Satya Ranjan Banerjee (4.6.1928 – 10.12.2016)

Posted: 04.05.2017

Centre of Jaina Studies Newsletter: SOAS - University of London

Professor Satya Ranjan Banerjee was born in Umedpur, a village in the Faridpur District of the Dhaka division (now in Bangladesh). At a very early stage of life he came to Calcutta (Kolkata) and settled there with his family and started his school education. After earning his bachelor's degree with honours in Sanskrit from the University of Calcutta in 1952, Banerjee gained a master's degree in Sanskrit with specialisation in Prakrit, including Pāli, Apabhraṃśa and Inscriptional Prakrits in 1954. He completed a second master's degree at the same university in Comparative Philology at the Department of Linguistics where he studied and wrote his dissertation on Indo-European languages, including Avestan, Old Persian and Greek. His first PhD was from the Department of Comparative Philology, Calcutta University in 1964, on the Eastern School of Prakrit Grammarians. He completed a second PhD on A Comparative Study of the Greek and Indian Perfect Tenses with Special Reference to Homeric Greek at the University of Edinburgh in 1972. Before his doctoral research at University of Edinburgh, Banerjee studied Modern Linguistics: Descriptive, Structural and Generative-Transformational Linguistics along with Indo-European Philology. He was also recognized as a scholar of Sanskrit in the traditional Indian system and earned the title of Madhyamā in Pāṇinian grammar and also in Kāvya literature from the Board of the Sanskrit Association, Government of West Bengal. He received the honour of Prākṛta Vidyā-Maṇīṣī from Jain Vishva Bharati, Ladnun in 1990 and a D. Litt. (Honoris causa) from Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata in 2010.

At the early stage of his professional life Banerjee taught Sanskrit in local Sanskrit colleges and at the Universities of Calcutta and Jadavpur. Later, in 1970–72, he taught Sanskrit at the University of Edinburgh and at the School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London. In 1972–75 he also taught at the Institute of Languages in London. With extensive teaching experience and knowledge of western pedagogical methodology to his credit Banerjee joined the faculty of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Calcutta, where he taught from 1975–98. Apart from his regular teaching in Linguistics in other departments he also taught subjects such as Sanskrit, Bengali and French.

In 1978 he spent a year as a visiting Professor at the Center for South Asia, University of WisconsinMadison, USA. He delivered numerous invited lectures and attended many academic gatherings, not only at Indian universities, but also abroad, frequently attending international conferences and delivering lectures at many universities in Europe, North America and Latin America. In 1980 he was invited as a fellow by the Swiss National Foundation for Scientific Research to work on an Indo-Greek Lexicon at Bern, Swizerland and Athens, Greece.

S.R. Banerjee at the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Kolkatta (Photo: P. Flügel 19.11.2007)

During his career, Banerjee authored more than 80 books and over  400 research articles, published in India and abroad. His works include: The Eastern School of Prakrit Grammarians (1977), An edition of Kramadīśvara's Prākṛtādhyāya (1980), Indo-European Tense and Aspect in Greek and Sanskrit (1983), Mṛcchakaṭika or the Toy-Cart of King Śūdraka – A Study (1984), A Handbook of Sanskrit Philology (1987, 2000), and Narrative Tales in Jaina Literature (2008). He also contributed to edited volumes with articles such as: 'An Edition of the Paspaśā-āhnika of Patañjali's Mahābhāṣya' (1998), 'Albrecht Weber's Sacred Literatures of the Jainas' (co-authored with G. Lalwani) (1999), 'The Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini' (2003), 'The Siddhānta-kaumudī of Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita' (2005), 'Mārkaṇçeya's Prākṛta-sarvasva' (2007), and 'Abhidhāna-cintāmaṇi of Hemacandra' (2010). A number of books were in preparation, and several books are still in press: A Handbook of the New Indo-Aryan Philology, Prakrit Textual Criticism, A Handbook of Prakrit Grammar, Prakrit Chrestomathy, and Linguistic Studies in Sanskrit Grammar.

Banerjee's research articles covered almost all disciplines of Indological Studies, but his prime focus was on language and grammar. He was the recipient of many academic awards, including Ācārya Vidyāsāgar Sāhitya Puraskār, 1982; Ācārya Sukumar Sen Puraskār, 1998; and Ācārya Hemacandrasūri Puraskār, 2000. He was awarded the Certificate of Honour by the Honourable President of India, 2002; became Associate Member of the Centre of Jaina Studies at SOAS, 2006; received the Ācārya Tulsī Prakrit Puraskār, 2006; and the Prakrit Jñānabhāratī Puraskār in 2016.

Banerjee often recalled the days of his student-life and shared his memories with his students. He would mention the names of professors to whom he was forever indebted. Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Professor Kshitish Chandra Chatterjee and Professor Prabhat Mukherjee were his main sources of inspiration, but most frequently he quoted the name of Prabhat Mukherjee. He was very also much influenced by A.N. Upadhye and Hiralal Jain in the fields of Prakrit and Jaina Studies.

Banerjee was popularly known as 'Sir' to all pupils. He possessed a great understanding students' psychology. In his lectures he emphasized vital points just as they wre were about to rise in the mind of the students. A bachelor in his personal life, he dedicated his whole life to teaching and research. A detailed record of his life and works has been preserved in two Festschriften: Studia Indologica and Indological Essays edited by his students and friends in 2007 and 2014 respectively. Scholars from India and abroad contributed articles to these volumes.

For some years, due to his age, Banerjee's movement was restricted, and he attended academic programmes only locally. He was quite active in writing even at the last stage of his life. He left the mundane world with a smiling face after having made a major contribution to academic scholarship. He will live on forever in the hearts of students of Indology.  

Jagat Ram Bhattacharyya is Professor at the Department of Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, West Bengal.

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