Celebrating the Vedic Cultural Stalwarts in Our Midst: Ghanapati Rajagopala Sarma

A profile of Ghanapati Rajagopala Sarma, a true Vedic stalwart in our midst. This is a translation of Shatavadhani Dr. Ganesh's brilliant portrait of this eminent Vedic Pundit and scholar.
Celebrating the Vedic Cultural Stalwarts in Our Midst: Ghanapati Rajagopala Sarma


ONE OF THE AGELESS GEMS in the cinematic universe of K. Viswanath is the memorable scene from Swarnakamalam featuring an aged Ghanapati and a haughty bureaucrat. In less than four minutes, Viswanath brings alive the tragic history of the downfall of the Vedic culture in the very land it was birthed. It is an excruciating scene executed not in a revolutionary or reactionary manner but in a spirit of pure Sattva. It also accomplishes several things at the same time. It exposes the enduring thrall of the psychological colonisation of the Hindu mind. The bureaucrat who humiliates the Ghanapati is one of the most powerful symbols of the ugliness called Nehruvianism. In fact, he is the very creation of the corrosive Nehruvian state. Like Nehru, he is haughty because he’s petty. But this is no ordinary pettiness. It is a pettiness imbued with spite, which actively seeks to annihilate all that is noble, lofty, and virtuous. And thus, there’s no better — or worse — form of annihilation than reducing a Ghanapati to a beggarly status.

Beyond a minuscule section of the Sanatana society, the ideals, values, but above all, the lifestyle of our traditional Vaidikas largely remains unknown to this day. Perhaps the recent work of value that describes them is Sri D.V. Gundappa’s Vaidikadharma-Sampradayastharu in Kannada. But that was written more than half a century ago. And now, Shatavadhani Dr. Ganesh’s extraordinarily vivid and heartfelt portrait of a lineage of Ghanapatis shares the same Gundappan rank. 

To our great fortune, a Ghanapati belonging to that lineage still lives in our midst. His name is Ghanapati Rajagopala Sarma. And it is both our duty and our Rna to celebrate such luminaries, the real torchbearers who continue to exude and spread the resplendence of the Vedic culture. In today’s time, this flame may be feeble but the alternative is darkness.

Dr. Ganesh’s portrait of Ghanapati Rajagopala Sarma occurs as part of his reminiscences of his days at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. As will be evident, the portrait is truly uplifting, ennobling, humbling and is suffused with a wealth of personal anecdotes given Dr. Ganesh's long friendship with the Ghanapati.

The original essay series in Kannada can be read here. The following is my adapted translation of the aforementioned portrait of the Ghanapati. 

Read on!

Ghanapati Rajagopala Sarma

OLDER TO ME BY ABOUT FOUR OR FIVE YEARS, Rajagopala Sarma is truly a special personality. He was working as a researcher in the Bhavan’s Gandhi Centre under Raja Ramanna. He was originally from Tamil Nadu. A thorough Vaidika. He had learned the Krishna Yajurveda including its Ghanapāṭha recitation and was a Vidvan in both the Pūrva and Uttara Mīmāmsā. But just this bit of information is insufficient to clearly delineate his full personality. This is because, like him, there are any number of Vedic Vidvans and Sastra scholars among us. I am also acquainted with numerous such Vidvans. 

The marked virtue that I have observed in Sri Rajagopala Sarma is his self-assurance and magnanimity. Self-assurance in the sense of being non-needy. In general, position, status and the pride and showoff that they beget are the accomplices of “modern” education. A good chunk of traditional Vaidikas who are completely unexposed to this “education” often feel a sense of inferiority before such flaunting. It appears that the non-Brahmin sections of the Hindu society have largely not observed this psychological phenomenon. The humiliation that such Vaidikas face is comparable to that faced by the lower classes of the Hindu society — those who are known as backward classes and Dalits. And so, these Vaidikas, almost without exception, are eager to get “modern” education for their children, the ticket for their entry into the contemporary materialistic world. It is unnecessary to discuss the merits and demerits thereof in this space. However, it is undeniable that the present day Bharatavarsha is experiencing the fruits of this phenomenon. 

