August 27, 2009
In a small discrete village of Majur, around three kilometres from Kaup on the road to Shirva, adjacent to 300 years old temple of Shri Durga Parameshwari, lives an elderly couple-Dr. Uliyar Padmanabha Upadhyaya (76 years) and Dr. Susheela P Upadhyaya (73 years). When i met them in mid-August they appeared to be frail, simple, unassuming, friendly and warm. After interacting with them for two hours, i had nothing but awe, admiration and reverence to this great couple whose scholarship in linguistics and folk culture especially that of the Tulunadu has been appreciated by scholars not only in India but also in Europe, America and Africa. Their monumental contribution to the Tulu language is the Tulu Lexicon (Tulu Nighantu) in six volumes, which they value the most as their labour of love and sacrifice. Besides, this significant work, their numerous research books and articles on the folk culture and literature of Tulunadu has enriched the Tuluva heritage.
Quest of Modern Education:
Dr Uliyar Padmanabha Upadhyaya was born in a priestly scholar family on 10 April 1932 at Uliyar in Majur Village near Kaup in Udupi District. His father, Sitaram Upadhyaya was a reputed scholar in the court of the Raja of Travancore. Though initially trained in priestly tradition, being inspired by Karnad Gurudatta, his Hindi teacher and following the example of his elder brother, Srinivasa Upadhyaya, who had acquired modern education in English and had become a lecturer of Maths and Physics in MGM College, Udupi and later retired as the Principal of Mahavir College, Moodbidri, Padmanabha’s quest for modern education in English prompted him to appear for the matriculation examination, which he passed at the age of 21.
Padmanabha’s quest for knowledge drove him to acquire three Post Graduate (MA) degrees in Sanskrit, Kannada and Linguistics from Madras, Kerala and Pune Universities, Vidwan in Hindi and Ph D in Linguistics from the Pune University for his thesis titled “A Comparative Study of Kannada Dialects”. His command over different languages can be gauged by the fact that he is proficient in Hindi, Kannada, Tulu, Malayalam, Tamil, English, French and Olof, the language of Senegal in Africa.
Journey in Pursuit of Employment and Research:
Dr Upadhyaya’s journey in pursuit of employment and scholarship is quite amazing. Initially he worked for a year (1958-59) as Assistant Librarian at the Government Oriental manuscripts Library at Madras where he edited manuscripts. Later, he became a lecturer of Sanskrit and Kannada in St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore (1959-65). His interest in Linguistics took him to the Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute, Pune as research scholar and lecturer from 1965 to 1968 where he surveyed and analysed tribal dialects of Kannada and a hither-to-unknown language Kuruba. Later, he directed language teaching programme and prepared instructional materials for the American Peace Corps (1968-69). Between 1969 and 1973, Dr Upadhyaya became the first Principal of the Southern Regional Language Centre of the Central Institute of Indian Languages at Mysore. During this period he organized he training and instructional material preparation programmes in South Indian Languages.
Dr U P Upadhyaya was selected by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations under the exchange programme to take up the post as the Visiting Professor and Head of the Department of Indo-African Civilizations at the University of Dakar, Senegal in Africa from 1973-81. During this period, Dr Upadhyaya organized research programmes related to Dravidian and Negro African Languages and Civilizations at the ‘Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noir’, Dakar. In 1978-79, Dr Upadhyaya also had the privilege of being a Visiting Professor at the Universities of London and Paris. The crowning glory of Dr Upadhyaya was the invitation to take up the post as the Professor of Post Graduate Studies and Research and also to become the Editor-in-Chief of the monumental Tulu Lexicon in six volumes at the Rashtrakavi Govind Pai Research Institute in the MGM College, Udupi.
Life Partner and Companion in Scholarship:
In his journey of scholarship and fulfilment, Dr Padmanabha Upadhyaya’s constant companion was his wife, Dr Susheela P Upadhyaya whom he married in 1958. Born in 1937 in Majur village as only daughter of Padmanabha Sharma, who was a priest in Tiruvananthapuram temple in Kerala, Susheela had a traumatic childhood. Her father becoming a victim of mental illness and the attempt of her mother to commit suicide caused tremendous hardships to young Susheela. In spite of these difficulties, Susheela pursued her education in a college in Tiruvananthapuram and eventually acquired BA degree in 1958 with first rank.
