When India was straining at the leash during the unique "Weaponless War" conceived, planned and led by Mahatma Gandhi to win freedom, some of the finest flowers of Indian manhood and womanhood were forced to languish in prison for long years. During his ninth incarceration, this time in the Ahmednagar Fort Prison (August 9, 1942 to July 15, 1945), Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the best among them, embarked upon a voyage of "Discovery of India". He "discovered" for himself and for us, the common people, an India that is "a myth and an idea, a dream and a vision and yet very real and pervasive."
Nehru, with the poetic touch so characteristic of him, looked upon India as "a lady with a glorious past, whose deep eyes had seen so much of life's passion and joy and folly and looked deep down into wisdom's well". It is this "wisdom 's well" that is represented by our Vedic heritage, the "living words", as Gurudeva Rabindranath Tagore put it, "that have issued from the Illuminated Consciousness of our great ones."
This offering of Hindu Dharma: The Universal Way of Life deals with another kind of discovery of India, a discovery in the spiritual realm, made by Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal, the 68th Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha. The Sage of Kanchi was spiritually supreme, intellectually pre-eminent. He was verily an akshayapatra - inexhaustible reservoir - of the spiritual wisdom of India dating back to the beginning of Time, and of Vedic Dharma. So was he with regard to modern knowledge, current affairs and contemporary men and matters.
In a special easy in the Bhavan's journal this true sanatani hailed Gandhiji, a staunch Hindu and a secularist nonpareil, as one of the "greatest redeemers of Hinduism". Hailing Gandhiji's services to Hinduism, he said: "From the time Gandhiji came into the arena, he augmented his political movements by his spiritual researches and devotion. Almost all the features of Hinduism that were discarded as weeds by the previous reform movements were clearly explained by Gandhiji as being of indispensable utility. His views on Ramanama, the Ramayana, Varna dharma, Aharaniyama and his definition of God are such that the most faithful Hindu cannot but profit spiritually by digesting them."
During one of the satsangas, some members of the Bhavan' s family were privileged to have with him, this remarkable advaitin said that Jawharlal Nehru was "an advaitin at heart."
The Mahaswami will shine forever as one of the greatest exemplars of sanatana dharma, the Universal Way of Life. This sanatani extraordinary personified in himself all that is best and noblest in Hinduism. He always stressed that Hinduism is the latter-day name given to mankind's earliest religion -- sanatana dharma. It is beginning less (anadi), endless (ananta) and hence eternal (sanatana), because it is in consonance with Nature's Laws.
To drive home the eternal or the sanatana aspect of our religion, the Mahaswami used to narrate a telling episode : "There was a palm-tree around which a creeper entwined itself. The creeper grew fast and within months it entwined the entire tree. 'This palm has not grown a bit all these months,' said the creeper laughing. The palm-tree retorted: 'I have seen tens of thousand creepers in my life. Each creeper before you said the same thing as you have now said. I do not know what to say to you'. Our religion is like this tree in relation to other faiths."
We were fortunate to have lived in the times, and to have had frequent darshans, of one with such "illuminated Consciousness", whose nearly 100-year- long Pilgrimage on Earth ended on January 8, 1994. He was a realized soul, and whenever he spoke, he spoke in the accents of the Vedic seers precise, profound and authentic words that found a permanent lodgment in the hearts of his listeners.
The Mahaswami's words of distilled wisdom, as compiled by his ardent devotee Sri Ra. Ganapati run into six volumes covering more than 6,500 pages. Sri Ra. Ganapati and Sri A. Tirunavukkarasu of Vanadi Padippakam, the publisher, deserve our eternal gratitude for their invaluable efforts to preserve for posterity the Sage of Kanchi's words of wisdom.
Being in Tamil, these volumes, with their precious content, remain a closed book to tens of thousands of devotees in India and abroad who do not know that language but are athirst and ever-yearning for the Mahaswami's spiritual ambrosia.
The English versions of selected discourses, which have so far appeared in book-form, touch but a fringe of what the Mahaswami has said about sanatana dharma. The Bhavan, too, has had the privilege of contributing its humble mite in this direction --- we have published Aspects of Our Religion, The Vedas, Adi Sankara : His Life and Times, The Guru Tradition and Kanchi Mahaswami on Poets and Poetry.
