Engagement with Different Schools of Philosophy
Rao’s writings on different schools of Indian philosophy are immensely valuable and provide a lot of clarity to its readers. It is important to note that Rao has written works on the thoughts and philosophies of Śaṅkarācārya, Rāmānujācārya, and Madhvācārya. As though to aid these writings, he has penned works such as ‘Śaṅkara-vāṇī.’ He has also written a work called ‘Śāradā Pīṭhada Māṇikya’ (The Gem of the Śāradā-pīṭha) about Śrī Candraśekhara-bhāratī Mahāsvāmī, whom he considered his guru.
Rao has also authored a work on the tradition of the avadhūtas, who transcend all the conflicts between different schools of philosophy and some of whom, at a cursory glance may appear as though they are mad. He has, in particular, described the aspect of ‘sākṣi-bhāva,’ which is particularly important for understanding the concept of an avadhūta.
He has naturally written many works pertaining to Psychology and Āyurveda – the fields which he taught for long years. In addition to several introductory booklets on Āyurveda, he has also written on ‘Nāḍi vijñāna,’ ‘Ātreya-veṅkaṭeśa-kṛta Vaidya-hitopadeśa,’ ‘Parāmānasa-śāstra,’ ‘Atīndriya Anubhava,’ and others.
He has also authored significant works on Bauddha and Jaina dharmas, which were his special areas of interest. ‘Tibetina Yogi Milarepa,’ ‘Bodhiya Beḻakinalli’ (Under the Light of the Bodhi Tree), ‘Vardhamāna Mahāvīra,’ and ‘Vaiśākha-pūrṇimè Sambodhiya Sandarbha’ (The Full-moon Night of the Vaiśākha Month and the Buddha Consciousness) are some of his works on the topic.
His introductory books on Abhinava-gupta, Ananda Coomaraswamy and other luminaries of Indian tradition also analyse the value of their contribution and are very useful to students of Indian culture.
* * *
Karnāṭaka Rājyotsava Award, State Lalita-kalā Academy Award, Saṅgīta-nṛtya Academy Award, State Sāhitya Academy Award, Śilpa-kalā Academy Award, the ‘Saṅgīta Kalāratna’ title from the Gāyana-Samāja Bangalore, the Gaṅgeśvarānanda Vedaratna Award, the title of ‘Vidyālaṅkāra’ from the Śrīśaila-maṭha, the title of ‘Vācaspati’ from the deemed University at Tirupati, the Honorary D.Litt from Karnataka University – these and several other recognitions came his way. It was but natural for many institutions of repute to felicitate S K Ramachandra Rao. In fact, one can only wonder if there is any award that can do real justice to the calibre and the excellence that he had achieved in multiple domains.
Rao has authored many works that contain introductory material connected with śruti, smṛti, and Itihāsa. The relevance of these works in his own words is as follows –
“The history of Indian society has a large framework which is suggestive and accommodative at the same time. It not only provided a robust foundation for the society but also for all the cultures born out of it. This framework, in fact, gives a structure that can help in the evolution of the individual’s life qualities. It is based on two principles, namely ṛta – the cosmic order and the uniting force of all the living creation and ṛṇa – the responsibility man, a social being, has towards himself and the society. It is from this undercurrent of thought that the ultimate values of life emerge. Puruṣārtha refers to the goals of life”
‘Īśāvāsya-upaniṣat,’ ‘Śrī-sūkta,’ ‘Vālmīkiya Pratibhè’ (Imagination of Vālmīki), ‘Citra-rāmāyaṇa’ (Rāmāyaṇa through Sketches), ‘Gītègondu Kaipiḍi’ (A Handbook to the Gītā) – these works of Rao are in the form of elucidation.
