V. K. Narayana Bhattathiri - A short biography

VK Narayana Bhattathiri

Varavoor Kaplingat Narayana Bhattathiri (1880 - 1954 A.D.) was a renowned Vedic scholar, a Sanskrit teacher, a prolific writer, a visionary and a social activist. During the first half of the twentieth century, when conservative ideas on Vedic learning were prevalent almost all over the country, he strongly advocated the cause of Vedartha Vichara. A scholar who highlighted the relevance of the Vedas to modern times, the essence of his Vedic vision can be seen in every article he wrote.

V.K.Narayana Bhattathiri had a remarkably different approach from that of conservative Vedic pundits. He believed in following a rational approach to the study of the Vedas and pondered over the message of the Vedas to humanity. At the same time, he breathed the Vedas reverentially. His articles echoed a rare combination of intellectually revolutionary ideas and the Jnana Yoga of Aurobindo Ghosh, coupled with the concepts of Karma Yoga of Mahatma Gandhi. However, he always retained a profound reverence to the Vedas, in his writings. Having done pioneering work in Vedic research and Vedartha Vichara, his articles were aimed at progress of the human society. Status of women in the Vedic period, Hindu-Muslim harmony, temple entry, untouchability, education for the masses, rural upliftment, freedom and equality of the sexes were some of the contemporary issues addressed by him in his writings. Like Swami Vivekananda, he aimed to spread the secret treasure of the Vedas to the common man, irrespective of caste and sex, in a simple and practical manner. Undoubtedly, he wrote and explained the Vedas in the most simplistic way possible. It was this courage of conviction and liberal attitude which endeared him to the common man; despite hailing from an aristocratic, orthodox Brahmin family of India’s pre-Independence era. He was attracted to the concepts of Theosophy of Annie Besant and to the vision of the Arya Samaj. Unlike Sayana Acharya, he avoided interpretation of the Vedas from a mere ritualistic angle. He delved deep into the etymological significance of Vedic hymns, in the lines of Yaska Muni. It would perhaps not be wrong to state that after Adi Sankaracharya, it was Shri V.K. Narayana Bhattathiri who brought out the secrets of the Vedas, after deep analyses of the words of Vedic hymns. A true Gandhian, he believed that spiritual enlightenment is possible only through honesty, hard work and simplicity.

If you had been to Wadakkanchery village in Thrissur district of Kerala in the first half of the twentieth century, you would perhaps have come across this tall, frail Bhattathiri with sacred ash and sandalwood paste smeared across his forehead, sporting a small tuft of hair like a pony tail and a cloth bag filled with books slung across his shoulders. He taught Sanskrit at his home ‘Anandashramam’, following the ancient ‘Gurukula’ system. He was one of the founding members as also the Secretary of the local Public Library and one would often find him at this Library in the evenings, chasing intellectual and literary pursuits. So passionate was he in his mission to spread literacy amongst the local populace that he even took to personally visiting houses, to distribute and collect back Library books. An avid reader of modern literature and philosophy, he was bold enough to learn English at a time when the orthodoxy of Kerala was opposed to Namputhiris learning this foreign language.

V.K.Narayana Bhattathiri wrote more than 500 articles in various newspapers and magazines, in a span of about four decades, beginning from 1915. However, neither was he keen to earn fame as a writer nor was he interested in earning money through his writings. Surprisingly and unlike many other scholars, he could write on complex Vedic topics in a simple, clear language understandable even by the common man.  Humility and simplicity were his hallmarks and he shunned publicity, guided perhaps by the Vedic thought “Idam Na Mama” (this is not mine). However, it was indeed a heartening and most befitting moment when, some years after his death, his portrait was unveiled by the Government of Kerala at the Kerala Sahitya Academy.

It is doubtful if there has been anyone else in Kerala who could comment specifically on Rig Veda as also on generic Vedic philosophy, in a more competent and authoritative manner. Definitely, the void caused by his death has not been filled, till date.  Having created an independent, rational and non-conservative approach to Vedic studies aimed at progress of the human society at large, his writings and vision are relevant even today.  However, over a period of time, copies of his writings almost disappeared and were mostly inaccessible. Accordingly, with a view to revive his teachings and make them easily available to the common man, a Trust was established in 1993 at Kozhikode in Kerala. The V.K. Narayana Bhattathiri Memorial Educational and Charitable Trust has so far been successful in collating most of his articles and publishing them in the form of books, in Malayalam and Sanskrit. In 2012, as a part of this effort to spread the precious knowledge of the Vedas through the teachings of the Bhattathiri and to enhance its reach, the Trust embarked on an ambitious venture to use the electronic media and the Internet. Accordingly, a web site has been created. It is sincerely hoped that this web site would help to usher in a wave of Vedic wisdom the world over, in keeping with the vision of V.K.Narayana Bhattathiri.

Comments

JAYARAJ CHANDRASEKHARAN's picture

The teachings of the Bhattathiri are more relevant today, than ever before!!!  "Equality of Women" is a hot topic of the current times - the recent 'One Billion Rising' movement of women is indeed a pointer . Education for the masses and rural upliftment are two other issues which need urgent attention, especially in India. His non-conservative and rational approach to Vedic studies are interesting. Such relevant and contempory issues, inter-alia, were addressed by the Bhattathiri in his writings, way back in the first half of the twentieth century.  I do hope that the new web site being created would help increase the reach of the teachings and vision of the Bhattathiri, beyond the oceans, to other continents and cultures.