Reminiscences of Dr. Pandurang Vaman Kane (Part 3)

Personal Take on Rituals

Many of Dr. Shantaram Kane’s ('SK') friends would ask him how much time his grandfather spent every morning on his daily rituals and if he was a very religious man, given that he was so keen about the study of the dharma-śāstras. SK said, “When someone asked me this, I told them that my grandfather spent hardly two minutes in the pūjā room. It would come as a surprise to many and even as a shock to some, but Grandfather would stand before the mūrtis in our house immediately after taking his bath, offer his prayers for a couple of minutes, and then walk to his study. Apart from this, it was his habit to offer the citrāhuti[1] before partaking of his lunch or dinner. That was the limit of his rituals. For him, working on the History of Dharma-śāstra was no less than a penance and all he could afford for his prayers was two minutes, not more!”

SK also narrated a charming episode from his boyhood days. “When I was a young boy, I had resisted the idea of undertaking vratas; if I offer such-and-such a prayer to the lord and if he would, in return, give me what I want, how different was it from a bribe! When my grandmother heard this argument, she was furious. I was accusing her religious activity of being a cheap, corrupt practice – or so she must have felt! Promptly, I was dragged to the court of my grandfather and she complained to him. Grandmother went away leaving me to my grandfather. But he was hardly irritated by my conduct. He simply said, ‘Sit down here,’ and explained in a calm manner – ‘Look, you are right in saying that we should not prostate before God to seek some petty favours. But then, you must know and understand why we offer prayers to him. Prayer is nothing but an acknowledgement for all the fruits we have enjoyed or are enjoying in life. This awareness is called ṛṇa-prajñā. Don’t you offer salutations to your parents and elders in acknowledgement of what all they have given you? Similar is the feeling when we offer our prayers to God; it is nothing but a form of gratitude. Also, we are amazed by the vibhūti of the Supreme. We acknowledge that splendour.’ So often I remember these words of my grandfather and to date, those are the words that have guided me in so far as the almighty is concerned.”

That said, Dr. P V Kane ('PVK') had great regard for the ritualistic aspects of the tradition as well. He had memorised most of the Vedic texts and could recite them at will. He had also committed to memory many of the primary Upaniṣads and was well-versed with its contents. We can see evidence for that in his writings as well.

Conviction in Writing his Magnum-opus

In his five-volume tome, PVK has written in detail about every aspect of the Dharma-śāstra. Some portions are extremely technical and it’s quite a challenge to even read it. Given this, how in the world did PVK muster the conviction to write it? What drove him to get into such details? What drove him to write about this gigantic subject? This is what we asked SK next.

It turns out that long before commencing the writing of the volumes, PVK had a keen interest in all subjects related to Indian culture. He also had a deep understanding of the dharma-shastras and matters related to Indian heritage. He was a master of the Sanskrit language and of his own interest, he had read the Vedas, Upaniṣads, the Epics, the Purāṇas, and other traditional works. But time and again, when PVK would come across the writing of some Western scholar or soi-disant Indologist on the subject of the dharma-śāstra that showed Indian culture in bad light, and his blood would boil. His anger would know no bounds when he came across writers who passed loose comments on the dharma-śāstras or concluded that the Indian mind was uncivilized and nascent. At the dining table, he would express his anguish, “What does this fellow know about India and its heritage to comment this way? Where on earth does he find all these things in our dharma-śāstras? What were people in Europe and the Americas doing when we already had a flourishing civilization in India?” Such constant episodes convinced him that he had to write something to shut the mouths of Western scholars who spewed absolute drivel about our ancient works. He made up his mind. “It is my duty to write this. I shall write about the dharma-śāstra in greater detail so that it will put all confusion to rest.” Doubtless he ended up becoming successful. A needle prick in the beginning sufficed to put the great mind on track to undertake the herculean task of compiling all the dharma-śāstras and its commentaries right from Parāśara, Manu, and Yājñavalkya all the way until the day on which he wrote the specific chapter. This included the judgments passed by Indian courts and the Privy Council.

And when some busybody would ask PVK, “Why did you write this monumental work in English?” he would retort, “Because I want everyone all over the world to read this. Let there not be any more questions!”

When PVK announced the launch of this research project in 1926, he had no idea that it would turn out to be such a massive undertaking. After completing the five volumes in 1962, he felt the need to revise the first volume. He was able to complete the revision in 1966, a few years before his death in 1972.

Dharma-śāstra not just in Theory

In his writings, PVK gives a balanced view of things, neither over-depending on the dictates of his contemporary world nor fawning to the utterances of the ancient masters. His view is always based on sound reasoning, well-rooted in tradition, highly practical, and assiduously nationalistic. In places where the dharma-śāstra is outdated and its pronouncements are irrelevant to the contemporary era, PVK boldly calls for reform. It turns out that he was not just writing that in theory but believed it in practice, as evident from a very personal episode from the life of PVK, which SK told us.

PVK’s son—i.e. SK’s father—contemplated marrying a second time after the death of his wife. He decided to marry a widow and informed his father that they were not planning an elaborate ceremony but just the essential rituals followed by a court registration. PVK immediately gave his consent and the only condition that he put was that he should be allowed to sign as one of the witnesses for the marriage when they went to register it. He didn’t want people to say that the son went against the father’s wishes and broke the tradition. He wanted people to know widow remarriage was to be entertained and that he had consented for the wedding and what better proof for that than signing as one of the witnesses! Also, he was the foremost among public intellectuals who advocated widow remarriage and during his time, he organised several such marriages.

To be continued...

My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Shantaram G Kane, the grandson of Dr. P V Kane, for sharing so many wonderful anecdotes about his grandfather with me and my friends. Further, he promptly reviewed the present essay, offering wonderful suggestions as well as fact-corrections. I wish to express my thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh and Dr. S L Bhyrappa for encouraging me to record the highlights of my meeting with Dr. Shantaram Kane. Thanks to Hari Ravikumar for his thorough editing of the essay.



[1] A pre-meal ritual in which one offers water around the plate or banana leaf and five bits of rice to the devas (deities) and pitṛs (forefathers). Only those whose upanayana saṃskāra has been performed are expected to perform this ritual.



Kashyap N Naik is a practising advocate at Bangalore and a light classical singer. He has an abiding interest in Indian literature, history, law, culture, and philosophy. 

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