Mrs Mishra comes from a family tradition that hails originally from the ancient land of Mithila, situated in the north-east corner of the State of Bihar in northern India. To the north Mithila is bounded by the low lying plains of Nepal, to the west by the river Sadanira (the modern Gandak), to the south by the river Ganges, and to the east by the river Kosi.
Mithila is a richly green and lush land, without hills or mountains and irrigated by a network of rivers and rivulets. Its peculiar geographical position has made it impregnable since prehistoric times. Thousands of years ago Mathava Videgha and a group of enlightened seers reached the banks of the river Sadanira. They crossed the river to settle in the land of Mithila. This was the Mithila of the Vedas, a land that excelled in the field of scolarship. Even in these early Vedic times there were two distinct lines of development - Vedic religion and speculations of the Upanishads, which in later years came to be known as the 'Path of Rituals' (religion or karma kanda) and the 'Path of Knowledge' (philosophy or jnana kanda) respectively.
The guardians of this tradition were the Maithil Brahmins, who were considered to be the sole custodians of learning. Mithila has its own language, Maithili, and throughout the period of Muslim rule when Persian was the language of the rulers, and also the period of British rule when English was the language of the rulers, the Mathil Brahmins had a slogan: na vadet yavani bhasa pranaih kanthagatairapie; "One should not leave one's language and adopt the language of the Yavans even when one's life is in danger".
Education in Mithila generally meant proficiency in the study of the traditional branches of Sanskrit learning of which the Vedas (scriptures), Dharmashastra (ethics), Mimamsa (rites and rituals), Niyaya (logic), Vyakarana (grammar), and Jyotish (astrology and astronomy) were the subjects usually pursued. Any other subject that was outside of, or new to Sanskritic lore was considered irrelevant or even forbidden.
Only those students devoted to serious study, and who maintained the strictly orthodox ways of living were eligible to later be recognised as 'Pandits'. The pandits were the leaders and also the educators of society. It was the duty of the pandit to teach free of charge to all who wished to study. Many pandits taught from home and these 'schools' were called Chaupadi (or Chatushpati, a school where the four vedas were read). Pandits had no regular income, their expenses were met by the society. Some rich landlords or Rajas would, however, employ pandits under their personal patronage to perform religious rites and to educate their children.
In the traditional genealogical records maintained since the days of Maharaja Harasingha Deva (1275-1335) of the Brahmins of Mithila, Mrs Mishra's ancestors can be traced up to twenty four generations. The earliest known ancestor according to these records was called Halayudha and his descendants settled in several neighbouring villages of Mithila.
In the Maithil geneological records, along with the names and residence details honorific titles or epithets are also given describing scholarly status. These honorifics could be divided into four categories:
In Mrs Mishra's lineage are fifteen Mahamahopadhyayas. No other family of Maithil Brahmins has perhaps greater number of Mahamahopadhyayas than this family. Of the fifteen Mahamahopadhyayas of Mrs Mishra's family lineage of Sanskrit scholars five luminaries in particular stand out:
Mahamahopadhyaya Jayadev Mishra wrote three important books on Sanskrit grammar: Shastrartharatnavali, Paribhashendu Shekhara-Tika-Vijaya and Vyutpattivada-Tika-Jaya. These books have been reprinted several times and are well-known all over India. In 1922 he was appointed professor at Benares Hindu University. In the same year he was awarded the highest title of Mahamahopadhyaya by the Government of India. He had three sons, the eldest of whom was Mahamahopadhyaya Dr Umesh Mishra. At his passing in 1926, his dearest pupil and eminent scholar Mahamahopadhyaya Dr Ganganatha Jha, wrote the following tribute in the form of a Sanskrit verse:
Jayah kule jayobhayase jaya panditamandale Jayo mrityau jayo mokse Jayadevah sada Jayah.
Glorious in ancestry, splendid in studiousness, successful in the assemblies of scholars, great in the hour of death, triumphant in achieving the Final Emancipation of the Soul, Jayadeva always won the day.
Mahamahopadhyaya Umesh Mishra began his studies at a very young age. He would have first learned the Tirhuta alphabet at home. He would later learn the Devanagari and Roman alphabets. According to tradition his primary education would have been taught by his father. This would have consisted of Amarakosh, Laghu Siddhanta Kaumudi, Hitopidesha and Raghwamsha. After completing this course of traditional training, he was admitted to the Bengali Tola High School at Varanasi (Benaras). From there he passed the Matriculation examination in 1914 at the age of eighteen, obtaining the highest marks in Sanskrit, for which he was awarded the Shiromani gold medal.
