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Krishna Kanta Handique


Krishna Kanta Handique………… the Sanskrit Scholar


Among all the modern Assamese, Krishna Kanta Handique understood his country and the world the best. A name synonymous with scholastic pursuits, he was a great Assamese of whom every Indian can justifiably be proud.

His life and works were a balancing of apparently irreconcilable opposites. A man given completely to profound study and never bothering about popularity, power and fame, Handique had a strong sense of social and moral obligation.

Krishna Kanta Handique was born on the July 20, 1898 in Jorhat town of Assam, to Rai-Bahadur Radha Kanta Handique. He was educated at Cotton College, Guwahati (1913-15), Sanskrit College, Calcutta (1915-17), Calcutta University (1917-19), Oxford University, Paris University and Berlin University (1920-27).

K.K. Handique was educated up to IA in Assam and went on to do his BA with Honours in Sanskrit (Vedic Group) from the University of Calcutta. He passed all the examinations with flying colours.

In 1920 he began his study tour of Europe. After doing his MA in Modern History from Oxford in 1923, he visited France, Germany and Italy to learn European languages and to study the Classics. After four years of travel and study, he returned home with knowledge of major European languages and a collection of over 2,000 books in different languages. Back home at Jorhat, Handique started learning the complex techniques that were essential to the management of his father's estate. He never entertained the idea of going into government service but he gladly agreed to become the principal of Upper Assam College (which later became Jorhat and finally J.B. College, Jorhat) the first non-government college in Assam

He also studied and learned many languages like Latin, Greek, French, German, Russian, Italian and Spanish. He is known to have known 13 languages: 8 European languages and 5 Indian languages including Pali and Prakrit.

Krishna Kanta  … as a Social Reformer

Handique was the founder Vice-Chancellor of Gauhati University for nine years (1948-57). Prior to this he was the founder Principal of J.B. College, Jorhat (1930-48) and established the Hemalata Handique Memorial Institute in Jorhat. He is well known for his munificence to literary and educational foundations. He bequeathed his massive personal library to Guwahati University making available to the public rare and valuable books in 11 languages of the world. He also gave the copy right of all his books to Deccan College PG & Research Institute, Pune; The Jaina Samskriti Samrakshaka Sangh, Maharastra and Prakrit Test Society, Ahmedabad.

Krishna Kanta Handique was the President of Axom Xahitya Xabha during the Guwahati conference in 1937 at the young age of 39, President of Classical Sanskrit Section, XVI All India Oriental Conference, Lucknow in 1951 and was elected the general President of the Srinagar Session of the same in 1961.

Three great works have brought Handique international fame as an eminent Sanskrit scholar and Indologist: Naisadhacarita, Yasastilaka and Setubandha. The first one is a 12th century Sanskrit epic of Sriharsha, acknowledged as a very difficult text among scholars. Eminent Sanskrit scholars of the world readily acclaimed Handique’s annotation and explication of the text as a great work.

Handique worked on Sriharsha's Naisadhacarita while he was the honorary principal of J.B. College, and it was first published by Motilal Benarasi Das, Lahore in 1934. Scholars like M.B. Emeneau, Prof. N. Winternitz and Prof. A.B. Keith praised Handique's work and he was recognised as a scholar of international fame at the age of 36. What surprises everybody is that the mind engaged in a very difficult 12th century Sanskrit text was also the mind that operated upon the immediate problems like poor accommodation of the students in a non-government college and the poor pay of the teachers.

K.K. Handique had been the principal of J.B. College for 17 years and in 1948 he became the vice-chancellor of Gauhati University, the first University of the North-East. Handique completed his second major work in 1949. This work Yasastilaka and Indian Culture or Somadeva's Yasatilaka was first published by Jaina Samskriti Samraksha Sangha, Sholapur.

Scholars in India and abroad widely acclaim this work. Scholars of the All India Oriental Conference held that year in Bombay duly acknowledged the merit of Handique’s work and Handique was elected the president of the classical Sanskrit session of the All India Oriental Conference held in Lucknow in 1951.

K.K. Handique had been the vice-chancellor of Gauhati University for nine years and he shaped this new university according to his vision. After retirement he gave himself no rest. He began to work on Pravarsena's Setubandhana. This book is a 5th century Prakrit which Handique translated into English. He worked so hard on this book that it told upon his health.

K.K. Handique, like an Indian sage or rishi in his single-minded devotion to the search for knowledge.

A man cannot give better than his best and the best of Handique is obviously meant for Indologists and Sanskrit scholars. The few articles he wrote in Assamese are quite illuminating. Just one example is the article published in the journal Cetana on translation. Handique was unhappy with the comment made by a writer who trivialized translation. So he wrote spiritedly in its defense. As he knew languages like Spanish, Greek, French, Italian and German besides English and several Indian languages, he could see the problems of translation with far wider perspective than an average man. A few other articles in Assamese acquaint the readers with some interesting aspects of Japanese, Spanish, Greek, Russian and German literature.

In Assamese, Handique wrote a few prefaces to books written by others, some reminiscences and a few articles for children. He translated some prose pieces into Assamese from the Russian language. His critical insight in Assamese is best illustrated in the preface he wrote to Atul Chandra Hazarika's Assamese translation of Sakuntala. The few English articles he wrote were all published in research journals like The Modern Review, Calcutta, The Indian Antiquary, Bombay, Indian Historical Quarterly. He also wrote a few poems and songs in Assamese.

Handique breathed his last on June 7, 1982. He won many laurels in his life. He was awarded the Padmashree in 1955 and Padmabhusan in 1967. He was made an honorary fellow of Deccan College in 1968. Gauhati University awarded him an honorary D. Lit. Asam Sahitya Sabha elected him Sadasya Mahiyan. In 1985 he was posthumously awarded by the Sahitya Akademi for Racana Sambhar, edited by Jatindranath Goswami. In 1983 the government of India honoured him by issuing a commemoration stamp. Many books have been written on him. Dibrugarh University also published a bibliography on Handique.

The Indian Posts and Telegraphs Dept. issued a commemorative stamp in honor of Prof. Handique on October 7, 1983.

He was awarded “Padmashri” in 1955 and “Padma Bhusan” in 1967 by the Govt. of India. Laurels could not interfere his single minded pursuit of knowledge. His quest for knowledge continued till incapacitated



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