Even though it took a long time to place this book in your hands, esteemed reader, when once you go through it, we hope you will see it was worth the wait.
There has been many a book in the “Through-the-Ages” genre, a format which seems to have become the fashion of the day. But we hope you will find this book to be somewhat different from the others. Here we have tried our best to cover all possible aspects and angles which have made a place like Melkote “a living legend”
Ours is one of the very few countries which have a long cultural heritage extending for 4000 years or more, which has retained continuity. Many many years ago, when I was in the US, India used to be envied for this; saying that America had only a heritage of some 200 years. That is how their culture appeared to the America, though that was strictly not accurate. The heritage of the Red Indians which also a long duration was locked up in a few pockets called reservations. The visible larger part was the layer. In our country the position is different. The old heritage still lives in the greater part of this huge country with its immense population. Another point of difference is that the Indian tradition is sophisticated, rich in spiritual content and has been renewed over the centuries. If comparison has to be made, perhaps one should look at China and possibly Egypt. But very few other countries.
It is also true that every country has some place or the other which provides some evidence or other of its earlier history, and usually such places are few. Here again our country is unusual because our old heritage has prevailed in a vast and populous land. Every nook and corner of it has some or other evidence of the earlier heritage. Some places are spectacular as they hold evidence of great battles or great works, architecture and such. But few places are devoid of evidence.
Viewed this way the epigraphs and archeological findings in and around melukote are no surprise. One can ask what is that distinguishes them.
The distinguishing characteristic here seems to be that Melukote has been power-house for intellectual activity. Clearly the attraction of Melukote is not merely the presence of the mystic headgear, Vairamudi. Nor is it merely that the place possesses physical artefacts which speak of Sri Ramanuja’s stay in it.
This throws up some lines of speculation. One is this: Did Ramanuja’s sojourn in the place and his intense intellectual activity, coupled with the emergence of numerous scholars who embellished his school of philosophy from this town, is this what confers a speciality on the town? Or is it the other way about? Could that speciality be that the place itself, on account of its inherent predilection for intellectual power, attracted Sri Ramanuja to itself? Is there any significance to the legend that in some earlier era this was the abode of the legendary Dattatreya? And so on.
When we explore various lines of enquiry, we face the danger that we might simply destroy long-held beliefs and stultify the reputation of the place. A wise old saying cautions us against exploring the origins of rivers and saints; this may apply to Melukote also, who knows? Nowadays nothing is held sacred. The most sacred memories of Jesus or of a latter- day saint like Krishnamurthy are dealt with iconoclastically. So we shall not be afraid. We shall arrive at objective facts as far as our understanding can stretch.
But what we do with all the knowledge of the past? Do we wish to use it for continuation, conservation, or protection? Perhaps these ideas are still to get clarified.
But what influence can one have on the future? There are trends that affect all religious systems and all religious places. Merely protecting or conserving a tradition in one temple-town may not have much effect on these changes. As some one said recently, the greatest danger to our heritage has come from what has been described as the universal civilization, a civilization which has formed it self mainly in western societies. This global civilization stridently calls for consumerism and the satisfaction of physical wants. Its tentacles are spreading to elites in poor countries. That is what poses the threat to our heritage. One needs to look at it more seriously and see how Melukote’s heritage can be protected from it.
In this work we have made it a point to show that the history of a place cannot be derived solely from inscriptional evidence. If it were otherwise, our history will be neither complete nor will it have a soul to inspire the future generations to pursue higher ends of life.
For us, who belong to a very ancient oral tradition, folklore, traditional practices and the traditional narration are part and parcel of our history and our very life.
Perhaps Melukote and its shrines are the only Srivaisnava cetre in the state of Karnataka where the injunctions of acarya Ramanuja run even after 900 years. That is why this place and its history are alive monument inspiring the future generations to keep, revere and follow the heritage for all times to come.
We hope this humble effort of ours will be a catalyst in making the people of our country to get interested in their roots of a long tradition.
I thank the editors Dr. Prabhakar Apte and Dr. R. R. Karnik for editing the papers presented at the seminar cum workshop. I also thank a group of interested persons like Kum. Padmashree Mohan, Sri M.A. Narasimhan among others who took special care to nurture this publication to the present stage by adding information on n topics which were no covered in the seminar. Prof. M.A. Lakshmithathachar deserves gratitude for guiding the publication through all its stages.
It is said yogaha karmasu kousalam. I an really proud of our staff of the Academy of Sanskrit Research, Melukote who have proved that they are karmayogins by their excellence in action. Particular mention needs to be made of the untiring and enthusiastic efforts of Kum. N. K. Kamala, Sri V. Lakshmi Narayan and Sri M. S. Vijaya Kumar.
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