The Only Way to Promote Secularism – Interview with Kanchi Periyava

Read this somewhere…thought of sharing….

(Published in August 15, 1988 issue)
An Interview with Kanchi Paramacharya
S. Ramakrishnan

The place was the Shankaracharya Temple in Satara in the rugged hinterland of Maharashtra, in the proximity of the Samadhi of Samarth Ramdas, the spiritual preceptor of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

The participants in this holy Satsang with the Paramacharya, Poojyapada Jagadguru Sri Chandra-sekharendra Saraswati of Kanchi Kamakothi Peetha included the venerable Dada Dharmadhikari (one of the closest associates of Mahatma Gandhi, Acharya Vinoba Bhave and Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan), Shri C. Subramaniam (former Union Minister and presently Vice-President of the Bhavan), Shri V. S. Page (veteran freedom fighter and former Chairman of Maharashtra Legislative Council) and presently blessed were we to have been in communion with the Paramacharya for nearly two and a half hours, from 7.45 a.m. to 10.15 a.m.

With the sweet resonance of Vedic hymns chanted by dozens of learned pandits blending with the pealing of temple bells, the atmosphere was serene and soul-elevating. We virtually seemed to have stepped into another world. We found His Holiness doing his Sadhana in the corner of a room, just behind the main temple. The place, like the lone occupant of the room, had an austere look. There were no furniture, no gaddi, no dari, no mat, not even any sizeable number of books which are normally associated with the living place of a scholarly saint.

What struck me most was a quietly burning oil lamp and the singular absence of electric lights. As the room was only dimly lit when we entered it, two kerosene lanterns were hurriedly brought. It was in such a solemn atmosphere of old-world simplicity and charm and quiet and dignified beauty that we had the long audience with His Holiness. We all prostrated before the sage.

We then reverentially offered at the feet of His Holiness, a Kashmir shawl, some fresh and dry fruits, a set of Bhavan’s latest publications including “Adi Sankara: His Life and Times” (the English rendering by Dr. T.M.P. Mahadevan of His Holiness’ discourses on the subject), the Bhavan’s Culture Course Readers for children and a collection of Tamil devotional kirtans by Periaswamy Thooran, including a composition on Adi Sankaracharya and two on the Kanchi Paramacharya.
With a benign smile and gentle wave of his hand, His Holiness signified his acceptance of our humble offering and thumbed through some of the books.

I reproduce below some of the important points of the interview, which was initiated by Shri C. Subramaniam.

C. Subramaniam: The national scene is distressing. Communalism, casteism, regionalism and other divisive forces are again on the prowl…indiscipline and lethargy are also rampant. They appear to be poised to threaten the very existence of India. Pray, give guidance to root out these evils. Kindly suggest ways and means to restore national unity and health.

His Holiness: Are you referring to the recent riots at Moradabad, Srinagar and other places?

Dada Darmadhikari: Yes, besides the loss of several innocent lives and destruction of public property, this time the quarrel is not merely intercommunal but it seems to be a determined challenge to the executive arm of the State itself – in Moradabad to the police and in Srinagar to the military.

H..: In which party are you now?

C.S.: I have given up party politics, I no more belong to any party. I have, however, not given up public life. I am now striving to do some public service as a nonparty man.

H.H: I am glad you are no more attached to any political party. You are going through a process of purification for wider service. Who are the other well-known figures, who are non-attached to political parties like you?

C.S.: Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Acharya Kripalani, Shri Achyut Patwardhan, Dr. R. R. Diwakar, Dr. Chintaman Deshmukh are some of the seniors among them. Dada Dharmadhikari and Shri V. S. Page who are with us here, also belong to this category.

H.H.: Communalism, regionalism, corruption and all-round indiscipline are indeed grave dangers to our national unity. But communalism is the worst among them. The root cause for the re-emergence of communalism, even after the heart-rending partition of India, is the short-sighted, selfish approach of politicians and political parties. Those who genuinely love India and are earnest about ridding the body-politic of communalism, must unreservedly refuse to forge alliance with communal parties for the sake of gaining or retaining power. We have so far failed in eliminating communalism because all-India parties woo them for votes.

