IN a manner of speaking, the story of the Jayachamarajendra Vedaratnamālā is as transcendental, as timeless as Bharatavarsha itself. Its foundation is the throbbing of the Ages, traceable to the qualifications for a king prescribed in the Sanatana system of Dharmasastra and Rajyasastra. As we have seen in our series on Kautilya and elsewhere, only Sanatana Bharatavarsha regards Rajyasastra as a Dharmasastra. Rajyasastra is a subordinate of Dharmasastra. A prime qualification prescribed for a ruler was the primacy and insistence on broad and deep learning, and wide experience. Its twin was to actively patronize learning and scholarship. The polarity cannot be underemphasised: the mark of a powerful Sultan was the mountains of Kaffir skulls he had piled up; the distinction of an enlightened Maharaja was measured by the number of scholars and poets and sages his court attracted. The word “enlightened” is conspicuously absent in nearly hundred percent of Muslim rulers of India.
The Wodeyar dynasty throughout most of its existence remained anchored to this Rajya-Sastric dictum. Purely in the context of this essay, we can trace this precedent to the all-round renewal of the Hindu Kingdom of Mysore that began in the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III.
A few years after Krishnaraja Wodeyar III ascended the throne, the British snatched the political and administrative reins from him, essentially neutralizing his power. Instead of lapsing into depression and self-pity, this noble Wodeyar regarded this loss of political power as a profound opportunity, and unleashed a crest-wave of Sanatana cultural renaissance. Art, painting, literature, and sacred learning were central to this sweeping endeavour. We have detailed this illustrious story in an earlier essay.
All his successors up to Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar dutifully solidified the edifice of this cultural revolution. It acquired an especial resplendence during the refined tenure of the Rajarshi, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, predecessor of Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar. The Golden Age of Kannada learning, scholarship, and literature that began at the start of the twentieth century witnessed its most sucrosive and prolific outpouring during this Rajarshi’s regime. Not at all a coincidental phenomenon.
Thus, Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar’s immemorial service in the form of the Vedaratnamala was the uninterrupted Gangetic transmission of this Sanatana-duty-bound DNA.
However, when he ascended the endangered throne of the Mysore Kingdom in 1940, the Vedaratnamala initiative was nowhere on the horizon. It was awaiting a Sankalpa, and it came from the visionary penance of, befittingly, a Sanyasi.
Shilpa Siddhanti Shivayogi Sri Siddhalinga Swami, the Jagadguru of the Nagalinga Maṭha.
Over a considerable period, Sri Siddhalinga Swami’s Maṭha had shared a close bond with the Wodeyar family. But now, in a climate of tumultuous political uncertainty, Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar consulted him for solace and peace and solution. At the end of the meeting, the Swami said: no matter what the womb of the future holds, the regime of Your Highness will become truly immortal if He translates the entire corpus of the sacred Vedas together with its correct meaning and offers it to the public.
It was not just a piece of advice or suggestion, but an Upadesha. The following is the gist of his Upadesha.
“The Veda is the bedrock of every philosophical school and sect that ever arose in Bharatavarsha. If Dharma has to be truly rejuvenated in the contemporary age, it must recover its base, which inevitably is the Veda. Only then will national progress occur in its real sense. The Veda is the truest kernel from which the ruler will derive the authority to turn the minds of his people away from Adharma and inculcate in them the lesson that real national service is Dharma. The Veda expounds this sacred truth and thus steers the country on the path of Dharma.
Therefore, if this Veda is made easily accessible to the masses and its meaning is lucidly and unambiguously explained, the whole country will be sanctified.
This hallowed Sankalpa has been living within me for a long time.”
Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar immediately plunged into work and set in motion a train of practical steps that would enable the ultimate realisation of the Swami’s Sankalpa. He decided to singlehandedly sponsor the entire endeavour no matter what it took and however long it took.
But to understand the full significance of the Maharaja’s contribution, we must recall the overall clime of that period. A one-line description suffices: in the 1940s, the social and cultural climate had already been poisoned by a nascent strain of destructive intolerance precisely against our Vedic heritage. That strain wholly emerged from the bile-filled innards of the politics of colonialism, communism and Dravidianism.
Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa, in a deeply understated manner, sketches the contours of this climate in his Vamshavruksha, the novel that cemented his literary fame. One of the protagonists, the historical scholar Sadashiva Rao is repeatedly humiliated by his own university when he requests their support for his project of writing the comprehensive Hindu cultural history of Bharatavarsha. His superiors and the university administration tell him, “just do the work for which we pay you coolie.” The term coolie means “wages” but is used in the context of the wages paid to railway porters, construction labourers, etc. This is the state of affairs in a Mysore in less than a decade of rule by the Government of “independent” India. The selfsame Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, now bereft of power, provides selfless patronage to Sadashiva Rao.
Throughout, Sri Siddhalinga Swami was the spiritual mentor and guide of the Vedaratnamala. Work began in earnest on an auspicious day in 1940.
The first obvious step was to assemble a team comprising only the topmost Vidwans drawn from a variety of specializations: Veda, Vyakarana (Grammar), Nirukta, Siksha, etc. This formidable team was styled, Vēdavimarśana vidvanmaṇḍali or Committee of Vedic Scholars, headed by the Veda Vidvān, the titanic Ghanapāṭhi, “Brahmasri” H.P. Venkata Rao, who was appointed as its General Editor and Chief Translator, and elevated to the high rank of Āsthāna vidvān (Court Scholar).
Vidvān H.P. Venkata Rao merits a separate chapter.
To be continued
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