The debate took place in Sanskrit.
Shastri’s argument was as follows – In the Vedic tradition, marriage is an instrument for dharma not enjoyment; so to facilitate refinement of the individual the child marriage is emphasized, and that is considered right.
Dharmadeva Vācaspati quoted the Vedic passages which exposit that a woman who has become an adult would marry a man who has completed brahmacarya and so argued that the Vedas emphasize the wedding of adults. Many instances of a groom searching for a bride and vice-versa appear in the Vedas and such maturity to choose would be impossible in the girls who are just seven or eight years old or boys who are just twelve or thirteen years old.
Shastri argued – The passages which are about garbhādāna (ceremony of consummation) is not relevant and cannot be applied for the question about wedding; just like after the upanayana the boy goes to the gurukula for his education, the girl who is eight year old is taken as a student by her husband after the wedding.
Dharmadeva Vācaspati presented a quote from the gṛhya-sūtra, which says that the wedding should be consummated on the fourth day after the wedding.
A wedding that is somewhat of a transaction, like the svayaṃvara type, is just one among the eight types of wedding and it is only prescribed for the kṣatriyas; whereas for the brāhmaṇas child marriages should be still considered appropriate – this was Sitarama Shastri’s argument.
This event remained in the memory of the people of Bangalore for a long time after it happened. As it happens in such cases, both parties publicised that they were the winners. But that is immaterial. The important point is that there was a meaningful debate on an important and timely social issue between two great scholars and that the Śaṅkara-maṭha provided a platform for such an event.
Let the followers of each group claim victory and publicize it. In reality the discussion was cordial and adhered to a high standard and cheap tactics were never employed by either party.
Rules were established so as to ensure that the discussion was meaningful, serious, and fruitful. Here were the rules –
- Only the two scholars should speak and nobody else.
- There shouldn’t be applause or other endorsement from the audience.
- Both sides had an alternating ten-minute slot to put forth their arguments.
- If anything uttered by the scholars or the members of the audience was personal or improper, the President must intervene and put a stop to it.
- Only the Vedas are considered as the pramāṇa (reference, valid authority).
- The President is responsible only to conduct the discussion, not to declare a result.
- As per the situation anyone can help the discussion by providing references and citations (by passing it on to the scholars in writing) but they have no right to speak.
- If the President grants permission, then the others can also speak.
Thus it is to be lauded that the discussion happened with the main purpose of educating the people.
Truly, there is no reason to assume that Shastri was against social reforms. He closely adhered to the tradition. He was worried that if people lose respect for tradition, the society might descend into chaos. His mind was formed and refined by the same traditional foundations. Faith towards the tradition was in his blood. So it was natural that whenever those traditions were questioned, he chose to defend them. But we shouldn’t forget that Shastri also appreciated and supported Gandhi’s plan for the upliftment of Harijans.
Establishment of Mysore Congress
For a long time Sitarama Shastri appreciated the constructive programmes and the freedom struggle initiated by Gandhi. He actively participated in them and toured various parts of Karnataka and publicised these efforts. Shastri’s efforts were immensely important when it came to creating a conducive environment for the birth of the Mysore Congress in 1937. While Karnataka Congress saw its inception in 1928 itself, it was weak compared to the one in the centre. Congress met for the first time in 1928 and again in 1929 with people like Manikyavelu Mudaliar and Venkatakrishnaiah presiding the programmes. In 1929, DVG was at the forefront of the welcome committee. It remained dormant for many years after that, even though it had members like Ram Lal Tiwari and others. One of the reasons was that the central committee was not interested in the growth of Congress in the princely states, it only worried about strengthening it in territories which were directly ruled by the British government. Gandhi also had declared that Mysore was ‘Ramarajya’ and Mirza Ismail was an able administrator. Thus the freedom movement was restricted to Khadi, upliftment of Harijans, boycott of foreign goods etc. It never reached the proportions of a mass movement which Shastri had envisioned. To fill in the lacuna, he brought in two stalwarts, Tagadur Ramachandra Rao, who had participated in many of the Satyagrahas with Gandhi and T. Siddalingaiah who had just returned from the USA. The trio called themselves ‘Trimurti-samiti’ and toured all over the state to bring about an awakening in the masses. Every visit resulted in the setting up of local congress committees. The tricolour fluttered everywhere giving new hope.
Meanwhile there was the People’s Party (Prajā-pakṣa) which appeared to be in cahoots with the royalty, the members even though capable and eminent, were behaving like ‘Yes-men’ who worried more about earning new titles from the king and were against the setting up of a democratic government. When the party met in Gauribidanur, the trio executed a gatecrash! They climbed upon the stage and openly ridiculed and mocked the members for their love of meaningless titles and royal pleasantries when the people’s rule was the need of the hour. With their brilliant speeches they were able to make the members realize their folly. That was the final nail in the proverbial coffin of the Prajā-pakṣa.
Thus Shastri was instrumental in paving the way for the dissolution of the Prajā-pakṣa—which had strayed from the ideology of Congress—and its subsequent merger with Congress.
As mentioned earlier, in the ‘sedition’ case, the prominent people who faced imprisonment were Sitarama Shastri, T Siddalingaiah, and Tagaduru Ramachandra Rao. Even later on Shastri was imprisoned a few times.
Shastri distanced himself from the Congress in his later days.
The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original which has appeared in the Dīvaṭikegaḻu, authored by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Some parts have been adapted from the booklet titled - 'Virakesari' Sitarama Sastri - published as part of the series Mulukanadu Mahaniyaru. Thanks to Sri Hari Ravikumar for his edits.