Studies and Teaching
Ramachandra Rao’s father taught him Sanskrit grammar and also works of poetry such as the Raghuvaṃśa of Kālidāsa. He learnt the recitation of the Vedas from Keshavashiva Ghanapāṭhī. Following this, he undertook a detailed study of Tarka-śāstra and Vedānta-śāstra under the tutelage of Yajna Vithalacharya and Palghat Narayana Shastri – both in the traditional style. Even before that he had learnt different āgamas under the guidance of Āgamika Krishna Dikshita. In the 1940s, as a student of Psychology at the Mahārāja’s College in Mysore, Ramachandra Rao managed to learn ardha-māgadhī and other prākṛts during his free time from Rallapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma. He also received lessons in understanding the nuances of music from the stalwarts.
The above would suffice to throw some light on the thirst for knowledge that Ramachandra Rao had from his young age. Prof. M Hiriyanna and Lakshmipuram Srinivasacharya were in Mysore and he was closely associated with them. This helped him better his understanding of Vedānta too.
Ramachandra Rao, the beautiful flower, blossomed under the tutelage of these learned scholars. It did not blossom into a small flower like jasmine but grew into a gigantic one of the ‘Rafflesia’ variety. Later on, he also learnt the Tibetan language to understand the Buddhist tradition better.
As narrated above, he put in immense effort during his youth to gain knowledge. In the next fifty years, he made this knowledge available to the world through his lectures and writings.
The term ‘born teacher’ is in vogue to refer to some people. Ramachandra Rao was one such classical orator. His public lectures and lessons of śāstra, once started, flowed without any break. He never had to struggle to quote a line or a phrase from the śāstras he was speaking about – he hardly needed to have printed books for reference. Quotations from śāstras flowed easily from Ramachandra Rao’s tongue one after the other effortlessly, like a garland of flowers. He was so thorough in his understanding of the subject and had great mastery over the texts.
‘I should make available to the society in whatever proportion possible the concepts that I have learnt and understood’ – this thought was always active in him. His teachers too had expected the same from him. For him, teaching, lecturing and writing, thus, served a dual purpose – on one hand, it was the fulfilment of his ṛṣi-ṛṇa and on the other, it was the act of sharing knowledge with the society. He executed these tasks in a manner incomparable and derived great satisfaction from it. In this sense, it would not be wrong to call him a ‘ṛṣi’ of our times and that would only be a factual statement and not rhetorical exaggeration.
I will need to mention yet another thing at this point. Usually, people who are involved in deep study of texts and in teaching them do not tolerate any other kind of distraction. The world of śāstras occupies their internal landscape in its entirety. They are in the scholarly mood all the twenty-four hours and they would not like to come out of the zone. Ramachandra Rao, however, was an exception. Even when he was deeply involved in the study of profound and complex texts, when invited to participate in a discussion forum or to a conference, he would never say – ‘I have no time for it'. One of the reasons for this was his inherent good nature and the other was the feeling – ‘It is my fundamental duty to help the society that I am a part of, to the extent possible.’ This thought was always active in his mind and had become a part of his subconscious self. The society needs to be grateful to him for his friendly outlook and for his involvement in societal activities.
On all such occasions, he provided the best possible guidance to his audience. All cultural platforms requested his presence and this was because of his multi-dimensional scholarship, sublime persona and his impeccable character. Ramachandra Rao’s presence at any gathering was an embellishment to the event. His presence added great charm and value to the occasion. Ramachandra Rao always spoke so as to leave a lasting impression in the memory of his audience. He spoke to suit the occasion and his style of presentation was highly attractive. This was the constant feature whenever he was invited to an inaugural ceremony, or to preside over an event or even when he had to present a research topic. It is not unusual for discussions in seminars and conferences to become chaotic. Under such circumstances, Ramachandra Rao would always intervene and bring the discussion on to the right track. In this way, he was an ombudsman who would help maintain the healthy progress of a seminar.
It was his inner clam that enabled him to do all this effortlessly.
The Worship of Knowledge
Sincere pursuit of knowledge is devoid of artificial bounds. Ramachandra Rao mastered Vedānta, Mīmāṃsā, and other darśanas, with the same dedication, he also studied Buddhism and other schools of philosophy. He dived deep into them as well.
In about 1955, Ramachandra Rao resided in a house in Gandhi Bazar (in Bangalore) opposite the Tin School. I usually visited him, accompanied by Dr. H N Murthy. On one such visit, Rao played the ‘Mettasutta’ – a traditional Buddhist composition on his veena.
Several stalwarts like DVG and V Si. had the greatest regard for his scholarship and teaching. He was loved by them all.
Ramachandra Rao is usually remembered for his expertise in Sanskrit and several śāstras. However, there was no field of knowledge that was not among the areas of his interest. It was with the same authority and ease with which he could speak on vedānta, that he could deliver lectures on the works of Shakespeare and Homer. He had the same amount of confidence and conviction in all areas he had touched.
It baffles us to even imagine how he made so much of space in his head for such variegated interests.
His memory and power of retention were wonderful as well. Even when he had to speak on a complex topic that required a lot of mental involvement, he did not keep any book or notes in front of him. He would, at best, have a small piece of paper in front of him with the topics that he had to touch upon listed in it. His ‘lecture notes’ was his memory.
I am at a loss for words when I try to explain the dedication to sharing of knowledge that Rao had. No one who went to him with a request to learn something returned empty-handed. Whenever he was posed with a request, Ramachandra Rao never voiced his constraints or other pressing commitments.
Once when V S Kaushik and I were speaking to Ramachandra Rao, for some reason our discussion turned towards Bhāgavata. We told Rao, “We have only been able to get a superficial overview of the Bhāgavata and have never managed to dive into its depths and explore all the nuances.” Without a second thought, he said, “So what! Wouldn’t it be good to go through it once afresh – what’s the difficulty there?” We knew the other pressures Rao was under and we were not sure if we could ask him for his time. However, he declared right away that we would be starting the study on the third day. The next question that he posed to us made us all the more dumbfounded. He asked us, “What time works for you?” There is no need to explain more than this. It went on accordingly. In the condensed course, we were only about ten to twelve people in the audience. Nevertheless, Rao taught us with the same kind of dedication as he would have in addressing hundreds of listeners.