena’s Setubandha" was published by Prakrit Text Society as Prakrit text series XX in 1976 from Ahmedabad under the General Editorship of Professor H.C. Bhayani and Professor D.D. Malvania. "Prof. Handiqui’s critical translation of Pravarasena’s Setubandha is one of the few woks that mark the highest achievement in the major literary genre of Mahakavya. No recent work of Prakrit literary scholarship matches the present work in richness of the exegetical materials culled after a meticulous scanning of numerous commentaries so as not to miss any significant detail. The Setubandha can fairly compare with the Saptasataka of Hata in points of age, importance and a continuous tradition of high literary esteem. The latter work had quite early received thorough attention it deserved from a scholar of Weber's stature; the Setubandha, it seems, was reserved for Prof. Handiqui’s mature scholarship." (Vide General editor’s Foreword).

Handiqui started the work of "Setubandha" after his retirement from Vice-Chancellorship, a period of nine years, which he described as sterile. Inspite of his advanced age and failing health Handiqui had spared no pains in making available profuse extracts fromvarious unpublished commentaries. We can have a clear idea about the amount of pain taken by him in respect of the work of Setubandha from the Preface, as Handiqui wrote, "……………… Dr. A.N. Upadhye at whose suggestion I had undertaken this work passed away to my great sorrow shortly before the publication of the volume. Without his help and encouragement it would have been difficult for me to complete the task in my declining years marked by ill health and bereavement.

Setubandha is a Prakrit Mahakavya composed in circa fifth century A.D. Handiqui translated into English with extract from unpublished commentaries and critical notes. His present volume comprising 800 pages contains a 147 page introduction. In the preface to the first edition of Naisadha-carita he mentioned that he wanted to write on general survey of the Mahakavya literature. Unfortunately this promise he could not keep because of his preoccupation as the Vice-Chancellor of the Gauhati University.

Prof. K.K. Handiqui was a scholar of singular distinction, a pioneer Indologist and a philanthropist whose life epitomized an era marked by sacrifice, diligence and devotion to high principles. He is well known for his munificence to literary and educational foundations in the state of Assam. In memory of his beloved wife Hemolata Aideo he established Hemolata Handiqui Memorial Institute, a higher Secondary School at Jorhat in 1962 with his innovative and constructive ideas. He liberally contributed both his knowledge and resources to literary and educational causes in Assam and for the development of Assamese literature. He bequeathed his massive personal library to Gauhati University. He also gave the copy right of all three books of his to respective publishers viz. Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute, Poona, the Jain Samskriti Samrakshaka Sangha, Maharastra and the Prakrit Text Society, Ahmedabad.

His father Radha Kanta Handique is fondly referred to as a Danavira because of his laudable donations for development of women education and Assamese literature. Because of Danvira’s benevolent denations we have in Guwahati the Handique Girls’ College, the Narayani Handique Bhawan for housing the Department of Historical and Antiquarian studies and in Jorhat, the Chandra Kanta Handikai Bhawan as the head quarter of Assam Sahitya Sabha, the largest literary organisation of Assam. The Danvira donated substantially also for the preparation and publication of the Assamese Chandra Kanta Abhidhan in memory of his late lamented sons Chandra Kanta and Indra Kanta. His eldest son Prof. K.K. Handiqui donated liberally for the publication of the subsequent editions of the Chandra Kanta Abhidhan and the maintanence and expansion of the Chandra Kanta Bhawan at Jorhat.

Though he was totally indifferent to them, laurels deservedly came in a big way. He was made President of Asom Sahitya Sabha in 1937 at the age of thirty-nine and President of Classical Sanskrit Section, XVI All India Oriental Conference, Locknow in 1951 and was elected the general President of the Srinagar session of the same in 1961. He received Padmashree in 1955 and Padmabhushan in 1967. He was awarded honorary fellowship of Deccan College, Poona in 1968, a rare distinction reserved for scholars in India and abroad and received only by four others so far. He received the honorary D. Litt. Degree of Guwahati University in 1968 and that of Dibrugarh University in 1972. In 1984 the Sahitya Academy Award was presented to Prof. Handiqui posthumously for the volume comprising his literary works in Assamese KrishnaKanta Handikai Rachana Sambhar, compiled by Prof. J.N. Goswami. He was made the first Sadasya Mahiyan of the Asom Sahitya Sabha, the highest honour conferred on scholars of exceptional merit.

Prof. Handiqui attached greater importance to moral excellence than to the cultivation of the intellect and Ibsen’s dictum "Innocence is the source of all joy and happiness" was the motto of his life. His character may be summed up by a verse of Pravarasena’s Setubandha : Rare are the honest persons who silently achieve their tasks. Few also are the trees that yield fruit without their following being noticed". (Setubandha III, 9).

Though celebrated in the world of letters, Handiqui Shunned publicity and was shy of position. He led the life of a true Vanaprasthi Scholar whose entire life was spent in fruitful study and quiet research. Internationally acclaimed Indologist and Sanskritist Prof. Krishna Kanta Handiqui passed away on June 7, 1982.

The Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department issued a commemorative Stamp in honour of Prof. K.K. Handiqui on October 7, 1983

(This article was published in the first issue of Horizon, the newsletter of KKHSOU and written by Mrs. Ahalya Gogoi)