Pt. Haragovind Das Trikamchand Seth
Birth : Vaishakh Shukla 6 Vikram Samvat 1945 (1888)
Death : Aashadh Krishana 13 Vikram Samvat 1997 (1941)
Pt. Haragovind Das Trikamchand Seth
This is an incident of the first decade of this century. Internationally famous Indologist Prof. Herman Jacobi was absorbed in his studies in Bonn, Germany. In the month of March, 1907 he got a letter, posted in India, which contained critical commentary on one of his articles on Sanskrit poetics. Jacobi gave a detailed reply. This was the beginning of a postal discussion between two scholars on Sanskrit grammar and poetics. Jacobi was highly impressed by this scholar’s command of language, grammar and poetics. He was astonished when it revealed on him that this mature scholar was a youth just twenty years of age. The name of this young man who so highly impressed the topmost scholar of his field was Haragovind Das Seth and he hailed from Gujarat.
Generally, Gujaratis are famous in India and abroad for their entrepreneurship and business acumen. Marwaris and Gujaratis are also known as devout worshipers of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. However, the soil of Gujarat has given many illustrious sons in other fields as well. Bhimdeva Solanki, Rajadhiraj Jai Singh, Kalikal Sarvajna Hemchandracharya, Maharaj Kumarpal are some names from the pages of Gujarati history. Some of the best known names of this century are Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabh Bhai Patel, K. M. Munshi, etc. In any state or country, however, there are many talented individuals who do not achieve general recognition. Pt. Haragovind was one such illustrious but lesser known son of the soil of Gujarat.
A Gujarati Vaishya (business class), that too a Jain, and born in a town known as the home of commodity and share speculators, he went to Kashi (Varanasi) and Shri Lanka for his studies. He grew into a gifted scholar and became proficient in complicated languages such as Pali, Sanskrit and Prakrit. He created an enviable niche for himself among top scholars. logicians, grammarians and dialecticians because of his profound knowledge and humility.
Pundit Haragovind Das Trikam Chand Seth was born in Radhanpur. This town, situated in North-west Gujarat, is at the edge of the Rann of Kutch. It was once the capital city of the Babi Nawabs. It is also well known for other reasons, for in its vicinity are the Jain pilgrim centre Shankheshwar Parshvanath and the Shaivite Loteshwar Mahadev. The famous Panchasar (a grand pool) built by the founder of the Solanki dynasty, Jai Shikhar Chawda, is also near this town.
Long ago gypsy groups from Gujarat went through this area on their journeys to Sindh and Marwar. The place used to resonate with the sounds of bells tied to their strong oxen and swift camels. The hot dry air blowing from the salty, western land of the Rann helped evaporate the meagre water available in the water holes. This has been the least productive agricultural region in Gujarat.
But this agriculturally sterile land has had no dearth of worthy sons. It has given birth to many illustrious individuals who have contributed to the glory of Gujarat. Many have traveled away and brought back an abundance of wealth to Radhanpur by toiling in distant lands. Many have excelled in religious, charitable, and scholastic activities. Some of them are — S. Moti Lal Moolji Seth, Girdharlal Trikam Lal, Jivanlal Keshrichand, Seth Kantilal Ishwarlal, Seth Kantilal Bakordas, S. Devchand Karshanji, Samprati Ladoo, Jadavji and Kakal Bhai Jota.
Pundit Haragovind Ji was a jewel from the same Radhanpur. His father, Shri Seth Trikam Chand Makanji, was known for his good qualities and integrity. Makanji Ganesh, father of Trikamchand, was famous for his ancestral wealth, dignity, and simplicity. Immediately after his marriage, Trikam Seth was at his glorious best. However, soon things changed but although his share speculations turned sour, he maintained his status and dignity.
He was a Vaish Shrimali Jain and his Gotra was Tungiyan, not Sheth. The family was also known as Goch-nathiya. The ancestors lived in a village named Gochnath, five miles away from Radhanpur. Some relatives still live in that village, and their family deity (Kuldevi ) is also in Gochnath. It is not known which one of his ancestors migrated to Radhanpur or when, but it seems that because they hailed from Gochnath they became known by the family name Goch-nathiya.
