When Sanskrit poetry is recited or when a speech is made in Sanskrit, everyone must be in a position to follow it, without the help of a translator. About 800 years ago, Sanskrit was the language of administration not only in India, but also in Greater India, namely, countries of the Far-East like Siam, Cambodia, Java and Bali. In those places, there are to be found even today, Sanskrit inscriptions on stones and copper plates. What is more, the Tamil inscriptions found in some of the Southern Tamil districts start with the words “Swasti Sri”, which are the opening words of every Srimukham in Sanskrit, emanating from the Kamakoti Peetam.
In the days I am referring to, the Vyavahara Kanda of the Dharma Sastras was being followed in the administration of justice. In fact, even during the brief period of Muslim rule in South India, prior to the advent of the British, the services of pandits were requisitioned to decide cases, to which Hindus were parties, coming up before courts known as Sadar Amin and Sadar Adalat, just as the services of kazis were requisitioned to administer Muslim law. These pandits found themselves without employment only after Maine’s Hindu Law came to be written. Families in villages on the banks of the Kaveri are able to trace ancestors whose scholarship found recognition in the court of the Maharajas of Travancore. The Pudukottai Durbar also, in a small way, honored these pandits. These were also pandits from South India who received presents in the sadas of the Peshwas in Poona.
We can no longer look to kings and zamindars to encourage and patronize scholarship, because the princely states and zamindars have been liquidated. Democracy implies that every individual citizen is a king. Kingship has thus been fragmented and is vested with the people as a whole. Therefore, it behooves all of us to take steps to foster Sanskrit scholarship so that the wealth of knowledge, both secular and spiritual, preserved in the ancient books, is not lost to the country and to the world.
While Sri Adi Sankara Bhagavatpada was engaged in instructing his disciples everyday, a particular disciple, who later became famous as Sri Thotakacharya, for all outward appearances, seemed not to follow the lessons. This gave rise to a mild contempt towards him in the minds of the other disciples. Sri Sankara sensed this and because such an attitude towards a fellow-student is harmful to those disciples themselves, he decided to disillusion them. The moment this thought entered the mind of the Acharya, the seemingly “dull” disciple burst into ecstatic poetry and came dancing and singing verses in Thotaka meter, beginning with “विदिताखिल शास्त्रसुधाजलधे....” “Vidita-akhila sastra-sudha jaladhe……”. The other disciples realized their error and prayed for forgiveness with tears in their eyes. The verses then sung are known as Thotakaashtakam and are held in great reverence.
This fine composition expounds some of the finest philosophic ideas. Sri Thotakacharya understood Sri Sankara perfectly, as also the purpose of his mission in this world, and recognized that just as the rising sun dispels the enveloping darkness, Sri Bhagavatpada dispelled the darkness of ignorance and illumined the minds with jnana, which will lead us to the realization of the Ultimate Truth.
Knowledge can be classified into Vyaavaharikam and Paaramaarthikam. So long as the human mind is subject to passions like desire, anger, etc., it is not in a fit condition to receive the Paaramaarthika jnana. By doing good karmas and keeping good company, the mind has to be made to distinguish between the Real and the Unreal. When knowledge of the Real dawns, the steps by which this knowledge is gained will automatically get effaced. On the other hand, if an unprepared mind is given the knowledge about the Real, the result will be only evil. Even a boy belonging to the villi community will be able to pull out a cobra from its hole dexterously. If we attempt this feat, we are sure to be bitten by the cobra. In the same way, an untrained and unprepared mind will only lapse into evil path if knowledge about the Real is presented to it. That is why we are enjoined to keep this Supreme Knowledge confidential as enjoined in the Gita verse, “Raaja vidya raja guhyam. Pavitramidamuttamam..” (राज विध्या राज गुह्याम् पवित्रमिदमुत्तमम्)
It is, therefore, very essential that the human mind, which is subject to weakness, must be prepared through practical knowledge, vyaavahaarika jnana, to receive the Real and True knowledge, paaramaarthika jnana. The variety and richness of the knowledge contained in our ancient works are beyond description. Even before the advent of modern science, our astronomers have adduced convincing reasons to establish that this earth is globular in shape and revolves round the sun. Another school of thought is equally vehement that the sun travels round the earth. Surya Siddhaanta speaks of aakarshana sakti or gravity, and this force has been discovered long before Newton established the Theory of Gravitation. All this shows the amount of knowledge enshrined in ancient works which is at our disposal if only we care to study them.
While each of us must become proficient in his or her mother tongue, all of us must acquire a working knowledge of Sanskrit. Without going into the intricacies of Sanskrit grammar, it will be possible for every one of us to acquire in a year or two, as much knowledge in Sanskrit as will enable us to follow a Sanskrit speech or to understand the substance of a simple Sanskrit verse. For that purpose, study circles should be organized. I am glad that the Adhyayana Sabha, started when I was here 25 years ago, is still functioning, though attendance in it may not have increased. I hope many study circles will be formed to learn Sanskrit and that, as a result, all of you will be able to derive benefit from the wisdom that has fallen from the lips of great seers of old and to contribute to the general welfare of humanity.
October 30, 1957