The first job of Susheela was that of a Hindi Tutor and Girls’ Hostel Warden in MGM College, Udupi. Later, she joined her husband in Bangalore and began teaching in Good Shepherd Convent European High school and after obtaining MA degree in Hindi from the Banaras Hindu University she became a lecturer in the BMS College For women in Bangalore. Leaving the secured lecturer’s post Susheela moved with her husband to Pune and worked as Research Associate at the Deccan College. It was Pune that Susheela acquired MA degree in Linguistics followed by Ph D degree for her thesis titled “Descriptive and Comparative Study of the Beary Language of Dakshina Kannada”.
Once again Susheela moved with her husband to Mysore and became a Research Assistant at the Central Institute of Indian Languages. She accompanied Dr Padmanabha to Dakar and became a Fellow of the Senghor Foundation and conducted a survey of African dialects and collected and analyzed data relating African folk traditions and culture. When Dr Padmanabha was offered the prestigious post as the Editor-in-Chief of the Tulu Lexicon, Dr Susheela became its Assistant Editor and Field Researcher.
In spite of family responsibilities, Dr Susheela’s quest for knowledge and research is admirable. This was possible due to the unstinted support given by Dr Padmanabha. When asked about both husband and wife working in the same field, Dr Upadhyaya would jokingly say, “What to do? Wherever i go she comes. If i acquire three MA degrees, she acquires two. If i write books, she also writes. If i learn music, she also learns. If i act in plays, she also does the same...”
Work in Linguistics and Folk Culture:
The Upadhyayas did serious research work in linguistics and folk culture and produced a number of books-some of them jointly, some individually and some in collaboration with others. Some of the significant books and articles of Dr Padmanabha include: Nanjanagudu Kannada (Vokkaliga Dialect), Coorg Kannada, Kuruba-A Dravidian Language, Kannada-A Phonetic Language, Malayalam Language and Literature (with Dr Susheela), Effect of Bilingualism on Bidar Kannada, Coimbatore Tamil, Kannada as Spoken by Different Population Groups in Mysore City, Dravidian and Negro African: Ethno Linguistic Study (with Dr Susheela), Conversational Kannada, Coastal Karnataka, Bhuta Worship: Aspects of a Ritualistic Theatre (with Dr Susheela) and Tulu Lexicon in Six Volumes.
Dr Susheela’s individual works include: Hindi Kannada Common Vocabulary- first of its kind in India, A Comparative Dictionary of Wolof Serer, Folk Stories of African Continent, Folk Worship and Theatrical Art, and Folklore of South India, a collection of her articles. Her greatest contribution to psycho-linguistic project to improve the language skills of college entrants is ‘Kannada Bridge Course’ along with Varada Bhattacharya, a psychologist. This was the first attempt that has been replicated in other languages. Another book of Dr Susheela-‘Shabdatheetha’ contains her experience in field work while collecting data for the Tulu Lexicon..
Tulu Lexicon-the Monumental Work:
The Tulu Lexicon in six volumes, brought out by the Rashtrakavi Govind Pai Research Institute is the monumental linguistic work of the Upadhyaya couple along with other experts in the field. While Dr Padmanabha was its Editor-in-chief, Dr Susheela was the Assistant Editor and conducted nearly 80 per cent of the field research work to collect various words, terms and their meaning.
Tulu, though one of the five Dravidian languages, was always pushed to the background. The revival of Tulu began when Mahatma Gandhi initiated the ‘Matrubhasha Andolan’ during the Independence Movement. Following this awakening, Tulu came to be extensively used on public platforms and literary publications.
According to Dr U P Upadhyaya, it was the Christian Missionaries who consciously or unconsciously started renaissance in the Tulu language and literature. They started publishing religious books in Tulu language in Kannada script. Rev. Manner of the Basel Mission brought out the first two-language (Tulu-English) Lexicon in 1886 followed by English-Tulu Lexicon in 1888. After independence, Prof. M Mariappa Bhat along with Dr Shankar Kedilaya brought out a Tulu Lexicon in 1967 with 8,000 words and terms.
