(Speech delivered by His Holiness at a special meeting convened by the Mutt, which was attended by a large and distinguished gathering, including those connected with Veda and Sastra patasalas in the moffussil.)
It is more than one year since I came to Madras. Compared to others, who came here after me, I have become an 'old' resident of Madras. In one sense I am glad to be here. Even before I came to Madras, the work of renovating the gopuram of the Sri Kapaleeswarar temple was undertaken and I had the opportunity of having darshan of this gopuram. After my arrival in Madras, the renovation of the gopurams of the Sri Kesava Perumal Temple and the Sri Madhava Perumal Temple was undertaken and the work on the former has been completed. Recently the work on the renovation of the gopuram of Sri Anjaneya Temple, near the Sanskrit College, has started. Such acts of devotion have considerable significance in the life of the people. The atmosphere may be filled with thoughts of hatred; but when a few people engage themselves in such noble deeds, the beneficent effects of their deeds will bring about a climate of peace and harmony.
Madras State is a land of temples and gopurams. It is but right that this State should adopt the gopuram as its emblem. Our Government has adopted the Upanishadic saying, Satyameva Jayate as its motto. I am glad that it finally decided to stick to the Upanishadic form and retained the word, Jayate and did not change it into Jayati. It is not enough to have a motto; it should be put into practice. I am, however, hopeful that when once a right motto has been chosen, it will come to be practiced in due course. It is also significant that the wheel of Dharma adorns the centre of the National Flag. It may be asked whether the Dharma Chakra is not a Buddhistic emblem. The wheel is a Hindu idea and you will find in the Gita the reference, Evem pravartitam chakram - so functions the wheel. God Narayana holds a chakra, a wheel in His hand. Ancient Tamil literature speaks of the Aravaazhi (அறவாழி) or Dharma Chakra. It is possible that the Buddhists borrowed this idea of the wheel from the Gita. There is no reason to feel that we are imitating Buddhism.
Huge gopurams came to be constructed for temples, mentioned in the devotional songs of the Saivite and Vaishnavite Saints, namely, the Naayanmaars and Aazhvaars. When philanthropic members of the Nagarathar community and the Thengalai Chettiars of Madras thought of renovating temples, they selected the temples about which these saints had sung. Most of the temple gopurams came into existence towards the end of the Chola dynasty and the Vijayanagar dynasty. Most of these were constructed in brick and mortar. Achyutadeva Raya, who succeeded the famous Krishnadeva Raya, wanted to construct gopurams in granite for 64 temples. Foundations were laid for them and his direction was that all of them should be completed by the time he returned from a pilgrimage to Rameswaram. Two of the temples selected were those at Srirangam and at Tiruvanaikoil, lying within a distance of one mile from each other. Both the places are in the Srirangam island, and granite for constructing the towers had to be conveyed across rivers. However, the ambition of Achyutadevaraya could not be fulfilled. The gopuram at Srirangam rose only to the first tier, and even now it is called the "Raya Gopuram". Huge granite pillars intended for the gopuram can be seen standing at Tiruvanaikoil. There are, however, Vimanas in granite in a number of temples. Vimana is the roof over the sanctum sanctorum of a temple. One such Vimana is at Gangaikonda Chozhapuram. In recent times a philanthropic gentleman completed the construction of a stone gopuram for the Sri Sukhavaneswarar temple in Salem. Speaking of gopurams, four tall gopurams in the South come to our mind. They are the gopurams of Sri Virupakshesvarar temple at Hampi, of the temple at Kalahasti, of the Sri Ekamresvarar temple at Kanchipuram, and of the Sri Sarangapani temple in Kumbakonam.
There is an interesting story connected with the gopuram of the Sri Sarangapani temple. The work was undertaken by a bachelor by name Lakshminarayana. He made it his mission in life. When pressed by his relations to marry, so that he may beget a son for performing his obsequies, he is said to have replied that if his devotion was sincere, God himself would perform the necessary ceremonies and enable his soul to ascend to heaven. It is said that on the death of Lakshminarayana, God took the form of a boy and performed his obsequies. This tradition is being maintained to this day, and every year the sraadha of this devotee forms part of the temple rituals.
How did the temples come into existence? From what do they derive authority for their sanctity? What is it that invests the minds of millions of devotees who behold the gopuram with a sense of reverential awe and piety? The temples derive their authority from the several South India Aagamas. The deities installed in them are sanctified through Vedic Hymns. Vedattin mandirattal ven manalum Sivamahi (வேதத்தின் மந்திரத்தால் வெண்மணலும் சிவமாகி) - the white sands of the river bed raised to the dignity of Godhead by being sanctified by Veda mantras. Those who sanctified these deities were persons who strictly adhered to the prescribed observances, like niyama, aachara, aahara, and dhyaana. They dedicated and offered the fruits of their rigorous penance to the deity installed in the temple, and thus sanctified the image of God. They did this, not for their individual benefit, but with the object that the deity so sanctified may bestow grace on the worshipping public. Thus the Vedas, the spiritual life that they ordain, and the holy men who exemplified that ideal in their lives, constitute the very basis of the temple, not merely as a structure in brick and mortar, but as a religious institution making for the spiritual education of the people. The Archaeological Department spends time and money to study and explain the architectural and other external features of temples. But hardly any thought is bestowed on the ultimate basis of the temple institution, namely, the Vedas.
