The following is my introduction to the English translation of D.V. Gundappa’s immortal classic, Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu, the fifth volume of his Jñāpakacitraśāle series. The English translation titled, Some Protagonists of Sacred Traditions, has been published by Prekshaa Pratishthana and is now available for purchase.
THIS INTRODUCTION is and does not aspire to be anything other than a homage both to the sublimely original work and its profound author, D.V. Gundappa. To paraphrase a message of the Bhagavad Gita, Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu (Vedic Traditionalists) has an intrinsic power to deliver Ātmōddhāra and drench us in ātmānanda. It is an antidote of hope to the Melancholic and a source of perennial equanimity to the self-possessed.
The other remarkable distinction of Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu is the near-total absence of any Śastra-vākya, or quotations from our philosophical texts. Instead, DVG portrays the practical side of this philosophy. The tranquil, serene, simple and moving lives of these Vedic traditionalists are the colours.
If the Jñāpakacitraśāle volumes are a unique genre in the realm of biographical writing, the Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu volume is its soul. A juxtaposition can be made in a limited sense within this framework.
In his majestic volume titled Maisūrina Divānarugaḷu (Divans of Mysore), DVG supplies prodigious amounts of details related to various aspects of the Artha (wealth or worldly transactions) facet of human endeavours.
But Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu is a solemn extravaganza of how Rta and Dharma express themselves through profound human lives. The stately but sublime response of a Vedic traditionalist to DVG’s theorising about democracy, voting, freedom of expression, etc., is perhaps the best illustration of the foregoing assessment. It is best to savour it in DVG’s own words:
After spending some years in Bangalore, I visited my hometown and together with Sri Venkatanarana Bhatta, visited the temple. On that occasion, I got the opportunity to exhibit my newly acquired scholarship. I explained the latest concepts of democracy…to the best of my knowledge. Without interrupting me even once, Sri Venkatanarana Bhatta walked along the way, listening intently…He washed his feet and before sitting down to the evening sandhyāvandanaṃ, he said in Telugu: “What you mean to say is, it’s the regime of the Shudras from now on.”
I was surprised. I thought, “what’s this? He has deduced only this much from all the lofty and grand theories and tenets.”… Only the summary of my conversation with Sri Venkatanarana Bhatta may be stated here.
“The word ‘Shudra’ means a person who is endowed with a narrow or petty mind. It is not used in the sense of being one Varna among the four Varnas. It doesn’t matter which Varna a person belongs to, it is important that character and conduct be lofty; it is important that one is broadminded and magnanimous. Look at our own town. Muniyappa from Toṭada, Muniyappa from someśvara pāḻya, Marashetty, Sonne Gowda from soṇṇavāḍi —will anybody disregard their advice? … everybody respects them. Don’t we respect Kashti Haidar Saheb, Haji Madar Saheb, Syed Pachami? Who will object to a country which is ruled by intelligent and respectable people?
“But what you’re saying does not lead to that path. You talk about majorities. You talk about the masses. In any country, is it possible that the majority of the people, the masses are all intelligent and uniformly endowed with a sense of justice and ethics? If that is the case, then we don’t need a Government at all. Apparently, such conditions existed in the kṛta Yuga…
“According to your argument, do you mean to say that such a [democratic] Government will usher in conditions akin to the kṛta Yuga? When you say “Shudra,” it means a person who is constantly unhappy, and his mind is always stricken with grief. ‘I don’t have this, I don’t have that. Some other person obtained something but I didn’t obtain it.’ In this manner, a person who escalates feelings of jealousy and desires within himself is called a Shudra. He is a niggard.
“If such people obtain the authority to rule the country, they will only look after their personal interests; will they take care of the country? It might become the commotion of the rabble; will it become an administration that is imbued with justice and wisdom? What we need is justice. That’s it, right?”
Clearly, Vedic traditionalists, Acharyas and Pandits, who continue to be deliberately derided as superstitious, regressive and foolish, were also endowed with this eternal wisdom and the practical insight derived therefrom. Only the strength of undatable and unbroken tradition can instil it within a person.
The wealth of insights contained in the aforementioned conversation is akin to a slap of cultural reawakening. It is also an eminent reason why Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu is such an invaluable and inimitable work.
With his patented acuity, DVG assesses and contextualises the intrinsic significance of all such themes in his preface and epilogue, both of which must be studied in order to grasp the depth and essence of Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu.
ON THE PLANE OF OUR NATIONAL CULTURE, Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu has enormous civilisational and historical value as a primary source. It is a testimony both to DVG’s visionary genius and his magnanimity that is characteristic of all Jñāpakacitraśāle volumes.
In this specific case, he has captured and showcased the extraordinary lives of these nondescript Vedic traditionalists, thereby permanently preserving a physical record of the intense Sanatana socio-cultural atmosphere which can never be recovered.
Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu is also a tragic reminder and a call for a return to sanity and serenity in this era of a mad rush towards accumulating Artha and a blind pursuit of the superficial. For those who care, Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu is a warning that in our age of startup accelerators, it pays to slow down.