Realizing the need to have a comprehensive lexicon that includes the history of Tulunadu, anthropology, social life, language, arts and written as well as folk literature in Tulu language, Prof. K S Haridas Bhat initiated the task of preparing a comprehensive Tulu Lexicon and invited the Upadhyayas who were in Senegal to take up the responsibility of this monumental research work under the auspices of the Rashtrakavi Govind Pai Research Institute.
The work of the Tulu Lexicon started on 2nd October 1979 and after 18 years of painstaking and dedicated research work and sacrifice, the sixth and final volume of the Tulu Lexicon was released on 27th September 1997. With six volumes and 3440 pages and more than one lakh entries, this Tulu Lexicon has acquired the nature of an encyclopaedia which not only gives meanings to various words and terms in three languages-Tulu-English and Kannada, but also its etymology and cultural explanations related to these words along with comparable words in other Dravidian languages and Sanskrit. According to Dr U P Upadhyaya, “Unlike other Lexicons, we placed equal importance to spoken language rather than only written language. A lexicon is incomplete if one does not incorporate the day to day vocabulary.”
The Tulu Lexicon can be considered as a cultural encyclopaedia of the Tulunadu. It includes words from common usage to business, commerce, agriculture, culture, rituals, folklore, etc. Some words have multiple meanings based on regional and community variations. Dr Susheela, who conducted the major part of the field research had to camp in the villages and go around meeting the people in search of right words and meanings. She had to stay for three nights at the house of Hejamadi Sesi Salian to record the entire ‘Siri Paad-dana’. Dr Susheela says with pride: “I had always believed Tulu to be the most ancient among the Dravidian languages, and now we have collected enough material to prove it.”
Praising the efforts of the Upadhyayas in compiling the Tulu Lexicon, Harold F. Schiffman, Professor of Dravidian Linguistics in the Department of Asian Languages, University of Washington, Seattle in USA, said: “ Even though Tulu is a ‘small’ language, I think your work is in no means a small achievement. I wish we had materials like this for other languages, including some of the major languages of India. You have set a standard and model for research in other languages that will be hard to match.”
The six volumes of Tulu Lexicon are priced at Rs.500/-, a reasonably subsidised amount to possess one of the most distinguished cultural heritage of the Tulunadu. Dr U P Upadhyaya has compiled an abridged version of the lexicon for the benefit of common people which is priced at Rs.100/-
Prof. K S Haridas Bhat, the brain behind the mega project of the Tulu Lexicon, after the completion of the sixth volume commented: “Tulu Lexicon is the product of long years of painstaking research, a path breaking exercise, the kind of which you rarely come across. It is a treasure trove for all those who love the language. It is no ordinary dictionary. You will find a wealth of material that gives you an insight into the Tuluva thinking and way of life.”
While compiling the lexicon, the Upadhyaya couple collected enormous research material that enabled them to make deep study in folk arts and culture of the Tulunadu. Their research books and articles on Bhuta Worship, kamballa, folk literature in the form of paad-danas, folk dances, yakshagana, cock fights and temple rituals have contributed greatly not only to the cultural heritage of Tulunadu but also that of Karnataka and India.
Honours and Awards:
The list of honours and awards that were conferred on the Upadhyayas is quite exhaustive. Some of the prominent organizations which have conferred honours on Dr U P Upadhyaya include: Akhila BharataTulu Sammelana, Mulki, Zilla Rajyotsava, Vishwa Tulu Sammelana, Mangalore, Gundart Honour by Dravida Bhasha Vijnan Parishad, Tiruvanantapuram, Shivarama Karant Pratistan, Moodbidre, Tulu Sahitya Academy, Mangalore, Karnataka Rajyotsava Prshasthi, Sandesha Sanskritika Pratistan, Mangalore, Suvarna Karnataka Dibbana Puraskara and many others.
