DVG and Vidyaranya Swami

This article is part 10 of 15 in the series Exemplars of Indian Wisdom from Karnataka

Influence of Vidyaranya Swami

In many ways, Vidyaranya Swami, the spiritual founder of and inspiration for the splendid Hindu Empire of Vijayanagara, played a powerful role behind sculpting DVG’s outlook in the realm of political philosophy as well. Indeed, DVG’s corpus of literature on Vidyaranya Swami reveals the exalted side of his literary bequest. It shows his precise and natural grasp of the true meaning and strength of tradition. Every sentence of DVG on Vidyaranya Swami reverberates with the stentorian euphony of a full-bodied conch. DVG’s devotion towards Vidyaranya Swami was akin to the discharge of the sacred pitṛ-ṛṇa. Over a lifetime, he had painstakingly collected a wealth of research about the life and legacy of this warrior-saint, and wrote extensively on him including a play in Kannada, titled Vidyaranya Vijaya. Few can equal DVG’s descriptive prowess of Vidyaranya Swami in this panoramic fashion:

Six hundred years ago, the spirit of brāhma in this sage, instead of becoming a vocation of supplication, was transformed into a courageous endeavor and contributed to the rejuvenation of the Vedas; the renunciate life of this glorious eminence did not culminate in passivity but instead, radiated the light of steely valour, and whose Vedanta instead of becoming dry recitation, directly became the cause for the Hindu civilisational overhaul.

In Vidyaranya Swami, DVG found a full life fully dedicated to the cause of lokasangraha and dharmojjīvana. This has a perfect echo in Prof. M Hiriyanna’s memorable words:

…the pursuit of [Sanyasa] does not mean running away from society and seeking passive isolation…what is commended here is self-renunciation and not world-renunciation. Service is not regarded here as a mere concomitant of renunciation, but the very means of cultivating it

There was also a timely reason DVG found inspiration and sought solace in Vidyaranya Swami, who epitomized his name: Forest of Knowledge. The major part of DVG’s youth was lived in an India where the British colonial oppression was at its peak and he (and other stalwarts like him) had to work under extraordinary constraints: censorship, police action, disturbances, violence, whimsical persecution and tragic deaths of fellow-Indians. Even worse, DVG also had to wrestle with the third generation of Macaulayite Hindus, who were gnawing from within at the vitals of the Hindu cultural inheritance he so prized. Overall, it was incredibly tough and exhausting for someone who worked in the public and cultural life of India to retain his sanity in this desolate climate. It is thus unsurprising that Vidyaranya Swami intensely appealed to DVG as the symbol of Sanatana civilizational renaissance and cultural rejuvenation achieved on the twin strength of military prowess and renewal of the ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions. When the fledgling Vijayanagara Empire was stabilized, Vidyaranya Swami, in true Sanatana tradition, became a Sanyasi. This was the other compelling magnet that attracted DVG. 

And now we can turn to the final section of this session in which we can examine only the outlines of DVG’s legacy in practical politics. In other words, DVG as a politician. I can offer only a few lines because it is simply impossible to get into even the minor details of this vast area in his life in the space of this lecture. This assessment and portrait will be in the form of some representative anecdotes and events.

First, as the member of the Bangalore Municipal Council (contemporary BBMP’s original avatara), he started the in-house paper, Bangalore Municipal Bulletin which shut down as soon as his term completed.

Next, in his stint as the member of the Mysore Legislative Council, he elevated the art of legislative debates in terms of research, preparedness, content, force, reasoning and practicality. DVG also displayed extraordinary heroism especially in his frontal attacks against Diwan Mirza Ismail’s role in the infamous Bangalore Ganapati clashes of 1928. Unfortunately, I’ll have to skip the details. But a couple of anecdotes may be mentioned.  

One of the members of the Council, Mathan once tried to stop DVG’s speech on the pretext of House Rules. Mathan had an innate hostility for Members like DVG who had been nominated by the Diwan, something which he viewed as an infringement of his dominance in the Council. Thus, at every turn, Mathan tried to scuttle DVG’s debates using one or the other pretext. This is how DVG showed him his place:

I must very strongly protest against the implied censure. I think that Government has nominated me not to represent the Government but to represent the public and I represent the public according to my light. I interpret the Rules according to my [conscience] and not according to Government’s understanding.

The other anecdote is about an arrogant member of the Mysore Unit of the Congress Party who wrote a threatening letter to DVG because DVG had gone against some party line taken by the Congress. This is the summary of the Congress functionary’s letter:

The Congress Party finds your signature highly objectionable. It is in violation of your pledge that you will be loyal to the Congress at all times. Therefore, you must show cause as to your objectionable action. Additionally, according to the Board’s decision, you must resign from your Council membership immediately.

This letter was dated November 28, 1937. And this is how DVG hit back:

I never taken any such pledge of loyalty to the Congress. I was at the forefront of the demand for Responsible Government in the Maharaja’s State decades before the Congress even had a presence here. The Congress would have my support to the limited extent that its goal of Responsible Government is aligned with mine in thought, word, and deed. May I say it is the Congress Board that has since changed? It seems to me that the Board of today is not…the same as the Board…seven months ago. I could not then detect in it any indications of the methodology now in vogue. While I subscribe to the Congress…objective of Responsible Government, I cannot accept its recent methods of work.

The other key area of DVG’s political career was his sustained campaign for the cause of the Princely States, a campaign he relentlessly worked for, for about half a century. DVG’s legacy in this realm easily occupies in tenor, significance and endurance the same high place as his major literary milestones.

To be continued



Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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