The insights that Rao has provided in his work on the Bhagavad-gītā stand as testimony for the originality of his thought and ideas. He says, “The Bhagavad-gītā gives a new twist for the concepts of karma, yajña, yoga, sanyāsa and other words which are colloquially in vogue. It is ‘new’ only for the framework of karma-kāṇḍa. These, in fact, are traditional and vedic imageries. The concepts which had lost their original meaning and were used in a narrow sense due to passage of time, are again given their larger, all-encompassing and universal meaning by the Bhagavad-gītā. This rekindling of values is one of the unique features of the Bhagavad-gītā.”
Elucidation of the Puruṣārthas
Ramachandra Rao has written works that explore several concepts in great detail. His writings titled ‘Prācīna-saṃskṛti’ (Ancient Culture), ‘Kannaḍa-nāḍina Dhārmika Paramparè’ (The Dhārmic Tradition of Karnataka), ‘Veda-vāṅmaya mattu Upaniṣattugaḻu’ (Vedic Literature and the Upaniṣads), ‘Brāhmadharma – Brahmopāsanè,’ and others belong to this category.
Rao first gives the philosophical background of the subject in his works and then captures the heart of the matter in a concise manner. This was his practice.
For example, “The best kind of utility we can expect from the Vedas is – to instruct us about dharma, to help us acquire it and to get us thinking on the concept of dharma.
What is dharma? Whenever we feel as though we are losing balance and are tumbling over in life, dharma is that which will hold us in place and will not let us fall down – this is the root meaning of the word ‘dharma’ (dhṛñ dhāraṇe). The dharma which helps in our abhyudaya—material welfare—is śreyaskara—bestows spiritual welfare—as well.
Āstikas are those who adhere to the framework of this dharma. They accept the Veda as an authority. This is because, without the background of the Veda, dharma will not manifest; and without having Veda as its strength, it will not be able to lead us towards abhyudaya”
Rao has written works that help us understand the iconographic features and the symbology of different deities. His works in Kannada such as ‘Gaṇaptiya kalpanè.’ ‘Śrīkṛṣṇana Vyaktitva,’ and ‘Āñjaneya Kalpaneyalli Svārasya’ (The Beauty in the Conception of Hanūmān) throw light on the unique features of Gaṇeśa, Śrīkṛṣṇa, and Hanūmān.
The manner in which Rao writes about Śrīkṛṣṇa is profound and touching. He helps clear doubts which many seekers have regarding the life and works of Śrīkṛṣṇa. He writes, “Kṛṣṇa found the best representation of his power in the human form, i.e., in his manuṣyāvatāra. Though it is not fully associated with divinity, there is a lot of beauty in his human-self. Understanding this can help in the welfare of the world.
“Kṛṣṇa lived as a human, involved in worldly activities and performed things that humans are usually capable of. He came to be called the best among humans.
“It was because of his adherence to exalted philosophy that Śrīkṛṣṇa, the divine in the human form, was able to perform tasks that were extraordinary. Kṛṣṇa was like the Ṛṣi of the Ṛg-veda and the pioneer of the sātvata-pantha. The aim of his life was to establish dharma. Throughout the Mahābhārata, we see how Kṛṣṇa strove towards the purpose of dharma and also preached the Bhagavad-gītā for the welfare of the world. In fact, the Bhagavad-gītā did not manifest in the world as a part of Kṛṣṇa’s natural set of activities. The divya-vibhūti which he cultivated with his own efforts, elevated his self with its brilliance and this manifested in the form of the gītā-śāstra. Kṛṣṇa was in this state of divya-vibhūti when he was listening to Arjuna’s sorrow. He was able to deliver the Gītā only because he was ‘yoga-yukta,’ i.e., divinely inspired at the time.
“Kṛṣṇa went beyond his mere human identity when he was delivering the Gītā. A certain consciousness that is within the layers of man’s internal landscape rises up, and when it surfaces, goes beyond all human limitations - this is what happened to Kṛṣṇa as he recited the Bhagavad-gītā. He was no longer the son of Devakī, friend of Arjuna or the charioteer – he was the embodiment of the all-pervading, universal and timeless Paramārtha-tattva.”