On completing his education Mahamahopadhyaya Umesh Mishra moved to Allahabad in 1923. From 1922 onwards he wrote articles in his mother tongue that appeared in various Maithili magazines. His contribution to the promotion of Maithili language, literature and culture is invaluable. He collected a large amount of material in the form of books, periodicals, manuscripts etc. This was continued by his son Dr Jayakant Mishra so that today the family has perhaps the largest ever collection of Maithili literature.
Mahamahopadhyaya Umesh Mishra laid the foundations of several institutions. He established the All India Maithil Sahitya Samiti, wrote countless articles in Maithili, Sanskrit, Hindi and Englsh languages. He appeared several times on All India Radio. Many of his essays were published as well as his translations of Maithili classics. His publications are too numerous to mention here but the following list will suffice to give you an idea of the scope of his work:
A History of Maithili Literature (English Two Volumes 1957)
Bharatiya Tarkashastra ki Rooprekha (Hindi 1950 - An outline of Indian logic)
Sankhya-Yoga Darshan (Hindi 1958)
Bharatiya Darshan (Hindi 1960)
Rigveda me Karma Vichar (Theory of Karma in Rig Veda)
Bharatiya Darshana Ka Swarupa-Nirupan (The nature of the Indian Philosophical System)
Prachin Bharat me Shalya Vidya (The Science of Surgery in Ancient India)
Conception of Matter according to Nayaya-Vaisesika (A publication of research work for his Doctorate of Literature,giving a comprehensive treatment of all the seven elements separately - Dravya, Guna, Karma, Samanya, Vishekhe, Samavaya and Abhava)
Gaudapada and Matharvoth
Pramanas in Sankhya
Murarestritiyah Panthah (The Third Approach of Murari, presented by him in the All India Oriental Conference and published in its Proceedings in 1928 it developed a wholly new school of Mimamsa thought)
Law of Karman in the Vedic Samhitas
Smriti Theory according to Nyaya Vaisesika
Dream Theory in Indian Thought
Background of Badarayanasutra
Jiva: Its Movement and Uplift
Annihilation of Karman as the Cause of Moksa according to Padmapadacharya
Mahamahopadhyaya Umesh Mishra also edited many works such as:
Padmapadacharya's Vijnana Dipika and Svopajna
A Critical Study of Bhagavadgita
Nimbarka school of Vedanta
On the science of Dharmashastra (Laws of Conduct) he edited three books:
Medhatithi's celebrated commentary on Manusmriti
Dr Ganganath Jha's translation of Vachaspati Mishra's Vivadacintamani
On Grammar, he edited three works of his father:
Vijaya (a commentary on Nagesh Bhatta's Paribhashendushekhar)
Jaya (a commentary on Gadahar Bhatt's Vyutpattivad)
Mahamahopadhyaya Umesh Mishra was elected the honorary secretary of the Ganganath Jha Research Institute in 1943. He was elected President of the Religion and Philosophy section of the All India Sahitya Sammelan of 1948. In 1966 the Uttar Pradesh Hindi Sahitya Sammelan honoured him with the honorary title of Sahitya-Varidhi Ocean of Learning).
As mentioned above he was the founder of several institutions - such as the Mithila Institute of Sanskrit, the Kameshwar Singh Darbhanga Sanskrit University (of which he was the first Vice-Chancellor), and the All India Maithili Sahitya Samiti. He also established the Darbhanga Session of All India Oriental Conference.
Most of the above information has been extracted from the short biography of Umesh Mishra, originally written in Maithili by the Sanskritist and Maithili litterateur Pandit Govinda Jha, to whom we are extremely grateful. This work has been translated into English by Dr Jayakant Mishra. It is currently available published by the Sahitya Akademi in New Delhi.
Dr Jayakant Mishra in the Maithili world was the literary successor of his father Mahamahopadhyaya Umesh Mishra and details of his life and work can be found by following the link.
Dr Jayakanta Mishra's eldest son the late Professor R K Mishra was Head of the Sanskrit Department at Allahabad University. Much of his work has also been published, including one book in English:
Theory of Creation
In Main Orthodox Schools of Indian Philosophy
Rudrakanta Mishra M.A. D.Phil.
Professor Rudrakant Mishra was of course the elder brother of Mrs Mishra.
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