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A Vedic scholar enters his 100th year

R. SUBRAHMANYAN

In Thathachariar, one sees a rare blend of erudition in the scriptures and expertise in the performance of yagas.



CRUSADER: Agnihotram Ramanuja Thathachariar.

Viewed from a historical perspective, the 20th century was significant in many ways. For India, it meant freedom from the British rule and birth as a republic with a Constitution of its own, which has committed itself irrevocably to the right to equality and guaranteed personal freedoms.

Underpinning the religion-related freedoms is the principle that religion is essentially a matter of individual belief and choice. And this in turn postulated mutual respect and tolerance between practitioners of different faiths, which is of paramount importance in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society such as India's — something that was brought home rather traumatically by the circumstances surrounding the attainment of Independence.

Active involvement

In the massive and sustained effort that preceded the incorporation of the `freedom of religion' provisions in the Constitution, men of eminence and stature were involved in various ways and at different levels. Notable among those who were actively associated with that endeavour is Sri Agnihotram Ramanuja Thathachariar, a Vedic scholar of renown, who has entered his 100th year.

Thathachariar, who hails from a family of Vaishnavite preceptors, recalls how, at the behest of the Paramacharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt he came to be actively involved in the various initiatives the acharya took to mobilise the support and enlisting the cooperation of the leaders of various religious denominations, including the heads of Mutts, and projecting a unified view to the powers that be.

In the course of his mission, he met the members of a Parliamentary delegation from Great Britain when they were on a visit to Madras (to whom he was introduced by Kasturi Srinivasan, Editor of The Hindu) and, on their suggestion, had a memorandum submitted to them at Delhi.

It was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Thathachariar says, who regretted the lack of unity among the religious sects and this prompted the Kanchi Sankaracharya to take the initiative in bringing the heads of different Mutts together into a single organisational frame (when the Constituent Assembly was in session) so that they could speak in one voice.

In the event, thanks to such concerted effort and support by sections across the country, the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom became a reality. He has taken an active part in the Kanchi Acharya's other ventures also, such as Agama Silpa Sadas and Tiruppavai-Tiruvembavai conference; the former intended to propagate temple architecture and the latter aimed at a fusion of sorts between Vaishnavism and Saivism.

Coming as he does in a distinguished line of acharya purushas, Thathachariar performs what are known in Vaishnavite spiritual parlance as `Pancha Samskaram' and has his own circle of disciples. In him is seen a rare blend of erudition in the Vedas and other scriptures and expertise in the performance of yagas and yagnas sanctioned by them; small wonder then that he has been on demand from across the country for delivering lectures, participating in seminars or conducting yagas. He is as much at home in a gathering of English-knowing modern-educated people as in the company of traditionally educated religious scholars. In fact, he is among the few authoritative sources most sought after by students from abroad pursuing research in Vedic literature, philosophy, and practices.

Thathachariar has been running a campaign, so to say, for a scientific approach to religion. In the West, he says, religion has always had its appeal as a subject of study and the universities in those countries encouraged even the study of the Vedas. There were also attempts to probe the significance of the Vedic rituals and the atmosphere was such as to facilitate the growth of scientific temper vis--vis religion.

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