No detailed history of Pundit Ji’s ancestors is available today. But one of his ancestors, Shrawan Seth, who is famous for his charitable works, had built a house near the Shantinath temple about two hundred years ago. The spread of the family to distant places was due to the influence of this Shrawan Seth.
Seth Trikamchand married Nandu ben, the daughter of the famous businessman Gambhirdas Nanchand of Mahuwa. Gujarati Haragovind Das also absorbed Kathiavad values because of his stay at his maternal-grand-parents’ house. His closeness to the maternal side of his family continued throughout his life.
Seth Trikamchand and his wife Pradhan Bai (her new name) had three children. In V 1936 (1879) a daughter named Moghi Ben was born. Haragovind Ji was born on the bright 6th of Vaishakh, V1945 (1888). In V1948 (1891) Vriddhilal was born, who in his later life became famous as Muni Vishal Vijayaji. Pradhan bai passed away when Pt. Haragovind Ji was just four years old.
Even as a child Haragovind Ji had a lively curiosity and sharp memory. He took his primary education in the local Gujarati school. His pleasant bearing, playful attitude and systematic life style were evident even at that early age. His naughtiness and argumentative attitude continued till he matured into a scholar. His jolly nature disarmed even his adversaries.
At an impressionable early age he became deeply interested in higher learning. The inspiration came from Muni Shri Harsh Vijaiji, the senior co-monk of Muni Vijai Vir Suriji of Radhanpur. He appreciated the intellect of this boy and inspired him to take up religious studies. In a short time, Haragovind Ji completed the study of Panch Pratikraman and Chaar Prakaran and started working on Sanskrit Grammar, Hem Laghu Prakriya. To inspire a boy from a business family towards the study of Sanskrit language was an important achievement of this monk. The young boys of Radhanpur were mostly interested in taking up forward trading (speculation) as if it were their birth right. Haragovind Ji’s love for knowledge took him away from this normal occupation.
An incident during this period pushed him further into the realm of knowledge. In the year V 1956 (1899), Haragovind ji was in Mahuwa at his maternal uncle Shri Bhuralal Gambhir’s place. Muniraj Dharmavijaiji (who later on became famous as Acharya Vijai Dharma Surishwar) happened to come to Mahuwa, his birth-place, for a Chaturmas (four month monsoon stay). He was one of those few monks who wanted to re-establish the lost values of Jainism and spread the religion. He recognized the hidden talents of young Haragovind and decided to give him a nudge in the right direction.
Dharmavijaiji was a young monk at that time but his works and efforts were drawing attention in all directions. His initial contact with Haragovind ji was not close or sustained, but he put in some ideas in the young mind to mull over. Two years later Muniji went to Radhanpur. He had by then launched his ambitious programme of preparing scholars from among the laity so that they could travel to far off places and propagate Jain Dharma. He desired to make Jain philosophy a subject talked about in homes, libraries, seminars, and other such places and occasions. He had already decided to establish a study centre at Varanasi. What remained was the selection of able students.
When Muniji called Haragovind ji to assess the capability of the boy, he gave him the task of memorizing five verses from Abhidhan Chintamani (Sanskrit Lexicon). Thirteen year old Haragovind recited the verses from memory after just 45 minutes. The monk registered the name of this boy in his memory.
Muniji then went to Varanasi and busied himself in establishing his institute. Haragovind ji entered into the normal routine of a young boy from a business family. On the recommendation of Muni Harshvijay Ji he was taken up as an apprentice by the firm Popatlal Amarchand at Khambhat (Cambay). In a short time Haragovind ji impressed his boss with his intelligence and diligence. He was soon promoted and sent to Bombay.
While in Bombay Haragovind ji got a message from Vijai Dharma Suriji, who had established the Yashovijai Jain Pathshala in V 1959 (1902). The message read : “Come soon. You will get everything you need to study. Do not let the opportunity pass by.” Haragovind ji gave priority to the pursuit of knowledge over earning wealth. He was full of enthusiasm and ambition. Going to Varanasi, he joined Suriji in V 1960 (1903).