This volume of nearly 800 pages has been rendered into English from the Tamil by R.G.K. It is a monumental effort reflecting enormous, dedicated and unremitting labour over a long period of time. In translation, the transformation is normally from gold to lead but R.G.K. has ensured that the sheen of the original is retained. He has also spared no pains to explain obscure points of legend, puranic allusions and scriptural references covering both Sruti and Smrti.
We are thankful to Justice Sri P.S. Mishra , at present Chief justice of Andhra Pradesh, for his illuminating Foreword and Sri A. Kuppuswami for his learned Introduction.
The Bhavan has been the blessed recipient of the Mahaswami's grace right from its inception in 1938. He has been one of the Bhavan's greatest guides and philosophers. He very closely watched with a benign concern that landmark projects of the Bhavan like the monumental 11-volume History and Culture of the Indian People covering nearly 5,000 years from the Vedic Age to the Modern Age. This is the only comprehensive history of India written by Indians --- a team of 100 eminent scholars, each a specialist in his chosen field. They laboured on it for 32 years under the inspiration and guidance of Kulapati Munshi, with the doyen of Indian historians Dr.Romesh Chandra Majumdar as General Editor. The Jagadguru then observed: "Distinguished historians like K.M. Munshi are engaged in writing afresh our history without any bias".
Commending Kulapati Munshi's ceaseless efforts through the Bhavan for the revival of Sanskrit, of India's ages-old traditions and the resuscitation of ethical and spiritual values embedded in sanatana dharma, the Mahaswami remarked: "Munshi is not an old fashioned sanatanist like me. He is a reformist and a friend and follower of Gandhiji. And he was a member of the Nehru Cabinet. So he cannot be included among the 'reactionaries'!........."
During the Bhavan's Silver Jubilee in 1962, the Mahaswami sent the following benediction:
The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan has made the people of Bharata Varsa in general and the intellectuals in particular evince interest in the various aspects of our culture and progress.
"May we pray: Give fresh vigor to the Bhavan, a unique institution, in directing its attention more and more, with greater and greater fulfillment, to the dissemination of moral principles and devotion."
He also sent along with it a cash "donation" of Rs1,000. Kulapti Munshi shed copious tears of joy and exclaimed in ecstasy: "This is the holiest of holy prasads. This is invaluable, inestimable and much more than several thousand crores of rupees. Nothing, nothing, can surpass divine grace."
The Mahaswami brings out the essentials of sanatana dharma in a language that is at once simple and clear. Commendable indeed is the cogency of the narrative. We are left in no doubt about any aspect of out eternal Dharma.
As will be seen in this volume, the Mahaswami's approach is catholic. He avers: "The goal of all religions is to lead people to the Paramatman according to the different attitudes of the devotees concerned. Our forefathers were well aware that all religions are different paths to realize the one and only Paramatman."
More than a century ago, in 1893, did not Swami Vivekananda thunder at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago that "Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best"?
The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Political Monarch of Modern India and Free India's first Prime Minister (1947-1964), inspired the people of India, particularly its youth, to regain our political freedom. This was true also of the people, particularly the young, of many nations of South-East Asia and Africa then under foreign domination.
The eminent historian, parliamentarian and author of several scholarly volumes such as the Bhavan's publications: The Fundamental Unity of India (first published in London in 1914 with a Foreword by the Rt Hon'ble J. Ramsay MacDonald, first Labour Prime Minister of Britain, 1929 (he was also P.M. during 1929-35) and Hindu Civilization, Dr Radha Kumud Mookerji, has pointed out the uniqueness of the Vedas, especially the Rgveda, thus:
"The Vedas, and especially the primordial work known as the Rgveda, represent not merely the dawn of culture, but also its zenith. Indian thought is seen at its highest in the Rigveda... On the one hand it is the first book of India and also of mankind. At the same time, it shows the highest point of human wisdom. We see in it the whole process of evolution, from its beginning to its completion."
Ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti (The truth is One, the wise speak of it in different ways).
This volume Hindu Dharma : The Universal Way of Life is in the nature of a discovery of Vedic India, Immortal India, by Pujyasri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, the Moral Monarch of this century. Sooner than later, this is bound to immensely inspire not only the people and youth of India but also the people and youth of the world over to restore and retain values, purity and sanity in personal and public life. This is our hope and prayer, nay conviction.
Vedo khilo dharmaulam; Dharmo rakshati rakshitah ---the Vedas are the root of all Dharma; Dharma protected, protects.
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
101st Mahaswami Jayanti,
June 12, 1995
For a general background, please see here