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Arjun Narayanan | ENS | Lucknow | March 20, 2020:: Nityananda Misra is an unusual equity analyst. When he is not number-crunching, he is busy demystifying Sanskrit shlokas. A rare combination, but one that has led him to dig out some lesser-known stories from India’s grand epic in his latest book, Vyasa-Katha: Fables from the Mahabharata.
The love for Sanskrit happened organically to 39-year-old Misra. His grandfather’s house in Lucknow was stacked with the finest works in Sanskrit and reading those texts early on developed in him an interest in the ‘language of the gods’. Later in life, Misra came across Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, a treatise on Sanskrit grammar.
Commentarial texts helped him understand the finer nuances of the language. “The vast majority of Sanskrit literature is commentarial. For instance, the Srimad Bhagavatam runs into 18,000 verses but there are only 32 published commentaries about it,” says Misra, who has taken up the task of simplifying the text as much as possible.
Misra is also influenced by Mallinatha Suri, known for his commentaries on five mahakavyas of Sanskrit (it is estimated that he lived between 1350-1450 CE). “At the beginning of many of his commentaries, Mallinatha says, ‘Nothing is being written without basis, nor is anything unexpected being said.’ This is the principle of the faithful exposition of a text; a commentator cannot write anything that is not there in the original. But he has the duty to explain and convince the reader that his commentary reflects the intent of the writer of the original text,” he explains.
It was in 2015 that Misra wrote his first book Mahaviri: Hanuman Chalisa Demystified. Over the years, he has written eight books and also edited 12.
An alumnus from the IIM Bangalore, Misra sees fables as India’s gift to the world with a rich repository of them in Panchatantra, Jataka and Hitopadesha. “Even Mahabharata has many fables, told in a style that is reminiscent of the Panchatantra and sometimes you find the same stories in both of them,” says Misra, who believes that fables are an advanced and powerful way of storytelling to impart moral learning to young minds.
Writing books is not the only way to spread his love for the language. Misra runs an introductory Sanskrit video series for beginners and new learners on his YouTube channel which has over 13K subscribers. He has uploaded 145 videos so far. On Twitter, he has close to 42K followers and here he clarifies doubts related to the language.
He will soon be writing a two-volume work called Sunama Sagar, which will be an encyclopedia of Sanskrit names and their meanings. “It will bring to light the rarest of rare names, something which parents are looking for today.” Truly, raising the hymn capital.