“Tat Gunaii hi karnam agatya chapalai prachodita ha” - Raghuvamsha by Kalidas
Kalidas, the greatest kavi or poet in history, describes the inspiration that guided him to write “RaghuVamsh”, the story of the Raghu Dynasty in the above words. In his own divinely beautiful words, Kalidas describes his own poetic capabilities as poor when compared to the grandeur, the brilliance of the Raghus and wonders whether he would become the object of ridicule for having undertaken such a monumental task. He justifies his endeavor by saying that "it is the divinity of the Raghus itself that whispered in his ears and guided him" to write the story of that great Sun-conceived dynasty.
“Gajendragadkaranam anvayam vakshe tanu vak vibhavo pi san" - a paraphrase of the words of Kalidas
The modesty of Kalidas is the modesty of the greatest poet in history and it becomes him. We simply use his words as our guiding light to write about the history or work of the various Acharya (Scholars who teach as well as implement the teachings) that have comprised the Gajendragadkar tradition though we are singularly ill-equipped to do so. Our purpose here is to tell their story and create a place where the legacy of this tradition can be preserved.
Origin of the Gajendra-Gad-Kar School
Shri Madhav-Acharya (1238-1317) was the Founder of the Dvaita or Dualistic School, one of the three most influential schools of Vedanta philosophies. The word Vedanta is a compound of the word “Ved” (literally knowledge and etymilologically, the four great Ved or texts of Sanskrut philosophy) and “anta” (inside, core, essence). We interpret the word Vedanta as the "essence or core of the Ved”.
Shri Madhacharya established the Dvaita School that advocated Bhakti (devotion) as the path to liberation. His doctrine of Tatta-vada (True Philosophy) attacked superstitions and promoted spirituality. He established Madhav-Peeth as the academic and spiritual seat of the Madhav School.
The Gajendragadkar family belongs to the Madhav School. Sudhindhra-Swami, a latter day head of the Madhav-Peeth, is the oldest known member of this family.
The seat of the family was the town of Gajendra-Gad , a historic fort and town in Karnatak, South India.
Raghavendra-Acharya was a grandson of Sudhindra-Swami. He was a profound scholar in Vedanta, Vyakaran (“Grammar”), Nyaya (“Law”), Mimamsa and Alankar. He lived in Gajendra-Gad, Karnatak, South India. His house was in effect a pathashala or school for students.
An unexpected event disturbed the serene life of the family in the early twenties of the nineteenth century. A messenger arrived from PratapSimha, the Maharaj (“Emperor”) of Satara (the historical seat of the Maratha
Empire) bearing the royal request that Raghavendra-Acharya move to Satara with his family to become the Raj-Pandit of the Maratha Empire. The messenger would not leave without the acceptance of Raghavendra-Acharaya.
After consulting his family and associates, Raghavendra-Acharya accepted the offer of the Emperor.
Because the family moved from Gajendra-Gad to Satara, the family was given the name Gajendra-Gad-Kar (literally ‘family that hails from Gajendra-Gad’) in the then tradition of Maharashtra.
The house of Raghavendra-Acharya became the seat of the Gajendragadkar School, which attracted over a hundred students from Maharashtra and Karnatak. They lived and studied at Gajendragadkar-vada or the house of Gajendragadkars. They lived and studied with Raghavendra-Acharya in the true Guru-Shishya (teacher-student tradition). Many of these students went on to become famous “Shastri” or scholars in their own right. These include the renowned Anant Shastri Pendharkar and Vishnu Shastri Pandit.
Raghavendra-Acharya was celebrated for his scholarship and works in Grammar, Law and Vedanta. His works in Grammar include the famous texts, “Vishami”, “Tripathaga” and “Prabha”. He was also famous for his virtuosity in debates.
As we will see, his tradition of scholarship in Vedanta, Law and Grammar as well as his debating skills and oratory were passed on to future generations.
Raghavendra-Acharya, was deeply saddened by the premature death of one of his sons, Waman-Acharya. He made up his mind to leave Satara and moved to Bramha-Varta on the banks of the river Ganga to spend the rest of his life in teaching, meditation and worship. Many of his students followed him there to continue to benefit from his wisdom and scholarship.
Narayan-Acharya, one of the six sons of Raghavendra-Acharya, became renowned for his scholarship and it is his family that continued the Gajendragadkar tradition in Satara.
Like his father, Narayan-Acharya was famous for his scholarship and works in Vedanta, Law, Grammar and Alankar. His books on Vedanta and Law were acclaimed among which the most famous are “Mahavackyarth-Khandan” and “Brahamanandi-Khandan”.
Narayan-Acharya was critical of the superstitions and cults of self-acclaimed holy men that were often prevalent in Maharashtra in those days. In this context, he was a true student of the Madhav-Acharya School. Though a devout man renowned for his kindness and generosity,
Narayan-Acharya was also a firm believer in the non-constructive interpretation of the Shastra law. It is in this context, that he received the highest renown at that time and conceivably, the criticism of modern liberal thought. The most famous debate of that era was the nine-day debate about the legality of remarriage of widows. This debate or case in today’s terminology was argued before Jagat-Guru (Teacher of the World), Shankar-Acharya by five proponents and five opponents of the legality of “widow-remarriage”.
In some way, this case was a debate between two branches of the Gajendragadkar School. The leader of the proponents of widow-remarraige was Vishnu Shastri Pandit, a student and disciple of Raghavendra-Acharya, the Founder of the Gajendragadkar School. The chief opponent was Narayan-Acharya, the son of Raghavendra-Acharya and the then head of the Gajendragadkar School. The proponents were being helped by legal and religious luminaries of that time including Justice Ranade and Ram Krishna Pant Bhandarkar. Finally after nine straight days of arguments, the jury decided on a majority 5-4 vote in favor of the opponents.
