Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature – Wikipedia

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encyclopedia of Indian literature

Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature is a multi-volume English language encyclopedia of Indian literature published by Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of Letters.


At the annual meeting of the General Council of the Sahitya Akademi in 1975, E.M.J. Venniyoor and K.M. George proposed that the Akademi should plan and publish an Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature. The proposal was approved and the Executive Board constituted a Committee, consisting of Suniti Kumar Chatterji (president), K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar (vice-president), K.M. George, V. Y. Kantak, Amrit Rai and Vasant Bapat, to examine the proposal. The Encyclopaedia was to be a single reference work giving information about significant literary movements, great writers and outstanding works which influenced people for generations. It was to consist of 12,000 entries, to be published in 2 volumes of 1,000 pages each. Topics and writers were to be finalised in consultation with the Advisory Boards. A Chief Editor was to plan, supervise and execute the project within five years. The Committee requested K.M. George to be the Chief Editor and recommended that an Editorial Unit for the purpose be set up at Trivandrum. The entire Executive Board, consisting of representatives of all the languages recognised by the Akademi, was to act also as an Editorial Board, and a small Steering Committee was to be set up. The recommendations were accepted and the project launched.[1]

As the preliminary work of compiling lists of topics was in progress, dissatisfaction was voiced at the General Council. The wisdom of locating the Encyclopaedia Unit at Trivandrum was questioned. A special meeting of the Executive Board was convened in 1976 to examine the project afresh, and it was decided that the Encyclopaedia Unit be shifted to Delhi. As George expressed his inability to continue as Chief Editor on shifting the Unit to Delhi, Sitanshu Yashaschandra was appointed Chief Editor in 1977. With the change in Chief Editorship came a change in the size of the Encyclopaedia, which was now envisaged to run into 3,000 pages, to be published in three volumes. In 1978 the Executive Board discontinued functioning as the Editorial Board and set up a Steering Committee consisting of Umashankar Joshi (president), Vinayaka Krishna Gokak (vice-president), K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, V. Y. Kantak, Vasant Bapat and Vidya Niwas Misra. Iyengar felt that the Encyclopaedia was “the most ambitious project” undertaken by the Akademi and it might take years to complete it. But Yasaschandra was certain that all the three volumes could be published by 1982. However, he left the project and the Akademi in 1982, without a single volume published. Amaresh Datta joined the project as the new Chief Editor in 1984. Editorial staff on ad hoc basis was recruited for specific languages or zones and the work was expedited. The Encyclopaedia then grew into six volumes.[1]


That six volumes of the Encylopaedia, consisting of over five thousand pages in demy quarto size.[1]

The first volume, edited by Amaresh Datta, was published in 1987, and released by prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. In his preface, president Vinayak Krishna Gokak writes:[1]

The diversity of Indian languages naturally led our critics to speak of the plurality of Indian literature. It is said that there is some justification for this use of the plural because substance and form interpenetrate and mingle in literary composition to such an extent that we cannot isolate language
n substance in this charmed chemistry. But we should not forget that there is something much’more subtle than a mingling of language and substance in literature. We witness there the extraordinary phenomenon of the genius of a race, the exquisite sensibility of a highly evolved and unique personality, the colour and glow of a steady cultural environment, steady in spite of almost imperceptible changes down the years and the ethos of a particular epoch concocted together in a work of art, recognisable individually and yet forming an indistinguishable whole, a real synthesis. It is this concoction or synthesis that constitutes Indian Literature. One can speak of it only in the singular, for it is singular in the very process of its creation, whatever the language that went into its preparation and composition, provided it was Indian. It is this unique quality of Indianness that is shared by the literature written in all the Indian languages… With real humility and with the ardent hope that this may be of some use to students of Indian literature in India and all the world over, we present this result of our joint labours to all lovers of Indian literature.

In his editorial, Amaresh Datta, points out:[1]

This Encyclopaedia has been designed to give a fairly clear and comprehensive idea about the growth and development of Indian literature in 22 languages recognised by the Sahitya Akademi. The entries arranged in alphabetical order cover practically all the important aspects of Indian literature and the growth and development have been traced, down the ages, with general historical surveys of genres and movements and adequate notes on established authors born in or before 1947 and on significant books in each of these 22 and if Pali, Prakrit and Apabhramsa are taken separately, 25 languages… This Encyclopaedia has taken in i purview the whole of Indian literature in its various ramifications, with Vedic/Sanskrit, the most ancient at the one end, and Indian literature in English, the most modern at the other.

Amaresh Datta edited the Volumes 2 and 3, published in 1988 and 1989 respectively; and, on his completing seventy years of age, left the Akademi in 1990. Mohan Lal succeeded him as the Chief Editor.[1]

Mohan Lal, who edited the Volumes 4 and 5, published in 1991 and 1992 respectively, died in an accident. The 6th and the final volume, edited by Param Abichandani and K. C. Dutt, was published in 1994. Revision has been taken in hand under the chief editorship of K. Ayyappa Paniker.[1]

Reception and criticism[edit]

The first volume was widely acclaimed. The Hindu, 21 July 1987, found the Encyclopaedia “a truly meritorious publication, and a weighty demonstration of the unity of India’s literary heritage. The sheer magnitude of the enterprise and the wide-ranging scholarship and manifold editorial expertise that have gone into the making of this first volume compel our admiration and gratitude. We shall eagerly look forward to the appearance of the remaining volumes”. The Hindustan Times, 25 Oct 1987, wrote: “The appearance of the first volume of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature deserves to be regarded as a landmark in the history of the publication of major reference works on Indian culture… A reference book is of course not meant for a continuous reading through. But one will have great pleasure in browsing through this volume off and on, especially its longer entries surveying specific categories through all the languages”. The Times of India, 10 April 1988, observed: “The volume brings together various writers each grounded in his own language trying to present a composite and complete picture of Indian literature. This might be the first step towards a larger realisation of the concept of Indian Literature in India aided by other things like academic courses in Indian literature, a library of Indian masterpieces, and general critical work… Towards an understanding both of our literary past and to understand present activity such works as the Encylopaedia of Indian Literature are necessary and we should be thankful to the Sahitya Akademi for embarking on this ambitious project”. The Indian Book Industry, July 1987, commended, “Lovers of Indian literature, both at home and abroad, owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Sahitya Akademi for bringing out this Encyclopaedia, a work of pioneering nature indeed”.[1]

But the reviewer of The Statesman, 2 July 1988, thought otherwise: “To mention all instances of carelessness, errors of fact, omissions in the work and its entries will require 100 pages and it will be tiresome reading. On the whole the first volume of our Sahitya Akademi’s Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature has been unworthy of the institution which has produced it. It is not well designed and whatever design it may have has not been properly executed… There is nothing in the work to show that it has passed through the hands of an able, responsible and hard-working editor”.[1]

In 1990, Vinayak Purohit of the Indian Institute of Social Research, Bombay, appealed to Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh “to stop the publication of further volumes of this shameful Encyclopaedia”; he cited numerous instances of error of fact, repetition, balance, and other lapses He wrote to the new chief editor Mohan Lal: “Please do not work at the futile break-neck pace of one volume per year. Encyclopaedias are never produced with such bureaucratic targets. Encyclopaedias take time. They require a cultural maturity that cannot be forced. Above all they need the patient exercise of rationalism and the historic sense… The fundamental problem is of methodology”.[1]

See also[edit]


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