V. V. Subrahmanya Sastry, who was a mathematician by training and statistician by profession, worked in the health department of the government of AP. Hailing from an orthodox family of Vedic scholars, he was well versed in the Shastras and Upanishadic philosophy. This is his critique of Pandit Narayana Das’ Jagajjyoti.
The unforgettable personality of Adibhatla Narayana Das, popularly known as the ‘Harikatha-pithmaha’
, had innumerable facets all beaming with outstanding brilliance. Even during his lifetime several people including scholars of every grade and every field of specialization looked upon him as a savant of rare genius. Some of his admirers were even regarding him as an ‘Avatar
’ or ‘Leela Vibhuti
’ of God Almighty. What was the secret of his eminence?
Narayana Das was in fact a giant among men in many respects. By virtues of hard work, dedication to the cause of revival of spiritual and religious enlightenment in the minds of people of his time, he attained a unique status as an exponent of renaissance. The secret of his eminence seems to lie firstly in the versatility and the depth of insight he exhibited in diverse fields of art, literature and philosophy, and secondly in the extraordinary and flawless wisdom with which his discourses, writings and deeds were always replete.
Though every piece of composition that emanated from this great thinker bore the stamp of his inner quest and wisdom, it appears to me that his unfinished book “Jagajjyoti” contains the special message, which he yearned to broadcast for posterity. This work is now available in print in two volumes each consisting of four chapters. Here and there in this treatise one comes across instances of repetition of some pet theories and opinions of the author; but by and large all the one hundred and twenty four topics covered in the book had been expertly handled. Even the repetition of certain phrases and some ideas from topic to topic served only to emphasize the unity of understanding, rather than sound in any way jarring or biased. Evidently the author, being essentially a songster, had dexterously used the unique art of repeating set patterns of expressions as an effective tool for impressing the reader with the doctrine he sought to preach.
It is not however a new-fangled creed of a sectarian system that Narayana Das had endeavoured to preach in this book. He was of course voicing his own inmost vision; say the most valued realization he experienced in his life’s course. But through voracious reading, overfull grasp, critical faculty and creative imagination, he was able to assimilate the true spirit of the very classics in every branch of the hoary Vedic culture. Again being a gifted scholar, teacher, actor, poet and also as a mature citizen, professional artist and social reformer and saint, he could communicate the fruits of his wisdom and rich experience in this book in a telling way. His message is something like ‘Old wine in new bottles’, valuable in itself and also attractively presented. As the title of his book suggests, it is a source of illumination to the world as natural and potent as the effulgence of the Sun-god.
By way of illustrating the method adopted by the author in weaving out an endless dissertation of this type, I detail below the contents of a few topics. To start with, under the first topic, in Chapter I of Volume I, the author propounds the view that what prevails in the world process in reality is only ‘Daivam’ (the Divine Will) and that ‘Pourusham’ (the individual human will) is but the conditioned effort of a finitised consciousness aimed at a limited accomplishment. This serves firstly as a prayer to the sublime Reality that is beyond the apparent phenomena of the world and yet forms the substratum of all this. This is quite in accordance with the tenets of ‘Advaita’ (monism). Secondly it also presents in brief the essence of his thesis that the only Reality that counts, manifesting itself in the form of the Devine Will and the revelation of the 18 ‘vidyas’ (branches of learning), helps those good-natured individuals who exert themselves genuinely for the welfare of the public at large. Thus in a way it turns out to be a benediction also to the suffering and groping humanity.
Under the second topic in Chapter I of Vol. I, which is by far the smallest in size, the author describes one of the finest and most uncontroversial modes of interpreting the concept of classifying Time into different ages named 'Treta', ‘Krita’, ‘Dwapara’, and ‘Kali’. The time that is spent by an individual in mental awareness and verbal praise of Godhead is ‘Kali’; the time spent in adoring God in word, mind and deed with complete surrender is ‘Dwapara’; the time spent in universal love saturated and supported by right knowledge discriminating what is substantial from what is illusory is ‘Treta’; and the time spent in realization of the absolute Truth devoid of the functioning of the gross mind is ‘Krita’. Thus the classification of Time into Yugas like ‘Krita’ is to be understood basically with reference to the stages of evolution of human individual. While being of primary interest to the microcosm, it may be of course capable of extending to the macrocosm also. Thus, the popular conception of Time as being subdivided into the historic periods such as ‘Krita Yuga’, ‘Treta Yuga’ etc., with gradually diminishing degrees of righteousness and realization, gains its validity. In this connection, the reader will also note that the author is prone to adopt in this book a thoroughly independent and original outlook on life deriving of course due inspiration from authority of some scriptures in doing so.
In the third topic he deals with ‘Time and Action’. The concept of time as also that of other elementary substances like Earth etc. is relative to the functioning of the Mind, while Mind itself is a member of the nine-fold group of elementary substances, according to the school of ‘Nyaya Darsana’. The notion of Activity in turn arises with reference to the elementary substances including Time and Mind, while activity greatly influences the basic matrix ofMind. This sounds somewhat like an extension of the ‘Theory of Relativity’, which reveals the author’s power of synthesizing the orthodox and the ultra-modern viewpoints together.
In the subsequent topic he describes the characteristic features of the three different states of consciousness, namely, wakefulness, dream and deep sleep. Here he points to the identity of deep sleep to ‘Akasha Tatva’.
In the next topic, the ‘Upanishadic’ Theory of Cosmology pertaining to the order of creation is indicated. The later topics deal with discussions on Natureand Soul, Soul Force, the extent of validity of distinctions of class and creed ‘Varna’ and ‘Ashrama’ (caste and stages of life) and so forth.
