By Basu Ghosh Das
World Vedic Conference â€“ Ujjain â€“ Jan 13-17 â€“ a brief account of the proceedings
The Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan (The Maharshi Sandipani National Institute for Vedic knowledge), which is an â€śautonomous organization of the Ministry of Human Resource Development of the Government of India, organized the just concluded â€śWord Vedic Conferenceâ€ť at Ujjain, from January 13-17, 2007.
HH Bhakti Charu Maharaj, ISKCON GBC and sannyasi, who has established a large ISKCON center at Ujjain, which is well known in Vedic literatures as â€śAvantipurâ€ť, one of the â€śsapta purisâ€ť or seven revered towns of Bhaarata (India), kindly invited me to represent ISKCON at the conference.
Before I begin to describe the conference, I would like to publicly thank both Sriman Bimal Krishna Prabhu and Sriman (Dr.) Ganga Narayan Prabhu, who are the co-Presidents of ISKCON Ujjain, for so kindly hosting myself and my â€śpartyâ€ť at the newly constructed guest house there.
HH Bhakti Charu Maharaj is well known within ISKCON for his prasad arrangements, and the prasad at the Ujjain temple is plentiful and sumptuous!
The conference began with a large assembly of invited vedic scholars and brahmanas, some of whom are â€śmodern academic scholarsâ€ť and many of whom are â€śtraditional scholarsâ€ť. The Governor of Gujarat, Sri Nawal Kishore Sharma, inaugurated the conference in their presence by lighting the traditional lamp, which is always done to inaugurate such functions and events here in India.
The conference consisted of several features. Among them were: â€śacademic sessionsâ€ť that were â€śtopic wiseâ€ť, various symposiums, memorial lectures and special lectures, a demonstration of certain yagnas (fire sacrifices) from the Rig Veda, and cultural programs.
Also there were a number of programs conducted by vedic scholars from the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (temple trust) which included veda parayana (vedic recitation), havanshala to demonstrate vedic sacrifices, a model temple of Lord Balaji (Krishna) where the Deity worship according to Vaikhanasa agamas were performed, an exhibition of charts on both vedic rituals and literatures, as well as on Ayurveda and ancient herbs.
The â€śmodern academic scholarsâ€ť who attended mostly belong to various modern educational institutions both within India and abroad.
Some of the noted foreign scholars who attended were Professor George Cardona, who is retired from the University of Pennsylvania: he did extensive research on Paniniâ€™s â€śvyakarana sutrasâ€ť (samskrita grammar), Professor Hans Henrich Hock, from the University of Illinois Linguistics Department, and Professor Ras Vihari Joshi, who had much contact with Srila Prabhupada at New Delhi in the late 1950â€™s, who is now 80 years old and has been the Visiting Professor of Samskritam and Philosophy for many years at the El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico. He attended with 2 of his Mexican students.
Some of the prominent Indian academic scholars from modern educational institutions in India were Sri R. Krishnamurthy Sastry, the retired Principal of Madras Sanskrit College, his son, Dr. K. Ramasubramanian, who is an Associate Professor at IIT-Bombay, 82 year old Dr. B.V. Subbarayappa from Bangalore, and Professor Kamlesh Dutta Tripathi, who recently retired at Vice Chancellor of the Kalidas Sanskrit Academy, at Ujjain. It should be mentioned that Dr. M.B. Athreya, a well known â€śManagement Guruâ€ť, who holds a Phd from Harvard Business School, and is the honorary director of the â€śSringeri Shankaracharya Institute of Managementâ€ť at New Delhi, also attended, and did Dr. Mayank N. Vahia, Professor, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bombay. There were many other scholars in attendence, too numerous to mention here.
There were also a number of â€śtraditional vedic scholarsâ€ť, including 23 scholars of the Rig Veda, 77 scholars of the Yajur Veda, 25 of the Sama Veda and 12 scholars of the Atharva Veda.
Some of the thematic topics at the â€śacademic sessionsâ€ť were as follows: â€śDimensions of Science in the Vedic Literatureâ€ť, â€śVedic Poetry and Human Valuesâ€ť, â€śContribution of Oral Tradition in the preservation of the Vedasâ€ť, â€śPhilosophical Hymns in the Vedas and their Social Significanceâ€ť, â€śVedangas: Their role and importanceâ€ť, â€śThe Vedas and Contemporary Crisesâ€ť,
â€śSchools of Vedic Interpretationsâ€ť, â€śContribution of Smriti Literature in Preservation of Vedic Tradition â€“ with Special Reference to Jurisprudenceâ€ť, â€śVedic Philosophy and itâ€™s Heritageâ€ť (where I spoke from notes prepared in advance: I did not submit a paper), â€śArt, Architecture, Culture and Education in the Vedic Literatureâ€ť and â€śVedas and Managementâ€ť.
Under the theme of â€śVedic Philosophy and itâ€™s Heritageâ€ť, I was asked by Prof. Vachaspati Upadhyay, the Secretary of the Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan, Ujjain, and Vice Chancellor of Lal Bahadur Shastri Kendriya Sanskrit Vidyapith, New Delhi, to speak on â€śThe Vedic foundation of the teachings of Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupadaâ€ť.
