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The story of another Shankaracharya during British Raj

The story of another Shankaracharya during British Raj

Author: Krishnanand Sagar
Publication: Organiser
Date: December 26, 2004
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=56&page=29

The day the people were preparing for the Deepawali festival, the Tamil Nadu police arrested Jagadguru Shankaracharya Shri Jayendra Saraswati at midninght from Andhra Pradesh on fictitious ground.

This reminds me of the inspiring story of another Shankaracharya during the British Raj. He was His Holiness Shri Bharati Krishna Teertha, the then Shankaracharya of Sharada Peeth, Dwarka, who later on in 1925 became the Shankaracharya of Goverdhana Peeth, Puri (and the renowned founder of Vedic mathematics).

At the time of the non-violent cooperation movement in 1921, Bharati Krishna Teertha delivered a speech in the Khilafat Conference held at Karachi. The subject of the speech was 'Rajadharma and Prajadharma'. The speech was considered to be seditious by the government of the day and so he was arrested and kept in the Karachi central jail.

The warrant of arrest served on him stated: "Venkataraman alias Bharati Krishna Teertha, a Hindu, who calls himself a Shankaracharya."

Assailing this in his address to the jury, His Holiness thundered: "The veriest Tyro in Indian religious technique knows that while an English commoner on being raised to peerage has the liberty to and does often voluntarily, assume a new name, a Hindu on entering Holy Orders, has not the liberty to but must necessarily and as a religious rule discard the old name, and not assume but accept the name newly conferred on him by his guru, in accordance with the rules celebrately laid down for this purpose in the Hindu scriptures. Thus, whereas Sir Rufus Issac had the liberty to and actually did assume the name Lord Reading, Prof. Venkataraman Shastri on taking sanyas had not the liberty to assume but had perforced to and did therefore accept the new name 'Swami, Shri Bharati Krishna Teertha bestowed on him by his guru. Under these circumstances, it was obvious that to speak of us as 'one Venkataraman alias Bharati Krishna Teertha, a Hindu, who calls himself (or has assumed the title) Shankaracharya' is no less reprehensible than to speak of 'one Rufus Issac alias Reading, a Jew, who calls himself (or has assumed the title) Viceroy of India'."

Ultimately the government had to release him. Again in December 1922, Bharati Krishna delivered a series of public lectures in Monghyr (Bihar) on 'Dynamic Hinduism'. The topic of one of the lectures of the series was 'Dharma, Swarajya, Raj Bhakti and the heinousness of British Raj'. British officials were very perturbed over it and arrested him on December 26, 1922. As a Dharma guru of Hindus, he was offered a chair to sit upon in the court, but he told bluntly that as the post of Shankaracharya was much higher than that of a magistrate, his seat should also be higher and if that was not possible, he would prefer to stand. He then carried on his arguments in the court, standing all the time. He defended his actions for three weeks. He was asked to give a surety not to deliver lecture for one year or undergo imprisonment for a year. Shankaracharya preferred to undergo imprisonment. He was kept in Bhagalpur jail, from where he was released in 1924.

In 1925 Prince of Wales visited Bharat. The British government wrote to Shankaracharya that the Hindus considered the king of the country the representative of Lord Vishnu, therefore he should ask his disciples to welcome the Prince of Wales as such. Shankaracharya fearlessly wrote back:

"The work of Vishnu is to work after the well-being of his people. One who can do so can only be called a representative of Vishnu according to Hindu shastras. A king, who instead of looking after the welfare of his subjects, exploits them can never be the representative of Lord Vishnu."

The government was terribly annoyed at this bold answer. High government officials complained about this to the aged head of Goverdhana Peeth, Shri Madhusudan Teertha. But Madhusudan Teertha replied that he also accepted the views of Bharati Krishna as authentic as far as Hindu Dharma was concerned.

At that time Bharat was under foreign rule. Shankaracharya Bharati Krishna stood against foreign rule and did not bow his head even in those adverse circumstances. That is the tradition of our dharmacharyas.

Now the time has changed and we have our own government. People expect from this government not to toe the line of foreign rulers. It should behave according to the Indian traditions and try to become the representative of Lord Vishnu by its deeds. Lord Vishnu gives full respect to the dharmacharyas; he gave respect even to Bhrigu Rishi who strode with his foot on the chest of Lord Vishnu.

Unfortunately, in the present context, the behaviour of the Tamil Nadu government and the Central Government towards Shankara-charya Shri Jayendra Saraswati is un-Vishnu like. They should stop to denigrate him.

(The author can be contacted at F-109, Sector-27, Noida-201 301.)

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