In fact, DVG had himself predicted the quagmire that our culture finds itself in. This can be best described as an oiled well. When he wrote these profiles more than half a century ago, he observed a rapid descent of the Vedic culture that still remains the bedrock of Bharata.
In his eyes, these Vedic traditionalists were the true guardians and custodians of “our country’s spiritual culture, its arts, and its traditional customs,” and that they were the “nucleus of Indian culture.” The pristine lives pictured in this volume were real people who lived just a century ago.
When DVG first decided to immortalise them in the latter part of the 1960s, sixty years of decline had already elapsed, a fact he laments about with great feeling:
How such people used to live their lives fifty or sixty years ago, how they had escaped the trappings of modern civilisation, how they found abundance in poverty and remained content, and how they remained steadfast to their svadharma... leading such simple, plain, and harmless lives… But then, for how many more years or decades can such folks exist in our country? Aren’t contemporary life-circumstances detrimental to them? — This suspicion repeatedly pains my mind… Thus, the very treasure trove of knowledge that is the life-blood of Bharata, that which is its very Atman, is vanishing before our eyes. [Emphasis added]
Further commentary is unnecessary.
Experience tells us that DVG’s prophecy has grimly rung true. The profound class of Vedic traditionalists that he has profiled is almost extinct today.
This sad reality needs to be contextualised.
In a country bursting at the seams with a population of 140 crores, it is easy to count the number of such Vedic traditionalists on the fingers of our hand. The cultural incubator and ambience that had allowed them to thrive — and even survive — has been shattered almost irretrievably. Thus, even if a devout and ardent reader of Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu is moved to the point of trying to recreate this ambience of our near past, it is well-nigh impossible. To cite a related example that affirms this practical reality, we can consider a remarkable essay titled Methods of Popular Religious Instruction in South India authored by the towering scholar, Dr. V. Raghavan:
"In no other country of such vast dimensions could the countryside be found to be so imbued with the teachings of the religion of the land as in India… It is remarkable how, in the past, when modern means of communication and the mechanical aids for the dissemination of information were lacking, the ācāryas could spread their teachings from one end of the country to the other. In this ancient land, the teeming millions were no doubt illiterate, but they were never uninformed or uncultured. The ancient teachers, concentrating on direct communication of essential knowledge, helped people to be imbued with effective culture without scholastic education… That our religious history has thrown up saints among weavers, cobblers, potters, shepherds… shows how widely the soil has been irrigated and fertilised by the country’s spiritual engineers."
As Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu shows, Mulabagal was one such countryside and its Vedic traditionalists belonged to that galaxy of spiritual engineers. Dr. Raghavan further writes:
The temple…was the place where the Itihāsa and purāṇa were expounded, sacred hymns recited…the temple [was] the most glorious achievement…and in fact, the very center of all cultural activity…king after king vied with his predecessor…till throughout South India no village or town was left without its visible symbol of the spread of Bhakti and [spiritual knowledge].
Which brings us back to DVG’s loving, heartfelt, detailed and picturesque portraits of all the temples and Maṭhas in his beloved Mulabagal. Especially so in Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu. Indeed, Dr. Raghavan’s prose comes alive in DVG’s real-life depictions of the verdant Vedic ambience of Mulabagal.
Today, the fight within the Hindu community is to “save” temples.
IN HIS EPILOGUE, DVG offers an eightfold remedy to halt the decline of Vedic traditionalists. It is a highly practical and workable formula, which was largely ignored for reasons best not examined. The heartbreaking episode involving the courageous and blunt intervention of “Right Honourable” V.S. Srinivasa Sastri that DVG narrates is illustrative in this regard.
But to be fair, even in our own time, some traditional institutions and committed individuals have implemented some corrective measures suggested by DVG. But the outcome remains far from satisfactory compared to the magnitude of this cultural and spiritual erosion.
Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu was justly close to DVG’s heart for a befitting reason: its Sanatana rhythm was the genius that gave repose to his inner dwelling. This volume was the discharge of the Rna that he owed it.
The volume is a national treasure and must be celebrated as such. Without being bogged down by melancholy-inducing nostalgia, we can pay it tribute by imbibing the spirit ensconced in DVG’s own words about the book:
"If there exist some people in today’s civilised era who can detect good taste in the stories of even such Vedic traditionalists, this volume of pen pictures is meant for them."
IT HAS BEEN AN ABSOLUTE PRIVILEGE and a blessing to translate this radiant volume. The experience has been moving, elevating, emotional and transformative in ways that no language can convey.
My debt of gratitude is owed to Shatavadhani Dr. Ganesh, Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy and the entire team of Prekshaa Pratishthana, which continues to undertake such noble endeavours with the patience, dedication, and focus it demands.
The English translation of Vaidikadharmasampradāyastharu titled Some Protagonists of Sacred Traditions is available for purchase online at this link.
|| Svabōdha pariśudhyarthaṁ brahmavinnikaśāsmasu ||
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