Hindu Intellectuals Must Protect the Traditional Acharyas

published on April 19, 2012
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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