Rajagopal was never afflicted by this inferiority. On the contrary, he had justifiable pride. I had never seen any such Śrōtriya until I met him. Together with this virtue, he also possessed admirable magnanimity. Without worrying too much about tomorrow, he set aside his earnings in service of the values and people he esteemed. 

When I newly joined the Bhavan, I continued to sport the residues of my college life: shirt and trousers, and my hair was crop-cut as usual. However, Rajagopal looked resplendent in his Kacce-pan̄ce, Kurta and Uttarīya. Additionally, his head overflowed with an abundance of Śikhā enough to make two garlands. Because he would shave based on the appropriate Tithi, day, and star, his face was perpetually tyrannised by a beard and moustache. This day this Śrōtriya saw me, he exclaimed, “vaango, Samrat poi tiffin saapt varlaa!” — Come sir, let’s go to Samrat and eat some tiffin! An invitation to eat in a restaurant!

I had a brief acquaintance with Rajagopal earlier.  His uncle’s daughter’s house was right behind my house. Her father was the renowned Vedic Pundit, R. Krishnamurthy Sastri. He was the head of the Sanskrit college in Chennai. Everyone in their family was well-versed in Sanskrit. As his younger sister by relation, Rajagopal would often visit Srividya’s home. He had stayed in that home before he got married. Additionally, he had learned the Pūrvāpara-prayōga (Pūrva= Vedic ceremonies performed during various stages of a human’s life. apara=those performed at death and thereafter) under the tutelage of Srividya’s father-in-law. This was how I got acquainted with him, an acquaintance that matured into familiarity at the Bhavan. 

Although Rajagopal knew Kannada, I spoke to him in Tamil in order to sharpen my own hold on the language. The moment I heard him invite me to the restaurant, I said in alarm, “idenna! Neengo hotelkku poharadu! — what is this! Even you go to hotels!” Completely nonplussed, he said, “naan verum vaidikanillai; Vedanti kooda — I am not merely a Vaidika; I’m also a Vedantin.” This reveals his innate temperament.

On one occasion, the Mumbai centre of the Bhavan had organised a national seminar on Vedanta. Both of us had to participate in it. That was my first ever flight journey, not his. When the air hostess began to serve snacks, I refused to accept it owing to my notions of purity. My anxiety was rooted in my inability to distinguish vegetarian from non-vegetarian. However, Rajagopal unsuspectingly ate the vegetarian fare that was offered. And to top it, he teased me, “kuduttadellam eduttukongo! ‘Enna inda kudumi ayya ella tingaraan; inda cropu ayya mattume eduvume tinga maattaan!’ Annutu inda gaganasakhigalella sirikka poraa — Eat everything they offer. Else, the air hostesses will laugh at you saying, ‘that traditional tuft-guy eats everything but this crop-cut guy refuses to touch anything.’” 

But I remained obstinate. Finally, an air hostess took pity on me and gave some fruits. On our return journey, I had reformed a wee bit.

BECAUSE THE BHAVAN was not a commercial enterprise, the salary and allowances it paid its staff was not much. Rajagopal would take potshots at it in a lighthearted manner. When H.K. Ranganath — the then head of the Bhavan — heaped more work on Rajagopal, he would taunt him in a friendly way, “Sir, the salary you pay is pocket money for me. Your salary is akin to Dakshina for Veda Vidvans like us. It is sufficient to meet the cost of coming all the way here and signing the attendance register. If you need me to do more work than this, a different salary structure is required.” If the conversation was prolonged, Rajagopal would humorously overwhelm him with this retort: “I will pay you a salary. You do this work yourself! This kind of work should not be assigned to Pundits like us. We have to do academic work alone.”

To be continued            

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