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Reading Kala Sankalita: pleasure or drudgery ...

A surprising experience in the Madras University Library

The book
About fifty years ago I visited Madras University Library and made notes on the book entitled Kala Sankalita. This book is by John Warren, and was published at The College Press, Madras, 1825. The title means "time (kaala) [here information on the calendar and astronomy] collected together (sankalita)". The significance of this title becomes clear from the subtitle, which begins: A collection of memoirs on the various modes according to which the nations of the southern parts of India divide time : to which are added three general tables wherein may be found ... the beginning, character and roots of the Tamul, Tellinga and Mahommedan civil years ... .1

The book does contain a wealth of information on the Indian calendar, and uses Telugu script for the technical terms - which I found useful to list. The following extract from my notebook shows that the glossary, index, etc. begin on page 353:

Notebook pic a

The second extract shows that page 118 is on 'the Solar or Vakiam process', beginning the description of astronomical calculations performed by manipulating cowrie shells - a considerable feat.

Notebook pic b

I was sorry not be able to absorb this, although it was why I looked at the book. This method has been discussed by Western scholars.2

The surprise
I have already mentioned that the book contains well over 300 pages. After a good number of pages, I saw there was something in the margin written in pencil. It was a cry to the Almighty: "O God". After a further hundred or so pages there was another marginal entry in the same handwriting: "O God, who will deliver me from this awful bondage?".

I felt the pain of a fellow human being trapped in mental drudgery. This particular copy of the book was marked as having been in the library of Fort St George, and at some time during the previous 135 years a British recruit to India could have been given the task of learning its contents. Or perhaps an Indian research student was told to read it by their supervisor. We don't know, but it was a meeting of minds across the years.

1 This subtitle is in the copy in the British Library under Kala Sankalita; Full Record.
2 David Pingree, jyoti.h;saastra (Jan Gonda, ed., A History of Indian Literature, Vol VI, Fasc. 4). Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1981, p. 48 and references.

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Copyright (C) Anthony P. Stone 2010. This material may be freely used, provided the author is acknowledged.

Last updated: 9 April 2012