Sunday, December 9, 2012

Memorial for a scholar philosopher

Way back in 1956, I had changed my school. My new school was much nearer to my house and had a gleaming and spanking new building with a Zeiss planetarium at the top, where a dome was specially constructed for this purpose. Sometime later, but during the same year, the new school building was officially inaugurated by then Vice-President of India. I still have faint recollections of the function. It was a huge gathering with almost all of my home town Pune's academia and intelligentsia invited for the function. Since I was very young, I did not follow much of what the chief guest told the audience. However, from the reactions of my parents and other elders, I knew that it was an excellent oration about education, religion and philosophy, the things we badly lack in today's society.

This man, who had delivered this thought provoking speech on that day (So I heard from the elders), was none other that Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a great philosopher and statesman and the then Vice President of India. Wikipedia describes him in following words and I quote:

Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was an Indian philosopher and statesman who was the first Vice President of India (1952–1962) and the second President of India from 1962 to 1967. He was one of India's most influential scholars of comparative religion and philosophy, Radhakrishnan built a bridge between the East and the West by showing how the philosophical systems of each tradition are comprehensible within the terms of the other. He wrote authoritative exegeses of India's religious and philosophical literature for the English speaking world. His academic appointments included the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta (1921–1932) and Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics at Oxford University (1936–1952). Dr. Radhakrishan was awarded the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India, in 1954. Among the many other honors he received were the British Knight Bachelor in 1931 and the commonwealth Order of Merit (1963), but ceased to use the title "Sir" after India attained independence.”

He was born on 5th September 1888, in a village near to Tiruttani, (then) Madras Province and His birthday is celebrated in India as Teachers' Day. He graduated from the Madras Christian College in 1906 with a Master's degree in Philosophy and was one of its most distinguished alumni. Radhakrishnan's thesis for the M.A. degree on "The Ethics of the Vedanta and its Metaphysical Presuppositions," was published, when he was only 20, and was highly acclaimed by all his professors.

Dr. Radhakrishan had a fabulous career in the academic world till he came to mainstream politics. In April 1909, he was appointed to the Department of Philosophy at the Madras Presidency College. Thereafter, in 1918, he was selected as Professor of Philosophy by the University of Mysore. In 1921 he was appointed as a professor in philosophy to occupy the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta. In 1929 Radhakrishnan was invited to join Harris Manchester College in England as principal. He became the Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University from 1931 to 1936. In 1936 , he returned to England to join the University of Oxford. In 1939 he took up the responsibility as the Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and continued to hold this post till 1948.

After independence Dr. Radhakrishan represented India at UNESCO between1946 to 1952. He was later appointed as Ambassador of India to the Soviet Union, from 1949 to 1952. He was also elected to the Constituent Assembly of India. He became first Vice President of India in 1952.. He was elected as the second President of India in 1962 and held that post till 1967. He died in 1975.

He has written number of books and articles on religion and philosophy. Some of his books are, Indian Philosophy (1923), The Hindu View of Life (1926), An Idealist View of Life (1929), Eastern Religions and Western Thought (1939), Religion and Society (1947), The Bhagavadgītā: with an introductory essay, Sanskrit text, English translation and notes (1948), The Dhammapada (1950), The Principal Upanishads (1953), Recovery of Faith (1956), A Source Book in Indian Philosophy (1957) and finally Religion, Science & Culture (1968).

How do you create a memorial for such an eminent scholar and a philosopher? Perhaps a museum would be the best idea to present his work and his thought, to the coming generations. But, the museum must be located in a place, with which he was associated in his life and also would represent his interests in life.

Luckily one such building exists in the city of Mysore, Karnataka state. The structure, popularly called Radhakrishnan’s Bungalow, is situated at Saraswathipuram area of the city. It has been in existence for more than 100 years and was constructed even before the University of Mysore came into being in 1916. Dr. Radhakrishnan stayed at this majestic bungalow, when he was a professor in the University of Mysore and taught Philosophy.

Over the years, the structure had dilapidated. The portico and the outhouse had collapsed and a portion of the ceiling was on the verge of collapse. The pillars of the main building were damaged to a great extent. University wanted to restore the building in view of the structure’s association with Dr. Radhakrishnan, but the costs were quite prohibitive. Then came Mr. M.R. Doreswamy, MLC and founder president of PES Educational Institutions. He agreed to give a donation of Rupees 7.8 Million to the university for restoration work. The project got started with this munificence. University asked Dr. N.S. Rangaraju of the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Mysore to take charge of the project. He says that they followed all conservation norms and principles and explains that “There was no replica for the original materials, including lime mortar and tiles used for roofing, and hence these were handmade to the original specifications at the site itself.”

The restored majestic bungalow is now ready and would be soon inaugurated. The university plans to set up a museum, besides establishing a research centre with focus on Dr. Radhakrishnan.

I think that it would be the most fitting memorial to the scholar philosopher and should become a place must for tourists to visit, who are interested in Indian philosophy and religious thought.

9 December 2012