It was an explosive combination. A centre of education like Varanasi, the banks of the sacred Ganges, the patronage of a stalwart like Vijai Dharma Suriji — and to this was added the fuel of curiosity, desire and enterprise of young Haragovind ji. The scene was also unique. Here was a Vaishya (business class) boy mingling with the Brahmins who traditionally had a monopoly over academic pursuits. Here was a boy whose traditional background was to shuffle currency notes but instead he was counting the pages of grammar.
Wide reading, continuous endeavour and untiring practice helped Haragovind ji become profoundly learned. He attained an unprecedented command on Sanskrit language, magnetic eloquence in oration and high proficiency in debate. His sharp wit and endless patience proved to be great assets during his academic career.
He studied logic under the prominent logician Pt. Ambadutt, grammar and lexicon under Pt. Harnarain Tripathi and religion and philosophy under Suriji himself. Besides this, he also continued higher studies of Hindi, Gujarati and Bengali languages. By V 1971 (1914) he got the coveted degrees of Nyaya Teerth and Vyakaran Teerth.
Besides the conventional learning, he also participated in various other academic activities like debates, seminars, meetings and discussions. This encouraged a rounded development of his personality. But Suriji was not content merely to impart this education. In order to advance his knowledge and hone his intellect further, he entrusted Hargovind ji with the monumental work of correcting and editing Visheshavashyak Bhashya (28,000 verses) jointly with his colleague Pt. Bechardas Jivraj Doshi. He continued this work for about five years and brought many other old works to light. His editorial skills were praised by Indian as well as European scholars.
Suriji was very happy with these two disciples. Seeing their potential he sent them to Shri Lanka with Mahamahopadhyaya Satish Chandra Vidyabhushan to study Pali language. This does not sound like much today, for going out to distant centres of learning for specialized studies has become common. But in those days it was a great adventure. Pundits Haragovind ji and Bechardas ji spent about six months in Colombo with a Buddhist monk, Shri Sumangalacharya. Haragovind ji not only studied Pali, for which he was sent, but the ancient Sinhalese language also. During this period he also taught Prakrit and gave discourses on Jain Dharma to the inmates of the Math (Buddhist monastery). The Vidyodaya Oriental College, Colombo, awarded a Certificate of Merit to Pt. Haragovind ji on 23-11- 1909.
After his return from Shri Lanka Pundit Ji continued his editorial and other works. He launched a series of publications called Vividh Sahitya Shastra Mala. Under this series he edited and published many old forgotten works of Prakrit and Sanskrit. Some of these are : Shri Sur Sundari Charitra, Shri Suparshvanath Charitra, Vivek Manjari, Vinod Katha and Sapt Sandhan Mahakavya. These publications got full attention from and appreciation of scholars throughout the world. Some of these were prescribed as textbooks by universities. His prefaces to these works were compendiums of lost historical information dug out and authenticated by his wide knowledge and deep understanding of ancient literature. During this period he also wrote a poetical work in Sanskrit : Shri Haribhadrasuri Charit.
