Bhāmaha writes the following in his Kāvyālaṅkāra
“upeyuṣāmapi divaṃ sannibandhavidhāyinām|
āsta eva nirātaṅkaṃ kāntaṃ kāvyamayaṃ vapuḥ ||”
“Many people who wrote excellent poems have gone to the svarga. However, their beautiful, poetic body will remain here for ever.”
The above statement is quite popular in scholarly circles.
Reminiscent of this statement, Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao’s yaśaḥ kāya –body of fame has remained with us through his immortal works.
A person who has gained mastery over varied disciplines and has contributed immensely to them all is usually called a ‘Renaissance Man’. Vidyālaṅkāra Śāstracūḍāmaṇi Vācaspati Vedaratna S.K. Ramachandra Rao who lived amongst us and left to his heavenly abode around fourteen years ago is one such rare stalwart. He was the emperor of the world of scholarship for about six decades. Thinking of his many-sided scholarship, we can consider him as a representative of scholars of the calibre of Appayya Dīkṣita. He belongs to the tribe of scholars who were polymaths. If we have to start listing the areas in which Ramachandra Rao possessed deep scholarship, we will need to name all the Vedas, Vedāṅgas, all darśanas, various śāstras, literary works, classical music, dance and various other forms of art. He was not only a scholar of arts but he was a sculptor, painter and a veena player himself. His father Krishna Rao was well versed in painting and sculpture as well.
Ramachandra Rao not only had scholarship in the Vedic lore, but was also had deep scholarship in Jaina and Bauddha darśanas – a combination that is rarely found in our tradition. Talking about the authority over śāstras – Ramachandra Rao had spoken about śāstras to yatis belonging to different paramparās – Śāṅkara, Rāmanujīya and Mādhva. It is needless to mention the expertise he possessed in Manaśśāstra (psychology) and Āyurveda (Medicine), which were his areas of specialization.
Although he had such a high intellectual calibre, never did he parade his learning. He was extremely simple in his appearance and lifestyle. There are no words to describe his good-hearted nature. He would interact with equal ease with laymen and with great scholars. Rao was so friendly that everyone felt that he was easily accessible and their doubts could gain satisfactory clarifications from him.
There were a large number of scholars two generations ago than today. Nevertheless, few were so versatile as Ramachandra Rao. Though there were other stalwarts, their work and contribution are limited to three or four domains at the most.
Savyasācitva - Ambidexterity
On a close examination of the many millennia of scholarly tradition of India, the following fact stands out: there are two strands through which scholarship has been inherited - the first is the oral tradition and the second is written literature. In the early days, all kinds of learning took place only in the oral tradition. Attainment of scholarship in śāstras was largely in the guru-śiṣya-paramparā. For several centuries, written literature only played a secondary role. There was quite a lot of robustness and thoroughness due to the presence of the oral tradition. There was so much of perfection that it was believed that only the oral tradition was the authentic mode of transmission. The mark of scholarship in any branch was to have memorized the entire works. About two centuries ago, there was no simple technology to print books. Whenever it was inevitable, one had to write down everything with hand.
There is yet another aspect. The world of śāstras is very vast. It is very difficult to put it all down on paper in the form of words. Though one might have documented some elements, large amounts of details remained only in the oral tradition. Even from this perspective, written literature only had secondary importance in our tradition. Therefore, the focus of the education system for several centuries was in passing on knowledge in the oral tradition. There was probably one person among hundreds who paid any attention to documenting his learning in the form of a book. However, it is only those who have actually written works whose names get to be recorded in the history of development of literature. A large number of our ancestors hardly wrote a work and a majority of them spent time in learning and teaching in the oral tradition. Their names have been lost in the torrents of time.
The above is a brief account of the scholarly tradition of India.
There is yet another thing that needs mention. One cannot say that a person who possesses scholarship also has the skill to author books. It is a well-known fact that only one person in a lakh can write well on topics related to śāstras or other worldly lore. It is rare to see scholarship and writing skills both blended together in the right proportions. T.N.Srikantaiah famously said – ‘Reading is an enemy of writing’. It is but natural that as a person attains greater heights of scholarship, he starts losing interest in writing and in participating in worldly affairs.