It is not intended to give in this article an exhaustive discussion on all or any of the topics. In fact one will have only to read each one of the topics in full and in the original for oneself, in order to appreciate the tenor in which it is constructed, and sense the real import sought to be conveyed therein. A brief indication of the subjects touched in the rest of the book is however attempted in what follows.
In Chapter 2 of Volume I, more light is thrown on the roles of individual exertion and Divine Will, and on the empirical nature of the caste system etc., and then on the methods of interpreting the Vedas, the Smrithis and other religious literature.
Coming to the question as to how one should interpret the ancient sayings of wisdom, Narayana Das approaches the problem with extraordinary powers of comprehension, extremely modern scientific techniques of analysis, a careful identification of all possible alternates and piercing vision culminating in proper decision-making. His method may be illustrated by the way he tackled the well known Mantra, “Chatvari Sringah…”. He has elaborated five alternative interpretations for this Mantra, each one being based on a different branch of learning viz., Science of sound, that of Ritual, that of Music, that of Life and that of Economics. At the end, the reader is left wondering how inscrutable the real or inner meaning of the Vedic hymns usually is and how futile it may be for an ordinary student to attempt an analysis of such texts particularly in the context of possible interpretations for favouring an action which is in conflict with normal code of humanistic conduct. Having dazzled the reader’s vision in this fashion the author finally concludes to the effect that from a comprehensive study of the ancient lore, one observes the necessity to reconcile the teachings of 'Smritis’ (Sastras) with those of ‘Srutis’ (Vedas), and in this effort one has inevitably to conceded that the inner meaning of all the hymns must revolve round the pre-eminence of ‘Parabrahma’: the absolute Truth which is non-different from pure Consciousness and universal Love. All this eventually leads to lend only a very limited and circumscribed sanction for the cult of animal sacrifice (Pasumedha) in the system of ‘Srauta Yajnas’ (that mode of ritualistic worship which is specially enjoined by Vedas) and the corresponding deceptions of the form of Yajna Purusha (Sacrificial fire God).
In Chapter 3, some further criticism regarding the ostensible complexity of ‘Srauta Yajna Kanda’ is presented, followed by an appreciation of the benevolent guidance afforded by Jagadguru Sankaracharya in his great commentary ‘Sareeraka Meemansa Bhashya’.
In Chapter 4, the merits of Upanishadic Cult, Bhagavatha Cult, Nadabrahma Upasana, etc., have been elaborated.
In the remaining Chapters 5 to 8, the foregoing subjects have been reviewed and amplified sometimes in a different strain and with greater emphasis than before on the need for a deep study for the utilitarian branches of learning such as the science of aesthetics (Adharva Veda) and medical science (Ayurveda) etc.
Incidentally the author indicates his devotional fervour towards the chief Deities (Devata) like ‘Bala Tripura Sundari Amba’, ‘Narayana’, ‘Sree Rama’, ‘Sri Krishna’; ‘Sada Siva’ and so forth, revealing that his Jnana is not divorced from his Bhakti.
Narayana Das is in perfect unison with the Upanishadic seers and other prophets articularly ‘Kapila’, ‘Goutama Buddha’, ‘Vyasa’ and ‘Sankara Bhagavatpada’. His head is full of Advaita Vijnana and his heart is steeped in ‘Bhagavata Dharma’. His appeal to fellow-men chiefly for promoting the pursuit of “Humanism” - humanism based on faith in God, spirit of detachment and enlightenment of real values. He denounces in strong words, all superstitious adoption of ritualism particularly that which involves the sacrificing of animals. He is against subjugation and persecution of any section of mankind by another. He deprecates the practice of half-baked spiritual austerities and would not approve of irrational adoption of ‘Mantras’ and ‘Tantras’ by persons lacking a thorough insight into the subtleties and implications of the ancient formulary. His contempt for the pedantic grammarians, imposing astrologers, stonehearted ritualists, and unruly infidels now abundant in the community knows no bounds. What he confidently preaches as a safe course for the common man is just a good neighbourly, open-minded, and well-balanced living refined with up to date and sophisticated mode of self-expression.
On the other hand, he has a more stringent recipe to suggest for another type of seekers namely the more eligible souls of advanced stature. And that is the pursuit of absolute bliss promised for an adept that established himself in the uninhibited, fearless and boundless state of 'Jeevanmukti’. Here the characteristics of a ‘Jeevanmukta’ are identified as being a self-actualising divine consciousness and an enlivening universal love for all the creatures. Thus the chief watchwords of Narayana Das may be taken to be the two maxims: “Sarve Janah Sukhino Bhavantu” and “Amrutamabhayamatma” as is borne out by his own statement in the summarizing section under the caption “Manavonnati” occurring at page 23 of Volume 1., Chapter 2 of ‘Jagajjyoti’.
This is but natural to a personage endowed with Divine Treasure (‘Daivisampath’). Though Narayana Das initially displayed a ‘Gandharva’ outlook, in that he liked music, dancing, stories (Harikatha) and aesthetic perfection, he gradually evolved the ‘Brahma’ outlook, highly intellectual and moral, capable of scientific, philosophical and religious, self-disciplined and impartial to all beings. His progress towards the goal of eternal values was so steady, sure and rapid that the very remembrance of his life and work continues to enchant and ennoble the society from which he emerged.
Reproduced from the "Harikathapitamaha Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Dasa Satajayantutsava Sanchika" (1967), the souvenir published by the Samskruthi Samithi, Chirala to commemorate the great man's birth centenary.