The University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of Indian author and philosopher Raja Rao (1908-2006). Rao, whom the New York Times Book Review in 1964, described as “perhaps the most brilliant — and certainly the most interesting — writer of modern India,” was the recipient of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature and numerous other literary awards. His estate donated the archive to the Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at UTA.
Rao was the author of numerous works of fiction, short stories, poetry, talks, essays and “The Great Indian Way: A Life of Mahatma Gandhi” (1998), about Mohandas Gandhi’s time in South Africa. His archive includes a range of materials, from unpublished works to manuscripts of his well-known novels “Kanthapura” (1938), “The Serpent and the Rope” (1960) and “The Chessmaster and his Moves” (1988).
It also has materials in several of the languages that Rao spoke including English, French, Sanskrit and his native Kannada. Rao joined the UTA faculty in 1966, teaching Indian philosophy until 1980. In 1963, he gave a series of talks called “Saints and the Sage: The Revival of Hindu Philosophy in Contemporary India,” which shared Indian philosophy with America. The archive includes edited transcripts of the talks.
“Departing boldly from the European tradition of the novel, Raja Rao has indigenized it in the process of assimilating material from the Indian literary tradition,” said R. Parthasarathy, professor emeritus of English at Skidmore College. “He has put the novel to uses to which it had not perhaps been put before by exploring the metaphysical basis of writing itself, of in fact the word.”
Born in southern India in what was then the kingdom of Mysore, Rao got his B.A. from Madras
University. He did his postgraduate studies in literature and history in France, at the University of Montpellier and at the Sorbonne. In 1964, Rao won the Indian National Academy of Letters’ Sahitya Akademi Award for Literature for the philosophical novel “The Serpent and the Rope.”
In 1969, he was the recipient of the Padma Bhushan Award, one of India’s highest awards for literature, and in 2007 he was posthumously awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the government of India.