While Pundit Ji was involved in this work Vijai Dharma Suriji left Varanasi for Gujarat in V. 1968 (191 1). With the absence of the motivating force the school and other projects launched by him became lifeless. Many promising students drifted away into other fields. Many scholars became direction-less and shifted to other occupations. In V. 1973 (1916) this abode of knowledge finally closed its doors. One can realize the gravity of this tragedy simply on seeing a short list of stalwarts it gave to the field of knowledge during a short span of 17 years — Pt. Sukhlal Ji, Pt. Bechardas Ji, Pt. Velsinghbhai Chhaganlal, Pt. Haragovind Das Seth, Muni Shri Nyayavijai Ji, Muni Shri Simhavijai Ji, Muni Shri Vidyavijai Ji, Muniraj Shri Mrigendravijai Ji, Pt. Lalchand Bhagavandas Gandhi, Shri Sushil, Pt. Bhagavandas Harakhchand, Shah Harakhchand Bhurabhai, Pt. Jagjivan Popatlal, Pt. Panachand Khushal, Pt. Prabhudas Deepchand, Pt. Jaichandbhai, Pt. Bhagavandas (Jaipur), Pt. Virbhadra, Abhaychand Bhagavandas Gandhi, Pt. Tribhuvandas, Pt. Amritlal Amarchannd, and Pt. Manilal Popatlal
Calcutta University had advertised for a vacancy for a lecturer’s post, and Pt. Haragovind ji applied for that. Many scholars from Calcutta, Varanasi and Mithila also desired the post. In this tough competition Pt. Haragovind ji was selected. He Joined the University in V 1974(1917). Before joining he had also learned the state language of those days, English. He soon won over his colleagues, students and the administrative staff of the university. His talent was amply rewarded in terms of salary, facilities, status and popularity. Even the scholars outside the academic circle loved and respected him. He was nominated as a member of the Managing Committee of the Sanskrit College of Calcutta University. The esteem he derived from the university is evident from the fact that even after he left its service he remained on the panel of examiners of the Calcutta Sanskrit Association Board for the rest of his life.
In Calcutta he prospered. He was an extravagant host. In spite of his unassuming character and literary inclinations he lived lavishly, enjoying luxuries like a grand residence, servants, cars, etc., but with all this there was not a trace of snobbery.
Pt. Haragovind ji was married to Subhadra-ben in the year V. 1975 (1918). She was a modest traditional Gujarati girl. It is generally assumed that it is difficult for a traditional girl with little education to get attuned to living with such a scholarly man. But she found not only a husband but also a teacher in Pt. Haragovind ji. He taught her Sanskrit and religion. She, too, did her best to mould herself according to the needs and wishes of her husband. Besides managing his household she also helped him in his literary pursuits. As luck would have it, the couple was never blessed with a child. But Subhdra-ben, with her good nature, love and compassion, did not allow this vacuum to destabilize their married life.
The Pioneering Work
Calcutta life had provided Pundit Ji with all one could wish for: a stable job, good salary, heaps of respect andrecognition. But none of this distracted him from his personal pursuit of knowledge. He had an unquenchable thirst for intellectual development. Driven by this thirst he launched a Herculean project. He started compiling a dictionary of Prakrit. Although this was a project that called for co-operation of various organizations, the assistance of a number of scholars, and a lot of funds, Pundit Ji did it entirely on his own. There was no dictionary of Prakrit available then. The only works available were two small lexicons merely listing synonyms. Pundit Ji planned a comprehensive dictionary, and the task he set to himself was no less than this: to read hundreds of Prakrit works, to compile thousands of words from them, to examine and correct them as per rules of grammar, to compile etymological data for each word, to give the Sanskrit form of each word, and to compile the Hindi meanings with references.
Once the outline was planned, Pundit Ji started work immediately. He started devoting whatever time he could save from his duties at the university and his social obligations. With his complete devotion and hard work the mission slowly progressed. But at the same time it started telling upon his health. The irregularity of sleep and food affected his digestive system. He suffered from acute colitis, and doctors also suspected tuberculosis.
It appeared as if he was trying to prove that great works require great sacrifice. Neither illness nor treatment impeded his work. His wife provided all the care he needed, and she also helped him in his work. It took a sustained effort of fifteen years to complete the monumental work, which was entitled Pai-a-Sadda Mahannavo (Prakrit Shabd Maharnava or The Ocean of Prakrit Words). Fate did not allow him a son to carry his name to posterity, but he created a great scholarly work that would make his name immortal.
The financial problem of publishing this large work was also substantial. Here some of his friends came forward and arranged for advance sales in order to collect funds. Although the first printing started in 1924, while the work was still in progress, this was only a trial publication in six or seven parts. The first complete edition was published in 1928. By then the work had already been recognized and praised as the first of its kind by scholars like Prof. Vidhushekhar Bhattacharya, Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Prof. A. B. Dhruva, Sir George A. Grierson, Prof. Earnest Leumann, Dr. E. W. Thomas, Dr. Geuseppe Tucci, and Dr. M. Winternitz.
