Gangtok: The man who translated Shrimad Bhagwat Maha Puran from Sanskrit to Nepali language, Uday Chandra Basistha, breathed his last at 8:30 pm on February 12 at his residence in Tarpin, Rhenock constituency in East Sikkim.
Basistha was 91 years old and was struggling with health concerns with multiple cardiac arrests since 2010. He also had dementia owing to his age, and for most of the last decade, he was bedridden. His funeral was carried out by his family led by his two sons: microbiologist Dr Bharat Chandra Basistha and forester Satish Chandra Basistha on the riverbed of Rorathang in East Sikkim on February 13.
Late Basistha was a noted Nepali Litterateur and Acharya of Sanskrit language with multiple literary works to his credit in Nepali and Sanskrit languages. Born on January 1, 1930, as the youngest son among six to Agni Dhar Bhandari and Nar Maya Bhandari, he studied in Scottish Mission School in Rhenock till class 4 or 5. He was well into his teens when he finished schooling with no promises for further studies. Narrating the story of his father, Bharat Basistha, speaking exclusively with EastMojo, said, “It was shameful for him in that era when there were no further studies to pursue, and all that people in the era were confined to was cow herding. Perhaps, he didn’t want such a life, resulting in him and his elder brother Hari Prasad Basistha running away from home to study. He asked his mother for one Rupee and a sack full of rice to head out of the then Kingdom, to pursue further education”.
The Basistha brothers headed to Benaras (Varanasi) to study and become Shastris. But the youngest among six brothers, Uday Chandra, didn’t stop at being a mere Shastri, he carried on and pursued Panini Vyakran Acharya, Hindi language, and what was then BA in English.
He returned to Sikkim and was accorded a warm welcome by the Kingdom in the 1950s. He pursued the Hinduism teachings well into the decade, conducting many Maha Purans in various parts of Sikkim, Darjeeling Hills and Terai regions, parts of Assam, and even in Nepal. Owing to his knowledge, he enrolled as a teacher with his first gig at Rabongla school where he was a Nepali, Hindi, Sanskrit, and even English teacher as per the demand.
The then Chogyal acknowledging their education and devotion gave them a monthly stipend of Rs 50 to study further, realising that his economic stature was not strong despite his education. He was accorded a scholarship, and he went on to pursue what was then known as Bachelors in Teaching from BT College in Darjeeling in 1962. Following his BT degree, Uday Chandra was declared as the headmaster for Namchi Secondary School from 1965-67 and Pendam Secondary School in 1968-69.
In the 1970s, after leaving his teaching and headmaster profession, the Chogyal accorded him the designation of Member Secretary in Denzong Cooperative Society from 1972 heading the offices in Rongli, East Sikkim, and in Siliguri, West Bengal. The era was a time when agitation for democracy was making noise and a bright young man who previously was his student in Namchi School, came to his doorstep urging him to take up politics. The young man was none other than the future Chief Minister of Sikkim, Late Nar Bahadur Bhandari. He was also the teacher to another former Chief Minister, Late Sanchaman Limboo, also in Namchi School.
Uday Chandra’s son Satish recalled, “As my father used to recall, NB Bhandari was a standout student who needed some attention from my father as well. Years later, when our father was bedridden, Mr Bhandari had visited our home in Tarpin. Reminiscent of the old days, Bhandari recalled how my father had a very tough left hand, and the slaps from him as a teacher made him a better man. In the 1970s, they both came together with the promise of saving Sikkim’s Chogyal and monarchial regime. They were together in Sikkim Nationalist Party in the 1970s, but they were both unsuccessful in their first attempt at politics”.
But before the Chogyal faced his tragedy, Uday Chandra faced a personal tragedy with the loss of his daughter Bimla Sharma, his second daughter at the age of just 9 years old. Uday Chandra lost his hunger for writing, for his teaching, in politics, and confined himself at his home. But another student of his, Tulshi Ram Kashyap, came to him and urged him to write a book owing to his vast knowledge, his suggestion was maybe a religious epic. The suggestion and his understanding led him to translate Shrimad Bhagwat Maha Puran in Nepali as there was only Valmiki’s Ramayan translated to Nepali by Bhanu Bhakta Acharya, among the Hindu epics. So, in a simple Nepali, he took up an oath to translate the Bhagwad Gita.
