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Explained: What it means to have Jayant Narlikar as chair of Marathi Sahitya Sammelan

The importance of Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan in the Marathi literary world, and what it means to have world-renowned scientist Jayant Narlikar as its chair.

Written by Sushant Kulkarni , Edited by Explained Desk | Pune |
Updated: January 27, 2021 8:24:03 am
Padma Vibhushan Prof Jayant Narlikar during a national conference on Space at Tagore Theatre, Chandigarh. File/Express Photo by Sumit Malhotra

Noted astrophysicist, science writer and academic Dr Jayant Narlikar has been named as the president of the 94th edition of Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, a prestigious annual literary meet that will take place in Nashik in March this year.

What is the importance of this literary meet in the Marathi literary world and what it means to have a world-renowned scientist as its chair.

What is the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan

The first Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan dates back to 1878, when social reformer, writer and judge Mahadev Govind Ranade chaired the literary conference. Since then, it has remained the central platform for literary discourse, debates, expression and literary criticism in Marathi language. While the annual meet itself is an affair of three days, the president of the sammelan remains on the position for a year and steers the discussions about the key issues in Marathi literature in that period.

However, there have been several years in between that the meet was not organised. In fact, since its inception in 1878 till early 1960s, the meet was held in an unstructured manner with Marathi literary bodies and academic institutions within and outside Maharashtra organising it. In early 1960s, Yashwantrao Chavan, then Maharashtra Chief Minister and later Union Minister, made efforts to bring together various Marathi literary bodies under the leadership of historian Datto Vaman Potdar.

What took shape was the Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Mahamandal as an umbrella body, which now comprises representatives of the four main Marathi literary bodies from Vidarbha, Marathwada, Pune and Mumbai regions and allied bodies from Vadodara, Goa, Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

From 1965 till two years ago, the Mahamandal member bodies nominated voters in certain numbers they were entitled to and also suggested names for the position of the president from among the big names from the literary world. The president would then be selected either unanimously or by way of election. For the last two years, a 19-member panel of the representatives of the Mahamandal members have been choosing the president. Mahamandal head Kautikrao Thale Patil announced the unanimous decision to choose Dr Narlikar as president of the Sammelan, which will be held at Nashik from March 26 to 28.

What it means to have a globally renowned scientist as chair of the literary meet

The Sahitya Sammelan in the past has seen literary figures who also were very active in other walks of public life including politics, academics, social activism, law, public administration and other art fields including theatre. Many of the past presidents have also contributed to science writing in Marathi.

Dr Narlikar’s appointment, however, has a unique significance. The octogenarian astrophysicist, who is also emeritus professor at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, mainly known for the conformal gravity theory, known as Hoyle–Narlikar theory, which he developed with Sir Fred Hoyle. The theory primarily synthesises Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and Mach’s principle. He is known for his seminal works in the fields of gravity and cosmology, including those on origins of the universe, for which he has received several international awards along with Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan in India.

Dr Narlikar has penned a dozen books of science fiction in Marathi and has written or edited around 15 non-fiction science related works in Marathi. These books belong to an array of subjects, ranging from space sciences, cosmology, mathematics, scientific inquiry and relation between society and scientific thought.

Dr Narlikar’s literary works have appealed to people across the cross-section of society for a long time and have sensitively portrayed the standing of science in the social structures. After Dr Narlikar was chosen as the chair of the meet, Mahamandal head Kautikrao Thale Patil said, “Dr Narlikar being the President of Sammelan reaffirms Marathi literature’s commitment to scientific temperament, reason and logical inquiry.”

Past controversies surrounding the literary meet

The Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan has had its share of controversies in the recent past. One of the key criticisms that the conference has faced for many years is whether it is representative enough of the various sections of the society and the literary world. It is also beset with internal squabbles of its organising bodies.

In 2019, the Sammelan was caught in controversy after an invitation extended to littérateur Nayantara Sahgal for the inauguration of its 92nd edition was revoked following opposition from a Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) leader and some local groups in Yavatmal in Maharashtra.

For the 93rd chapter, when Father Francis D’Britto, a Vasai-based Catholic priest, environmental activist and writer, was chosen president, the bodies involved in the organisation of the conference had received threat calls.

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This year, the meet will be held in the shadow of the pandemic and the organisers have said that restrictions will be in place. The main attraction of the three-day event is the presidential address along with a plethora of discussions and debates, lectures, poetry sessions, interviews and book stalls.

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