Since these â€śacademic sessionsâ€ť were many, they were held simultaneously at 6 venues in three separate locations, and in fact all of them were within two kilometers of ISKCON Ujjain!
Since there were so many sessions and visiting lecturers, we, the speakers, were not given much time to make our presentations. So in the short time allotted to me I explained how Srila Prabhupada spread the vedic concepts of â€śsattvik livingâ€ť, simple village life and gave special emphasis to cow protection. Cows are glorified at length in the Rig Veda, and of course in the Smriti literatures, like Srimad Bhagavatam. I explained that our inspiration was Srimad Bhagavatam, and that the teachings of Bhagavatam were being propagated throughout the world. Further, I explained that westerners were taking to the â€śvedic lifestyleâ€ť and were propagating the concept of â€śvarnashrama dharmaâ€ť as mentioned in Bhagavad-gita, based on â€śguna and karmaâ€ť and not simply birthright.
There were several other interesting lectures that I attended. Dr. P. Ramanujan of â€śCdacâ€ť (http://cdac.in) presented his computer program, so far not released yet, wherein you can view of a scan of a palm leaf manuscript and then by clicking on a menu it can be seen, just below the original scan, in one of 8 scripts, including Roman script! This software is to be released as â€śfreewareâ€ť in the future on the cdac.in website.
Dr. M.B. Athreya, who chaired one of the sessions on â€śVedas and Managementâ€ť pointed out that the organizers ought to take help from modern management concepts to increase the attendance at the conference. He suggested that all the students of Vikram University at Ujjain, as well as all local College students should have been given a vacation in order to facilitate their attending the conference! He spoke eloquently on Vedic concepts of management with frequent references to Bhagavad-gita, which apparently is his favorite Vedic literature!
There must also be a reference made to two of the cultural programs that were presented in Samkritam: the drama of Kalidas, â€śMalvik-Agnimitraâ€ť, the â€śHarikatha â€“ Gita Govinda & life story of Jayadev Goswamiâ€ť narrated in Samskritam by Smt. D. Uma Maheshwari of Hyderabad and her dance troupeâ€™s presentation of the â€śDasavatara stotramâ€ť of Jayadev Goswami.
The program was concluded in a valedictory function presided over by the Governor of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, Sri Rameshwar Thakur. As Governor of Andhra Pradesh, he has presided over the establishment of a â€śVedic Universityâ€ť at Tirupati, - which is located in Andhra Pradesh - where all of the subject matter is â€śtraditionalâ€ť, based on Vedas and Vedic literatures, and not based on the â€śmodern educational syllabusâ€ť and outlook.
Dr. Ram Rajesh Mishra, the Vice Chancellor of Vikram University, Ujjain, speaking very eloquently at the valedictory function said that the Vedas should not be preserved as per the western outlook, but the traditional vedic system should be preserved. There should be facilities for traditional vedic scholars, including land, financial support, etc.. All the branches of the Vedas should be preserved, and the old guru parampara should not be lost. He made his statements with feeling and passion and with a genuine yearning for a return the glorious vedic age!
Also at the valedictory session, Dr. Gautam Patel of Ahmedabad proposed a series of resolutions to be submitted to the Union Minister for Human Resource Development, who hails from Madhya Pradesh (the state wherein Ujjain is located), Sri Arjun Singh, who is also the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Maharshi Sandipani Rasthriya Vedavidya Prathisthan, Ujjain.
The resolutions called for setting up Vedic Universities throughout India, and for other measures that the Government should take for supporting Vedas, scholarship in the Vedas and for supporting vedic scholars, etc.
Of course, on the sidelines of the conference, personally I was able to meet and discuss with many of the visiting scholars. Several of the visiting vedic scholars came with us and visited ISKCON Ujjain and took prasad there. One of them, Dr. Sugyan Kumar Mahanti, now head of the Sahitya (literature) department of the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sanstha (National Sanskrit Institution), Bhopal Campus, (Bhopal is the Capitol of Madhya Pradesh), had 18 years ago conducted a 10 day spoken samskrita course at ISKCON Baroda, and he subsequently conducted the same seminar at ISKCON Vrindavan. He was very enlivened by his visit to ISKCON Ujjain.
Prof. R. Krishnamurthy Sastri, his son, Dr. K. Ramasubramanian and Dr. P. Ramanujan all stayed with us at the ISKCON Ujjain ashram and I am sure that they enjoyed their time there!
In fact, myself and several of the devotees at ISKCON Ujjain were pleasantly surprised to see Dr. Ramasubramanian dancing in the sandhya arati in the temple, one evening, for quite sometime!
In conclusion, there were many positive experiences that I had at the conference! Much more could be written about the proceedings at the conference, but that would take much time and space to narrate. If any of the readers of this article would like to know more about the conference or have an interest in any area of vedic learning, feel free to contact me via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will reply to you.