Not only are Rao’s writings insightful, authentic, and thorough, but they are also relatable to the readers. The kind of analysis like what is given above are abundant in his works.
There are many works of his which bring together dhārmic texts and āgamas. ‘Tirupati Timmappa’ (Expanded and Comprehensive Edition, 2006), Bhāratada Devālaya: Nèlè-Hinnèlè, Bhāratīya Devālayagaḻa Jānapada Mūla (‘The Folk Roots of the Indian Temple,’ 1981), Aṇṇappa-daiva (1983, 2002), etc. are works of this genre. The work ‘Tirupati Timmappa’ was developed in different stages and his writings on the topic were spread over a span of about fifty years. It got its current form in about 2006 and is a unique kind of research work. There is probably no work in any other language which examines all aspects of the temple and the deity at Tirupati in such a comprehensive manner.
There are many other works authored by Rao which are not listed here. Irrespective of the size of the work, one can find many insights in all his works. For example, in his work ‘Vivāha-paddhatigaḻu’ (Wedding Traditions), he has not only introduced different kinds of vivāhas native to India but also introduces us to the Muslim and Christian marriage rituals.
In sum, Ramachandra Rao was a bridge between traditional knowledge and the seekers of the twenty-first century. The works he authored and compiled will remain as immortal treasures for ardent students of the Indian culture.
In the concluding parts of his essay titled ‘Bhāratīya Saṃskṛtiya Tiruḻu,’ he talks about the symbolism behind the Ādi-vṛkṣa (The Primordial Tree) that the Bhāgavata-purāṇa mentions. His words are memorable –
“We have grown up in the shade of a grand tree. We have lived generation after generation and have grown day by day. We have resided there for thousands of years. There have been external forces that have tried to chop off the tree and fell it. There is a disease that is trying to eat up the tree from within. This, however, is the tree of life; it has the special capacity of self-rejuvenation. It is a tree that can stay forever; it helps us move from falsehood to truth, darkness to light, from death to immortality.”
* * *
The divine did not bless Prof. S K Ramachandra Rao with a stable job. His high ethical stance and moralistic view was one of the reasons behind this. However, the Divine did not deprive Rao of a pivotal aspect, namely, well-being at home, i.e., of family life.
Rao married Smt. Ramadevi in 1959. It was like milk, seasoned by traditional Vedic culture being flavoured with the addition of honey. Dr. Uma and Dr. Sudarshan were two flowers that blossomed out of the marriage and filled their household. The entire family stood by Rao in all his endeavours. On most occasions, Rao attended public events accompanied by his wife – this has always remained in our memories. We will need to be grateful to the entire family for helping ease several discomforts that Rao underwent. I, along with many others, have relished the company of his family and have greatly rejoiced seeing their intimate relationship. We were fortunate to have this privilege for several years. Rao was very fortunate in this dimension of life.
His family members made sure that there was absolutely no impediment for his studies, lectures, and writing. Rao too had naturally developed the quality of not being a burden to anybody. He never imposed his personal tastes and opinions on the others. He applied this formula in his interaction with his family members as well. It was because of this balance that his family life and scholarly services progressed without any trouble for decades. The entire society became the beneficiary of his sweet and stable family.
The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original which has appeared in the Dīptaśṛṅgagalu, authored by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Thanks to Sri Hari Ravikumar for his edits. Full form of the article is a part of 'A Tapestry of Pen Portraits' published by Prekshaa Pratishtana in December 2020.
 About the significance of Buddha’s life and self-realization.
 From ‘Bhāratīya Saṃskṛti: Tiruḻu mattu Paramparè’ (The Essence of Indian Culture and its Traditions).
 From ‘Gītègondu Kaipiḍi.’
 Yato’bhyudaya-niḥśreyasa-siddhiḥ sa dharmaḥ – Vaiśeṣika-sūtra
 From ‘Vedavāṅmaya mattu Upaniṣattugaḻu.’
 From ‘Śrīkṛṣṇana Vyaktitva’ (Śrīkṛṣṇa’s Personality).