Shrikant Bahulkar, a research scholar in Vedic and Buddhist studies, Ayurveda and classical Sanskrit literature, became the honorary secretary of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in 2015. But he has been associated with the institute for nearly two decades now as a scholar of oriental studies.
In an interview with Mint on Sunday, he talks about BORI’s history, milestones, centenary celebrations and future. Edited excerpts:
To complete 100 years in a field as esoteric as oriental studies is a phenomenal achievement. How does BORI plan to mark this momentous occasion?
We have planned a number of activities and projects. Ten new research books will be published this year. There will be revised editions of some of BORI’s important publications. Through workshops and exhibition and similar outreach activities, we will generate awareness about BORI and the life work of Sir Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar.
Sir Bhandarkar’s writings on Tukaram Gatha will be published. There is also a plan to build a museum dedicated to Indology and oriental studies. On 6 July, when we had a meeting to chalk out the centenary celebrations, we proposed to raise Rs100 crore entirely from charity and donors to carry out these activities. We have already collected more than Rs1 crore and I am confident we will raise this fund.
In 2007-08, the Union government gave us a grant of Rs5 crore when we were least expecting it. We are keen to use this grant to renovate the old structure. All these years, several legal problems cropped up, but now they have all been sorted out and we would soon begin the renovation.
What would you rate as BORI’s greatest achievement and contribution in these 100 years?
There are many achievements, like the monumental project of the critical edition of the Mahabharata, a publication of epic research work. What I consider a greater achievement is the research methodology that BORI has given to the world of oriental studies and Indology. When we came up with the critical edition, we proved that we cannot apply the same methods of research as used in the study of written scripts.
Thousands of manuscripts were studied and interpreted. Because the Mahabharata is also an oral text, we had to apply a different methodology. This methodology has been acknowledged as possibly the best way to approach research into Mahabharata and, for that matter, the faculty of Indology.
The scale of this project is so gigantic that it has inspired generations of scholars and researchers not only in India but abroad as well. The critical edition set the standard of research extremely high.
BORI has also inspired the setting up of the Maharaja Sayajirao Oriental Institute in Vadodara, Gujarat. The BORI library has made extremely rare and precious manuscripts and books available to scores of research students. We have published a number of research papers ourselves and this work is still going on.
Has the fact that BORI is not a government-run institute helped? Would it have been a different story otherwise?
I do not know and I do not want to answer that question. What I know is that BORI is not bound by a particular ideology or ideologies. We have not confined ourselves to one faith or literature of a particular faith.
The kind of research done at BORI or with help from BORI has spanned Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. Our collection of manuscripts includes some very valuable Buddhist works collected from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Tibet. In 100 years, we have been able to create a platform for free academic exchange and interaction across faculties.
A century is a long time and the world around BORI has undergone paradigm changes. Have the changes altered BORI’s work? And what does the future hold for the institute?
We have certain challenges. The foremost is the question as to what kind of research we want to do and promote. Do we create new positions and recruit new researchers, like several other institutes do? There are institutions where a number of researchers are appointed and they get good salary too. But what is the quality of the research they produce?
Another question is, do we continue to confine ourselves to criticism, translation, revision of published works, etc., or do we also explore new areas and take up new projects?
Of course, the work that we have been doing will continue because it is an important aspect of BORI’s purpose. But we need to find new projects, new scholars, new disciplines of research and new collaborations. The Mahabharata project took 48 years to complete and we can’t have that kind of research now. We need to find something relevant, something more challenging.
In that context, the project to develop a museum of Indology is important because we do not want it to remain a museum only. We want it to become the centre of new research where researchers and people enthusiastic about exploring new subjects come together and redefine the institute. We need to set new paradigms of growth for our future and the future of research.
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