Even with this background, we cannot deny that in today’s world, for the sustenance of our tradition, printed medium is one of the main tools to rely upon. Oral teaching and learning are less prevalent than they were before.
When we keep this background in mind, we will get to know to some extent, the importance of the veritable treasure-trove of literature that Ramachandra Rao has left behind him.
One of the greatest advantages that Ramachandra Rao had was the multifaceted nature of his scholarship. The depths and heights of his scholarship were both unparalleled. We may be able to find scholars who have mastered one or two branches of śāstra. It is rare to find a person like Ramachandra Rao who had assimilated so many areas of learning. Rare too were writers who achieved such a degree of finesse in writing. Rao’s writings are special because of this quality. Moreover, because of his immense talent, he was able to write with authority on several different topics.
His mind and his intellect were both cultured and sculpted by the śāstras. Therefore, it was impossible for him to speak or write without credibility and accuracy. It is hard to find people who could write with his attention to detail and with a perspective of the whole. He has left behind him works that can make a person awestruck for several different reasons. How can we not feel grateful for the labour of love that he undertook? In the history of mankind, people like Ramachandra Rao are seldom found. Such a wonder walked amidst us, during our own times and right in front of our eyes. This is a great fortune, indeed.
Dedication to the Transmission of Knowledge
I have to mention yet another aspect. Though he had the background of both traditional and modern knowledge systems, writing and lecturing are skills he developed by putting in great efforts. The knowledge that he had gained through hard work was to be useful to the society. With this kind of dedication in his mind, he took up the job of teaching. His writing that first started like a few dewdrops then grew to become a gushing river.
Because he had the deep-rooted feeling that whatever he did had to be the best in its quality, he put in efforts to practise and to get used to writing well. When we compare his early writings to the later ones, this becomes clearer. It should be said that writing in Kannada was quite difficult for him in the early days. For example, ‘Tibetina Yogi Milarepa’, one of his first Kannada writings was published in the weekly Janapragati in a serialized form in 1954. From the essay, it can be seen that he was still struggling with the language and style.
However, his period of ‘apprenticeship’ with writing was of a short duration. He got used to writing good Kannada in no time and developed a lucid style of his own. Every reader was sure that an article or a booklet that emerged out of Ramachandra Rao’s pen was insightful, credible and worth collecting. His writings were held in the highest regard by the lay and the learned alike.
Only a small number of people can access the original śāstras in the Sanskrit language and even a smaller number can actually understand and assimilate them. However, a secondary work that contains knowledge from the śāstras can be useful to everyone. Therefore, there is a significant need to introduce classical works that have come down the millennia to today’s generation in a manner that it can relate to. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is none other who performed this task in the measure that Ramachandra Rao. “I sometimes wonder if I did all this myself!” he often exclaimed.
Ramachandra Rao (born on 4th September 1925) is the author of over a hundred works. We, perhaps, might need to say that he has got over two hundred works to his credit. His independent works that were published between 1948 and 2005 in both English and Kannada languages are about a hundred and fifty in number. In addition to this, he has authored three volumes of Medical Encyclopaedia, twelve volumes of āgama-kośa, six volumes of pratimā-kośa and sixteen volumes of Ṛgveda-darśana – each a Himalayan task in itself. The production of works of this quality and quantity will need decades-long efforts of many groups of scholars working together. However, Ramachandra Rao achieved all this single-handedly in a span of about twenty years. In most cases, he did not even have a scribe to assist him. He wrote most of his works by himself in long-hand. Though his hand-writing consisted of small letters that were tightly packed together, there would be no scratches or edits in them. Just like his lectures and deliberations on the śāstras, his writings were also neat, clear and organized. Once he had written something, there was hardly any need for any kind of corrections. He would have thoroughly studied and thought about everything that he needed to write. The canvas over which he wrote his books was a robust one. Yet, the writing had to come out on paper. Looking at the number of books and the innumerable independent articles authored by Ramachandra Rao, one will only feel amazed and wonder – can a person achieve so much in a single lifetime!
To be continued...
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.
 These were his honorific titles
 Milarepa, a yogi from Tibet