Dr Susheela P Upadhyaya was also the recipient of many honours such as Veera Rani Abakka Prashasthi, Gargi Prashasthi from Shashvati Pratistana, Bangalore, Dashamanotsava Honour from Tulukuta Udupi, Akhila Bharata Tulu Sammelana, Barkur, Karnataka Tulu Sahitya Academy, Tulukuta, Bangalore, Dakshina Kannada Zilla Sahitya Sammelana, Belthangady,, Kantavara Kannada Sangha, Suvarna Karnataka Dibbana Samiti, Kaup, Etc. Dr Susheela was honoured by being asked to preside over the first women’s literary conference at Udupi and Karnataka Folklore Conference at Sirsi in 2005.
Interest in Music and Performing Arts:
Right from their childhood, both Dr Padmanabha and Dr Susheela were interested in music and performing arts. While in school, Dr Susheela had the opportunity to participate in the Republic Day celebration as part of a dance group which presented the folk dance named ‘Tiruvadirakkali’. Dr Padmanabha used to perform skits in temple festivals near his house. Later, he developed an interest in playing flute. Many may be surprised to know that he had accepted only a harmonium as dowry when he married Dr Susheela, which they have preserved along with other musical instruments as a memory of their lifelong partnership as husband and wife and scholarly association.
Yoga and the Art of Healing:
The painstaking research and field work and old age took a toll of the health of the Upadhyaya couple. Recurring physical ailments prompted the Upadhyayas to join Siddha Samadhi Yoga conducted by an engineer with the Karnataka Electricity Board, Prakash Nadiger and his wife at MIT Manipal. The relief that they got from the seventeen days Yoga Camp led the Upadhyayas to take more interest in Siddha Yoga. After acquiring necessary training, Dr Upadhyaya was assigned the responsibility of running the Siddha Samadhi Yoga Institute at Udupi following the transfer of Nadiger. The Upadhyaya couple conducted a number of yoga camps in various neighbouring villages free of charge. Dr Susheela also learnt the art of Reiki, Acupressure and Pranic healing.
The Upadhyayas have been blessed with two children, elder daughter Veena is a doctor and presently resides at Texas in the United States with her family. The younger son, Mohan is a software engineer and also lives with his family in California.
Belief in Universalism and Harmony:
In spite of their scholarship, linguistic command and herculean contribution to Tuluva language and folk culture, the Upadhyayas live a simple life. Though born and brought up in conservative families, their views are universal. They value humanism and believe in a society where every human being lives with respect and honour without the distinction of caste and creed. Dr Susheela, though born and brought up in conservative Brahmin family, did her Ph D theses on the Beary (Muslim) language by which she came in close contact with the Muslim community and their culture. Presently she is a member of the Karnataka Beary Sahitya Academy. She also has great respect for the Christian educational institutions in which she had studied. She graciously remembers the financial and moral support given to her by the Nuns when she was in difficulties during her initial studies in the Zanana Misison School in Tiruvananthapuram.
Still Miles to Go:
The multi-faceted and talented Upadhyayas feel that in spite of their advancing age, they have a lot of work to do and miles to go before they sleep. They have a treasure of unpublished research material which is sufficient to produce two more volumes of the Tulu Lexicon. They also have collected enormous cultural information in the form of numerous audio cassettes that contain folk songs (paad-danas), the epics of Tulunadu, social, cultural and religious life of various ethnic communities. However, due to advancing age and lack of financial support and encouragement from Tulu organizations and government, the Upadhyayas feel that their valuable work may not see the light of the day. It is unfortunate that they do not get any pension as they had changed their jobs quite often dedicating their life for research and scholarship.
In view of the Tulu World Conference to be held in Ujire in the month of December 2009, it would be appropriate to acknowledge the monumental work done by the Upadhyaya couple towards the preservation and promotion of Tulu literature and culture. They are still enthusiastic about continuing their work. Tulu literature and culture would be richer if some people and organizations committed to the culture of Tulunadu could help and finance a project to transfer the enormous material recorded by them from the cassettes to CDs and help the Upadhyayas to continue their work on Tulu Lexicon and complete the remaining two volumes and publish their enormous research work.