On Hargovind ji’s advice Calcutta University Sanskrit College decided to do an English version of the dictionary. But what an individual had done, starting from scratch, an institution could not do in spite of ample resources at its command. To this day the need of a good Prakrit-English dictionary has yet to be met.
The Spiritual Quest
After completing this work Pundit Ji launched another project, the compiling of an Encyclopaedia of Jain terms. But he could not do much work on it due to his deteriorating health. During this period his intellectual inclination took a spiritual turn. Pundit Ji had become very intimate with one of his students at Calcutta University, Shubh Karan Singh Bothra, who had a similar bent of mind. During early thirties they shared spiritual studies, and discussions between the two continued as a pastime.
Pundit Ji’s health did not show any sign of improvement during this period, and while spending the summer vacations in Radhanpur in the year 1937 he decided to quit his job at the University. He had now decided to devote all his time to a serious spiritual endeavour. On 1st May 1937 he sent his resignation to the University with a request to be released from 1st Nov.
Pundit Ji visited Jaipur before returning to Calcutta. He had to attend the marriage of Shubh Karan Ji and also discuss his future programme. The prominent Jain citizens of Jaipur were highly impressed by the simplicity of this great scholar.
On his return to Calcutta he was approached by senior officials of the University, who asked him to take back his resignation. His colleagues also did their best to persuade him to remain at Calcutta University. But Pundit Ji had lost interest in everything academic or intellectual. It was as if he was being summoned in another direction by some hidden force. The factors of his ill health and unsuitable climate made him decide to leave Calcutta for good. Moreover, he was quite content with the sense of fulfillment he had derived by successfully contributing 20 years of his life to his duties at the University.
Once his resignation was accepted, a chain of farewells started. His students gave him a sentimental farewell. His colleagues bade him a poetic good-bye. And the University presented him a plaque of honour. This was during the last week of Nov. 1937.
Leaving Calcutta, Pundit Ji went to Rajgiri, an ancient town in Bihar, for a change. It was here that his spiritual journey started. Rajgiri, with its ancient history, pleasant atmosphere, hilly terrain and sulphur springs, was ideal for Pundit Ji’s health. He extended his programme. There were some archaeological excavations going on at that time, and this gave him a good pastime; he regularly visited these sites.
Nature’s beauty stirred the poet in him. A poet with a spiritual bent is a source of devotional songs. When this inner flow crystallized into words, the pen started moving: Bhagvan Karuna Sindho………. (Oh Lord, the Ocean of Compassion………. ). Verses flowed one after the other and, formless sentiments started getting a form. Thus came the hundred-verse stuti which Pundit Ji called Shri Mahavira Prarthana Shatak.
Returning to Radhanpur, Pundit Ji resumed his studies of Yoga and other spiritual subjects. He also collected a few interested friends around him and started daily philosophical discussions Though these personal activities were going on, he did not neglect his social duties. In May 1938 he went to Mahuva to attend a marriage in his maternal-grand-parents’ family. Here again he fell ill and went to Shankheshvar Parshvanath for recovery.
Pundit Ji came across two books by Paul Brunton, the British traveler and writer on yogic and spiritual subjects. The study of these books (A Search in Secret India and A Secret Path) inspired him to seek a guru. He had realized that it is almost impossible to practice higher yoga without the guidance of an accomplished guru. During all this time he was in regular correspondence with Shubh Karan Ji who was also involved in such activities. Both of them decided to search for such a guru, and to start their search by investigating three prominent and available yogis: Shri Shanti Vijayaji of Mt. Abu, Shri Raman Maharshi of Arunachal and Shri Aurobindo of Pondicherry.
