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article imagePhilanthropist funds library of ancient Indian texts

By Sravanth Verma     Jan 16, 2015 in World
A new initiative and literary project, helmed by noted Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollock and published by Harvard University Press, will make several ancient Indian classics easily and widely available.
The project is a philantropic effort by Rohan Murty, son of Narayan Murthy, founder of Infosys, the Indian IT giant. The series, called the Murty Classical Library of India (MCIL) will publish 48 volumes in the next seven years, and will include classics from 14 Indian languages, including Sanskrit and some almost extinct vernacular forms. Murty released the first set of books on January 15, 2015, in the presence of several high profile guests, including Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen, and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Mr. Murty initiated the project in 2010, when he was a 26-year-old doctoral student at Harvard, putting up $5.2 million to endow the library. Murty is now a Computing Innovations Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard.
"India has the single most complex and continuous tradition of multi-lingual literature in the world and a lot of it is inaccessible. MCLI will make this literature available in the best possible way for the general reader as well as students and scholars," said Pollock.
The first set of books include such popular classics as the Surdas's poetry and the Therigatha, a text on kundalini yoga. The books have the original script, with English translations on the facing page.
Pollock explains the idea behind the library. "It doesn't as Europe thinks, start with Virgil and end with TS Eliot. There are thousands of Asian texts which show that a classic is that which surprises our sense of being human," said Pollock. Though the most popular ancient texts from India are probably religious classics such as the Upanishads and the Vedas, India has produced several other classics of literature. In fact, Hinduism contains three classes of texts, of which one is itihas, and includes such literary texts as the Mahabharat and Ramayan.
Murty expressed what motivated him to fund the library. He expressed how the general Indian reader was quite unaware of many aspects of ancient India. "What was life like in ancient India? How did people live, die? What was its astronomy, maths, science like? There is so little discussion on any of these in our schools and colleges," he said. "This literature will hopefully offer an exposure."
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