The Vedas are the roots of all Dharmas—Vedokhilo dharma moolam (वॆदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलम्). If the roots of a tree are exposed, the tree withers and dies. The Vedas are the hidden source of strength for everything. But, what are we doing to preserve this source? In South India, Kerala ranks first in the matter of Vedic studies. This is because the Upanayanam of a Namboodiri Brahmin is performed in his seventh year and within the next five or six years, he is made to master his branch of Veda. During this period the Namboodiri boys lead a life of rigorous discipline wearing only a loin cloth and sleeping on a deer skin. The present Chief Minister of Kerala, Sri Sankaran Nanbudiripad, is said to have undergone such a course of study. The next place in the matter of Vedic studies goes to the Telugu region. The encouragement for Vedic studies was provided by annual examination and Vidvat Sadas, held at Vijayawada during Navaraatri. Scholars were honored with cash presentations on this occasion and also given certificates testifying to their scholarship. These scholars used to return to their homes on foot, and en route, grihasthas, to whom they showed these certificates, also gave them generous gifts. At every marriage an amount was earmarked for making presents to Vedic Scholars. Tamil Nadu ranks third in Vedic studies. Now-a-days not many among us are devoted to Vedaadhyaana. We are exchanging landed properties for university diplomas.
All the Vedas centre on God. The Lord says in the Gita: Vedaischa sarvairahameva vedyah( वॆदैश्च सर्वैरहमेव वेध्य:). This is an echo of a well-known passage in the Kathopanishad. There is only one God and He is the Paramatma. He is the author of creation, preservation, and destruction. A tree springs to life from the earth; it is nourished by the earth; and becomes part of the earth when it dies by decay. Similarly the entire Universe derives its being from God, is sustained by Him and finally merges into Him. The only unchanging and indestructible Being in the Universe is God. Other religions also proclaim the existence of only one God. If the God of another religion answers the attributes mentioned above, He must be accepted as that one and only God, but known by a different name. It is said that if this view is accepted, the bond of religions would become loose and the chances of conversion to other religions would increase. But that is not true. If the adherent of one religion comes to believe that the God proclaimed by his religion and the God proclaimed by another religion are the same, he will not change his religion; for, such an action will be tantamount to denying the God of the religion he professes, who is the same as the God of the religion which he proposes to embrace. He will thus be a traitor both to his former religion and to his new religion.
The Vedic religion is anterior to all religions which adopt this definition of God. Any person who thinks of forsaking the Vedas becomes untrue not only to God, but to his own self. If, in any two religions, God is defined in common as the Creator, Preserver, Destroyer, Forgiver and Liberator, for one belonging to either religion to give it up for the other is the greatest act of blasphemy and is, therefore, the grossest sin. The Vedas contain the immutable rules by which the Universe functions for all times, the past, the present, and the future. They determine the entire range of human relationship and activity. The Vedic injunctions govern our entire life from birth to death – nishekaadi smasaanaantam(निषेकादि श्मशान्तम्). We are now at a stage when we follow the Vedic injunctions by habit, without understanding their meaning or significance. If this attitude is allowed to continue, there is the danger of our losing the Vedic traditions, a loss not only to this country, but to the whole world. It is our duty to produce in sufficient numbers persons who make the Vedas their life-study and who are able to explain the Vedic mantras. According to the statistics available, the number of students learning the Vedas either privately or in patasalas is very small. More could be induced to take to Vedic studies by introducing a system of awarding cash prizes for every completed panchaadi. To produce persons understanding the meaning of the Vedas, a series of ten half-yearly tests have been introduced. The sixth test in the series was held recently and 50 scholars appeared for it. A sufficient cash present has to be given to keep these scholars going for the next six months, so that they can continue their studies. This scheme of examinations has been introduced and is in vogue under the auspices of the Math. With sufficient inducement, more scholars may come forward to make a life study of Veda Bhashya. The Vedas have to be studied from the mouth of a teacher. If their purity and efficacy are to be maintained, a dedicated and strictly disciplined life is necessary. That is the significance of the verse: Sikhaam pundramcha sootramcha samayaachaarameva cha, poorvairaacharitam kuryaat anyathaa patito bhavet (शिकाम् पुण्ड्रम्च सूत्रम्च पूर्वैराचरितम् समयाचारमेव पूर्वैराचरितम् कुर्यात् अन्याया पतितो भवेत्).
It is distressing to find that most of the Veda Patasalas have now become defunct due to scarcity of students. It is the duty of the public to give a fillip to the Vedic studies, and help in their revival by providing livelihood for the Vedic students and the possibility of future prospects. They should be given a respectable status in society, and the sense of frustration which they suffer should be removed from their minds. Astikaas all over India should create organizations suited to their own regional conditions to arrest the decline in Vedic study and knowledge and bring about their rejuvenation.