The journey could not be taken up as scheduled, due to the illness of Pundit Ji’s sister and brother-in-law. But his inner desire prevented him from sitting idle. Finally in February 1939 he moved out with Shubh Karan Ji. The quest for highly accomplished guru took them to such far flung places as the Nilgiris, Mt. Abu and Kashmir. But they did not find what they sought and returned exhausted. They had plans to resume their search and to go deeper into the high Himalayas after searching in Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. It was at this point that fate once again intervened. Pundit Ji got an acute pain in his throat and could not face the hardships of such rough travel. He sent Shubh Karan Ji alone on this quest and himself returned to Radhanpur for treatment.
He resumed his daily philosophical meetings on the third floor of his ancestral house. That was the maximum possible isolation he was allowed, given his poor physical condition. Although a devout Jain, he, by this time, had lost all interest in traditional rituals. He fully immersed himself in yoga, meditation, studies, contemplation and discussions. He devoted one and a half hour every morning and evening to yogic practices and meditation. Afternoons were spent in serious studies and discussions with learned friends. He also corresponded regularly with Shubh Karan Ji concerning new experiences in meditation. Although by normal standards he had advanced to higher levels in meditation, his natural humility and unquenchable thirst for knowledge made him say that he had gained no significant progress in higher meditation.
By the middle of 1939 the throat condition further deteriorated. He could speak only with great effort. But still he was not ready to stop his daily philosophical discussions. One more year passed and, in spite of best of treatment, the throat did not improve. On the advice of friends and relatives he went to Bombay and consulted prominent physicians there. They diagnosed inflammation of glands and started treatment accordingly.
Pundit Ji returned to Radhanpur in July 1940 and tried to resume his earlier schedule of practices. But his local Vaidya advised against Pranayam and other yogic practices. Only meditation was allowed. This was a big blow to him. He had never before allowed ailment or treatment to hinder his pursuits.
Conventional treatment did nothing to give him relief and soon the pain became intolerable. In September Pundit Ji again went to Bombay and this time consulted specialists. Pathological and other investigations revealed that it was not an ordinary disease; Pundit Ji had the dreaded cancer of the throat. By then a large visible tumor had also developed. The only available treatment in those days was deep X-ray therapy. When there was no significant improvement even after five sittings, Dr. Deshmukh advised him to go to Miraj and get deep x-ray and Radium therapy simultaneously.
On Sept. 13th Pundit Ji reached Miraj. After the malignancy had been reconfirmed by several tests, the treatment was started. Doctors expected the treatment to continue for at least three months, and all the arrangements were made accordingly. Pundit Ji was very much composed even in this agonizingly painful condition. The only nutrition he got was from liquid diet. In December the doctors said that there was encouraging response, and then they started to give deep X-ray therapy inside the throat through the mouth. The period of his stay at Miraj kept on extending slowly.
As a result of this therapy through his open month his face became swollen and therapy had to be stopped for some time. By end of January 1941 doctors said that there was a lot of improvement. The tumour, visible outside, had subsided and the swelling on his face had also reduced. But during March the swelling again increased and even drinking water became difficult. Ulcers appeared on the tongue and doctors advised removal of teeth. Friends suggested that he get a second opinion at the Tata Hospital in Bombay. But that too became impossible as he had lost a lot of weight and became extremely weak. Investigations revealed another spot of cancer inside the throat and that called for short tube therapy.
In this struggle for life and death Pundit Ji maintained his equanimity as if he was just an uninvolved observer. Whoever went to see him got glimpses of his untarnished knowledge and spiritual uplift. He was never found to be intolerant, dejected or defeated.
It was the doctors who ultimately accepted defeat and released him. He came to Bombay and spent the last four months of his life at his father-in-law’s place. Even in the face of certain death, and while suffering extreme agony, no signs of surrender or depression could be seen on his composed face. Even death appeared to be afraid of approaching the physical body of this elevated soul. However, the inevitable happened on the dark 13th of the month of Ashadh. Pundit Haragovind Ji ascended into the pages of the history of Indian languages and Jain Dharma.
(This life sketch is based on the short biography of Pt. Haragovind ji by Jai Bhikhu that appeared in the book Achalgarh, published by Shri Yashovijay Jain Granthmala, Bhavnagar in the year V-2002 and the letters written by Haragovind ji to Shri Shubh Karan Singh Bothra.