"Tarkateertha" Lakshman Shastri Joshi[note 1] (1901–1994) was an Indian scholar, of Sanskrit, Hindu Dharma, and a Marathi literary critic, and supporter of Indian independence. Mahatma Gandhi chose him to be his principal advisor in his campaign against untouchability.
Lakshman Shastri was born in a Brahmin family in 1901 to Balaji and Chandrabhaga Joshi, in the village of Pimpalner, Dhule district in the present-day state of Maharashtra. He left home at age 14 after studying to be a priest. He finally settled in Wai, a historic temple town on the banks of the Krishna river. In Wai, he studied Sanskrit, Hindu dharma and Indian philosophy at the Pradnya pathshala, a renowned Vedic school. Later at in 1923 he earned the degree "Tarkateertha", or literally, "Master of logic" at the Government Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya of Calcutta. In 1927, he married Satyawati Mulherkar. They had two sons and two daughters. Their elder son, Madhukar had a distinguished career at IBM in research and management.
Joshi spent all his life in Wai. He was closely associated with Pradnya pathshala all his life. Although a Brahmin, he spent his life going against tradition. In 1932, at the age of 29, he was jailed by the British for his role in the freedom movement.[note 2] However while in prison, he quickly gained a reputation as a Hindu dharma scholar. Under the tutelage of Vinobha Bhave, he learned English when Vinoba-Ji came to Wai to study under Kewalananda Saraswati. It was during one of those internments that Mahatma Gandhi, troubled by respectable Brahmin priests shying away from officiating at the intercaste marriage of his son Devdas, a Vania, or merchant class boy, to Lakshmi, the daughter of C. Rajagopalachari, a Brahmin, and later the second Governor General of independent India approached the young Joshi for his opinion on whether such a marriage was against Hindu dharma. With his thorough knowledge of the Shastras, Joshi not only judged the marriage acceptable but also performed the wedding ceremony.
In the 1930s, Joshi came under the influence of radical humanist M. N. Roy and quickly assimilated and embraced western philosophical systems. He questioned whether those that had the knowledge had the wisdom to lead, and recognized those that followed had inadequate knowledge. He was the member of Roy's Radical Democratic party until its dissolution 1948. He wrote a Marathi treatise called Vaidik Sankriti-cha Vikas (Development of Vedic Civilization) in 1951. This treatise was based on six lectures he delivered at the University of Pune, where he traced the evolution of "Vedic" culture and its influence on modern India. He wrote a critique arguing that modern Indians became conflicted between meeting material needs and attaining spiritual enlightenment, thus fostering a collective weakness, disharmony and allowing caste differences to prevail. In 1960 he led the project on creating Vishwakosh, a Marathi language encyclopedia, and Dharmakosha, a Marathi transliteration of the ancient Vedic/Hindu Sanskritic hymns. In Wai, he also opened a hostel for students of the Dalit castes, a factory for making hand-made paper and a printing press.
His first book, Shuddhisarvasvam, is a treatise in Sanskrit on the philosophical basis of religious conversion, published in 1934. In that same year, he edited the Dharmakosha, which encompassed twenty-six volumes and 18,000 pages, encoding the basic texts and commentaries on the varied aspects of dharma and dharma-shastras from 1500 BC to the 18th century. In 1938, he wrote Anand-Mimamsa, a critical commentary on the theory or Ras and aesthetics in Marathi literature. Later in 1973, he wrote Adhunik Marathi Sahityachi Samiksha, a study of the tenets of modern Marathi literary criticism. He also wrote Hindu Dharmachi Samiksha, in 1940, critically examining the concepts and foundation of Hinduism, and Jadawad, in 1941, a survey of the history and development of materialism in Indian and Western philosophical traditions. He wrote Vaidik Sanskriticha Vikas in 1958 to much acclaim. Amongst other works are Upanishadanche Marathi Bhashantar, a translation of the 18 principal Upanishads into Marathi.
For his outstanding contribution, he received the Sahitya Akademi award from India's National Academy of Letters in 1955. For his distinguished service, he was awarded the Padma Bhushan, India's third highest honour in 1976. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in literature from Bombay University in 1975. In 1992 he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian honor, in recognition of a lifetime of exceptional and distinguished service to India.
He died at the age of 94.