C.S.: Which parties does your Holiness consider communal?

H.H.: Well, there are, in the first category, parties like the Hindu Mahasabha, Muslim League and the Akali Dal and their offshoots.

C.S.: These parties are in existence for a long time. They have a large following. It may not be easy to bring about their dissolution.

H.H.: The question of dissolution does not arise. These parties have a rightful role to play. But they should confine their activities to social service and social reform and the dissemination of the values of their respective religions and the teachings of their saints. They should also teach their co-religionists that Indian secularism does not mean Godlessness or deprecating and reviling other religions. True secularism is equal respect for all religions.

D.D.: How to make these parties work within the parameters your Holiness has indicated?

H.H.: We are a secular state. In view of the unhappy experience after the advent of freedom, and the damage communal parties have done to the national fabric, it is time that the Government should, if need be, and if constitutionally permissible, prohibit by law communal parties contesting elections by themselves or in alliance with recognised national political parties. In any event, national political parties should refuse to have any alliance with these parties. The Constituent Assembly (Legislature) had passed a resolution in 1948 in this regard.

C.S.: Yes, I remember. We hope, with your Holiness’ grace, this wholesome change will some day come about.

V.S. Page: Pray indicate as to how we should proceed?

H.H.: Subramaniam, you and other like-minded friends all over India should get together and help the Government in this regard. First, do your part of the job; then the grace of God and the Godly would follow as a matter of course.

First, get in touch with Acharya Vinoba Bhave for his advice and guidance. Thereafter, in consultation with him, you should draw up a list of non-party leaders of high probity and unimpeachable integrity. All of you should then discuss the problem in all its aspects. Thereafter, some of you should form into a team and personally contact the Prime Minister and all the important leaders of the national political parties and convince them of the imperative need to abjure alliance with communal forces in the larger interest of the nation. Your team should also meet the leaders of the communal parties and prevail upon them to give up political activities.

C.S.: We shall certainly do so. But will this bring immediate result?

H.H.: Nation-building is a long-drawn-out and never-ending process. It requires sincere and persevering efforts. Right means will alone lead to right ends. If you start the work in right earnest, I am sure, it will be successfully accomplished – maybe it may even take two or three decades. But start you must on this vital task without delay.

D.D.: We shall certainly make an effort.

Categories: Upanyasam


6 replies

  1. Dear all divine lovers/followers.We are in the era where religious tensions are on the rise resulting in chaos.This is because every one thinks that
    the religion they follow,the god/god sends they worship are only superior.This is not true.Every religion speaks about the same god through godsends
    in different perspectives.All religions have the same supreme god,but their names/languages are different.Don’t hate any pious.
    This is secularism that GOD/GODSENDS wants. JAYAM BE WITH DIVINE

  2. Lovely one. Yes He has indeed provided in great meticulous detail His inputs into our Constitution. Let me try to find out where it is.

  3. I first beg the forgiveness of the Periaval for my ignorance, if I am wrong. But I have to say what I say here, as it will invite comments and explanations from ohers which will help clear my doubts and set me right.

    As I am reading this post, I have this feeling that I am not listening to the Periaval’s language, but to that of a modern politician belonging to one of the “secular” parties. I hope that the present Congress Party ruling at the center does not selectively hijack this interview to add strength to its own communal policies, and further decry and weaken the “Hindu” groups that are, in the present vitiating political atmosphere, struggling desperately to keep our own civilizational inheritance alive.

    Maybe this piece should be followed by the Periaval’s message to Ambedkar, when the Constituion was being drafted, and which suggestions were readily incorporated into the draft. I read this in Deivathin Kural, I do not know exacty in which volume and chapter. We will be able to understand this message of Periaval better if read in tandem with his opinions expressed on the issue of secularism, taken from an impeccable source such as Deivathin Kural.
    Chandra Ravikumar

  4. did any one party follow periyava’s advice?

  5. Mahaperiyava’s awareness in politics too is unimaginable. Foreseeyer of many things that would
    happen after many decades in India.

    Balasubramanian NR

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