The need for an Indian Academy of Letters
The Sahitya Akademi, for preserving, translating, publishing and circulating literature in 24 Indian languages, was formed today in 1954. It remains the premier literature Institution in India.
The year was 1954, and India needed an organisation to promote its languages. India’s vast tradition of dozens of languages and thousands of dialects needed to be preserved, and so far there was not any central institution with the power or responsibility to do so.
The concern was that despite being ostensibly separate from the Union government of India, it still needed to rely on the government to be able to draw that many authors, poets and playwrights to its doorstep. Thus, autonomy was emphasised.
The name Sahitya Akademi was chosen to christen this Academy of Letters, as S. Radhakrishnan noted in his speech on the foundation, that, “Sahitya” was from Sanskrit, and “Academy” from Greek, and the venture they were trying to establish was thus universal in its aspirations. It would not be restrictive, but rather an assembly of all those interested in literature - creative and critical kinds.
The goals of the Akademi were set out to be the recognition of people with achievement in literature, encouraging the ones who show more promise and to improve standards of literature and its critique.
It publishes bibliographies, critical editions of works, compilations of an author’s work, and translations of works to the 24 languages it is supposed to, under the Indian Constitution. Furthermore, it holds seminars, national and international, for discussion on Indian literature, an annual festival to hand out the Sahitya Akademi Award, the highest in Indian literature, and also organises public interactions with published Indian authors.
Various novelists, playwrights, poets and budding authors visit the doors of the Akademi for either inspiration, interactions, or a challenge. With a long and diverse tradition of works, The Sahitya Akademi has its work cut out for itself, and it remains to be seen how they succeed in it.