Hindu Intellectuals Must Protect the Traditional Acharyas
19/04/2012 13:26:13  



Dr. Vijaya Rajiva




Our Punya Bhumi (sacred earth)is protected both by the aam admi and the traditional acharyas.Meddling with them is suicidal. They have been the backbone of our civilisation. Certainly, there should be some internal social reforms and that should happen in an accelerated way. The Hindu Samaj should undertake those social reforms. However, the suggestion that traditional acharyas should involve themselves in the day to day mundane activities of intellectuals at large (and their special preoccupations) is an absurd suggestion. The present writer has written about this in earlier articles. The task of engaging with the West is the task of Hindu intellectuals, not that of the acharyas.

THE TRADITIONAL ACHARYAS’  ROLE IS TO FAIThFULLY TRANSMIT THE VEDIC-AGAMIC TRADITION IN ITS ENTIRETY. This means that all traditional acharyas are trained in the tradition and communicate this to the Hindu Samaj accurately and faithfully. Interpreting our tradition for each generation is built into the tradition itself. There is no need for new fangled methods. One has to trust and have faith both in the tradition and the exponents of this tradition, even though they may not speak Latin and Greek. The Sanskrit language that they are all trained in provides the greatest knowledge and as well flexibility. Meddling with this tradition is at best folly and at worst a crime against it.

Hindu intellectuals can play an important role both nationally and internationally. Nationally, they can lecture and talk to the college educated youth who are being enticed by modernisation and globalisation into a rejection of their civilisational values. Internationally, they can present the Hindu view at various forums. Some Hindu intellectuals are already doing that and more can be done. And if they feel strongly that tradition and modernisation should be combined, good luck to them since THEY are dealing with a generation that has to think through these situations. At the same time they can also be slowly encouraged to think out of the box of modernisation.

But the interpretors’ and the acharyas’ roles cannot be confused.

The traditional acharyas must not be dragged into these ventures. They should be allowed to continue with what they are already doing excellently well. The interested reader can watch such videos as the one put out by the Kanchi Matham ‘The Sage of Kanchi : The Life and the life and work of the Kanchi Acharya Shri Chandrashekarandra Sarasvati’  It provides an insight into what a traditional acharya can do and has done.  And there are thousands of acharyas, unknown and unsung who have continued the Hindu tradition. Recently, some attention has been paid to the Nambudiris of Kerala who since the 4th century A.D. have single handedly maintained the Rig Vedic Aaathirathram (Fire Ritual)which has been abandoned elsewhere in India. The value of this as a world heritage alone should make Hindu ‘intellectuals’ pause and take stock of the situation before blundering into unknown terrain.

The California Indologist and scholar Frits Staal has documented the 1975 performance of the Agni fire ritual by the Namboodiris of Kerala, in his 2 volume Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar (April 2010). Asking the few Nambudiri families that are heroically holding on to the Rig Vedic traditions to abandon their task and engage in dialogue with the West  is to short change ourselves. A great cultural heritage will be lost by our blunderings into complex terrain.

Even if Hindu ‘ intellectuals ‘ should disdain the task of correctly interpreting the role of the traditional acharyas (already under attack from the liberal media and deracinated Hindus) they should at the very least refrain from attempts to make inroads into the tradition, one which they do not fully understand (by the very nature of their own enterprise ). Their own public displays and efforts may have some value,  although even here the sense that some of them have that this is not being currently done by others may be something of a stretch.

The euphemism of combining the ancient and the modern is not appropriate to the work of the traditional Acharyas. It is misleading.


(The writer is a political philosopher who taught at a Canadian university. Her degrees are : B.A. (Hons.) Literature, University of Madras ; M. Litt. Literature, University of Madras; M.A. Philosophy, University of Madras; M.A. Political Science, Mc Gill University, Canada; Ph. D. Humanities (Political Science, Philosophy, Political Economy,History), Concordia University, Canada ).


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Praveen Kumar
26/04/2012 19:46:43
@ Dr .Vijaya Rajiva
Obviously the current system of things has failed to prop up Hinduism as a major force. It also does not attract the majority of the people, especially as a political force, in highly literate states like Kerala. Therefore, changes have to be made so that more people willingly come forward to support the religion, instead of supporting outmoded movements like Communism, or convert to other religions like Christianity.

Major changes to a way of life which has survived thousands of years will, no doubt, encounter stiff opposition. Moreover, there is a risk as to whether the proposed changes may work or not. However, no change or progress can be made without an element of risk. Since the present system of things have proved to be inefficient, there is no option but to make the necessary changes.
Dr.Vijaya Rajiva
22/04/2012 03:53:14
@Praveen Kumar
The 'traditional' acharya is anyone who can faithfully transmit the Vedic-Agamic tradition to the Hindu Samaj.
In Rig Vedic times there were several layers of priests who performed various functions at the Yajnas. These became hereditary.

Today, are there Hindus who will devote a lifetime to the study of the Vedas and the performance of the rituals ? If there are, more power to them !

Meanwhile, we have families who have traditionally devoted their lives to this. To discontinue their contribution would be a loss.

As I point out in my article it was a small group of Nambudiri families that maintained the Aathirathram. And not all Brahmins are wealthy or in high positions. In fact, the danger of many young Nambudiris turning away from their traditional occupation because of lack of employment, discrimination and downgrading of them, and the siren calls of modernisation, is very real.

Theoretically, the 'democratisation' word sounds good, but will it work ?
Praveen Kumar
21/04/2012 20:09:10
Democratisation the Need of the Day
The writer is undoubtedly referring to the Brahmin community when she writes about the 'traditional acharyas'. What she fails to realize is, or has conveniently omitted to mention is that this is the very same community who is responsible for the sad state that the Hindu community faces today.

I have heard this argument from a few Brahmin acquanitances that the Brahmin community should be allowed to retain their traditional role as priests. Though at first glance, this argument sounds reasonable, when one analyzes it further, the hollowness of the argument is evident. The caste system was probably invented by the Brahmin community to place them on a pedestal in the times of kings, and live a cushy live without much work. The caste system also ensured that the entire community as well as their progeny benefited from this state of affairs. Compare this to other religions where any person who has gone through the required training and religious education, as well as fulfills other criteria such as being spiritual and having no vices, can become a priest. This also makes the whole system more democratic, and enables the followers of the community at large associate themselves with the priesthood and the religion. Compare this to Hinduism where the priests are invariably from the Brahmin community, whether they are sufficiently qualified by training and education, or otherwise. Of course, it is entirely another matter whether many Hindus are really interested in becoming priests in a temple, and carry out rituals like doing poojas, taking care of the idols, and distributing prasads.

By enabling the people at large to become priests, the accusation that Brahmins have Aryan origins is also dealt with.

It has to be remembered that all religions aim at the well being of people at large, and all religions are separate paths to a common goal. This is so, despite what vested interests in every religion might say.
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