“My father was left-handed, but only to write Shrimad Bhagwad Maha Puran, he learned how to write with his right hand. Every morning, before he would shave, he would sit and write Shrimad Bhagwad Maha Puran, it was an oath for over a year. He relied on at least 17-18 different versions of the Gita to translate it in Nepali”, shared his eldest son Bharat Basistha asserting that it was so simple that even a layman could understand and read the Bhagwad Geeta.
The same instilled the fire of writing in Uday Chandra, who went on to write two Garud Puraan and also Asthabakra Geeta which previously only existed in Anustumbh Chanda Sanskrit. Uday Chandra translated it to Anustumbh Chanda Nepali as a poetry collection. He also wrote many novels, including one on Gautam Buddha’s life and teachings, one on the relation between the Kagyud sect of Tibet and Nepali culture, and book on the Indo-Tibet trade route, among others.
Most of his literary works were included in the Nepali language syllabus in schools and even in colleges. His autobiography Sukhti Sudha is a poetry collection taken as moral education across the Nepali speaking diaspora and used as quotes in various literary functions and even in schools.
Years later, when late NB Bhandari became the Chief Minister of Sikkim, he was accorded the designation of a secretary for Khadi Industries in Sikkim and as Officer on Special Duty for Ecclesiastical Department under Sikkim Government. It was his inclination towards spirituality that earned him the position of translating the 1992 Kalchakra Puja in Sikkim. He was translating the Tibetan language preaching of the Dalai Lama into Nepali for a majority of the people to understand.
In 1991, he started the Sikkim Chapter of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and joined Bharatiya Janata Party in the late 1990s. During the visit of the then Home Minister and BJP stalwart Lal Krishna Advani in 2002, the two had a meeting discussing the close ties between Hinduism and Buddhism religions.
He also was the general secretary and president of a rare religious pilgrimage group from Sikkim, which aided senior citizens in carrying out the religious pilgrimage to various parts of India. It was a collective effort of the likes of Basistha, JK Rai, and late Devendra Sharma in helping Sikkimese people visit religious pilgrims across the country. One of the beneficiaries of the pilgrimage group was the father of Krishna Tamang, wife of current Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay. Uday Chandra’s youngest son Satish recalled, “When Krishna ma’am lost her father in 2020, we paid a visit to her family and we both recalled how the religious pilgrimage was such a blessed tour for our families. Even the current Chief Minister PS Golay, before winning the election visited our home to seek blessings from my father”.
His inclination towards Hinduism and spirituality led him to conceptualize the existing Vishwa Vinayaka Mandir in Rhenock, East Sikkim. He was also instrumental in setting up Radha Krishna Mandir in Rhenock and eventually setting up Acharya Sanskrit Vidyalaya in the 1980s, where he taught Sanskrit and headed the institution.
Among his many accolades and awards that he received for his literary contribution, he was conferred with Maitreyi Nepali Sahitya Purashkar in Kathmandu in the 1990s, by the then Queen of Nepal. In Sikkim, he was awarded the highest Nepali literature award – Bhanu Purashkar – in 2006 for his contribution to Nepali literature. Nepali Sahitya Parishad in Sikkim observed two minutes of silence during the ongoing Read and Grow book festival’s panel discussion which had various Nepali stalwarts on February 13.
In his leisure time, Uday Chandra used to play Shastriya Gaana on his harmonium, sing his renditions of Sanskrit shlokas and Kabir Sangeet. “He used to do so until 2010 when he got Herpes Zortes, which triggered his illness. He had multiple cardiac arrests and later dementia owing to his age. For years in the last decade, it felt as though he was in a cryo-sleep owing to multiple cardiac arrests. When asked why he didn’t want to get up, he would often say there was nothing left for him to see in the world”, shared his eldest son.
His younger son Satish shared, “His message to us was always on the purity and how no amount of money can ever supersede education. He urged us to live a simple life but one that was spent pursuing knowledge and education always, telling us that the two would never leave us, even if the money earned is spent. He respected work and how it was the incomparable worship one can devote to. In life, he played many characters and so was his message to us, that life is filled with so many characters”.
The biggest contribution to Uday Chandra’s life was his wife Sashikala Basistha, who despite a decade-long illness, never left her husband’s side for a day. Along with Sashikala, Uday Chandra’s legacy is carried by his two sons Bharat Chandra, Satish Chandra, and his two daughters Kamala Sharma and Samjhana Sharma.
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