Narayan-Acharya was succeeded as the head of the Gajendragadkar School by his son Anant-Acharya.
Anant-Acharya began his studies in Law and Grammar with his grand-father Raghavendra-Acharya at his retirement abode at Brahmavarta. In 1820, Anant-Acharya returned to Satara to study with his father Narayan-Acharya. After his studies, he began teaching at the Gajendragadkar School.
Like his father, he became renowned for his debating skills. He made the main arguments in the adoption debate in front of Jagat-Guru Shankar-Acharya. In 1884, he made the chief arguments in the widow-remarriage debate in Chennai.
Anant-Achraya was succeeded by his son Raghavendra-Acharya or Bal-Achraya.
Bal-Acharya or the second Raghavendra-Acharya
Though Raghavendra-Acharya was his given name, he became known by his nickname Bal-Acharya and will he be called here. Bal-Acharya was as learned and saintly as his great-grandfather, and the family believed that the old Raghavendra-Acharya, the Founder, had been reborn as Bal-Acharya.
The reputation of Bal-Acharya spread far and wide through out India. His main passion was the comparison and contrast between the Dvaita or Duality school (the founding philosophy of the Madhav School) and the Advaita or the Non-duality school of Vedanta (the founding philosophy of the Shankar School). He was an expert in both schools and taught “Shankar Prastham Trayi” and “Sudha-Tatva-Prakashika” to many students from all over the country. Rarely did he have to consult the texts when he taught for he was famous for his capability as a mukhasta vidwan (scholar in the ancient Sanskrut tradition in which knowledge of texts was taught and learned verbally). Needless to say, his memory and knowledge had to be prodigious
to be able to teach in this manner.
He served as an examiner in Panjab, Mysore and Jaipur as well as the schools in Pune and Vadodara. The Government of Mysore sent him a copy of every book published by them and the Government of Mumbai gave him an annual gift for his school. The Bal-Acharya Gajendragadkar library continues to be used by today’s Sanskrut students in Satara.
His life was one of scholarship, teaching, meditation and worship in the true Gajendragadkar ascetic tradition. He used to get up at Brahma Muhurta (the hour of Brahma or very early in the morning). He would devote two to three hours to meditation and worship. Then would follow a course of teaching the students and a midday meal. After a rest of half hour to an hour, the second session of teaching would begin and go on till evening. In the evening, he would walk to the Ganapati temple located just outside the town. This daily practice was followed with unfailing regularity.
Bal-Acharya was modern in his social outlook and a passionate student of modern diagnosis. He shared his research with Dr. Bhandarkar and had an extensive correspondence with him. His contributions have been gratefully acknowledged by Dr. Bhandarkar. He also shared his scientific exchange with scholars such as Pandit Shiva-Dutt Shastri of Lahore, Viresh-War Shastri of Jaipur and Chief Scholar Vasudev Shastri of Pune.
Bal-Acharya was a strict follower of the Swadeshi movement and his household observed the ban on imported cloth from England and sugar. He was deeply concerned about the condition of the country and shared his views openly.
Bal-Acharya was succeeded by six extremely capable sons who expanded the scholarship and reputation of the Gajendragadkar family in new related fields:
Bhartruhari, the great playwright, described the relentless passage of time in his immortal words “Kalaya Tasmai Nama Ha” (O Time, in the end, we all bow to you.)
With Bal-Acharya ended the Guru-Shishya tradition of students living in the Gajendragadkar School and studying with the family. The Gajendragadkar tradition of scholarship and excellence was continued by his sons and extended to modernity as we shall see below.
Just as first Raghavendra-Acharya moved from a small town in Karnatak to Satara, the seat of the Maratha Empire, the families of the sons of second Raghavendra-Acharya or Bal-Acharya moved to Mumbai, the educational and commercial capital of modern India.
The Bal-Acharya Gajendragadkar library is now resident at the Dada-Maharaj Math in Satara where it continues to be used daily by the Math students. (The tradition of Math or Spiritual School became established in the Buddhist period in India and Tibet. The Christian period adopted this practice and used the term Monastry for Math).
Any one interested in the Bal-Acharya library can visit the Dada-Maharaj Math in Satara or contact the editor of this website.
The Sons of Bal-Acharya
Narasimha-Acharya, the eldest son of Bal-Acharya, studied Vedanta with his father. He received honor and the titles of “Dvaita-Vedanta-Bhushan” and “Puran-Bhushan” from the Government of Vadodara. He became concerned about
the decline of Sanskrut in India and worked with major scholars such as Shridhar Shastri Pathak and Rajeshwar Shastri Dravid to encourage continued scholarship of Sanskrut.
Narasimha-Acharya expanded the traditional scholarship of the Gajendragadkar family in to Ayur-Veda, the science of life or medicine. He was the leader in the establishment of Ayurveda-Prasar Mandali”, a group dedicated to the study of Ayurveda and became the chief teacher at the Ayurvedic Institute at Satara. He was also an examiner at the Tilak Maha-Vidya-Laya (Institute of Higher Learning).
Narasimha-Acharya passed away prematurely on 27 January 1935 in Satara and was survived by his daughter Sudha and six sons:
The families of Gururaj, Govind and Vasant Gajendragadkar moved to Ahemadabad, Gujrat and the family of Vyankat Gajendragadkar moved to Pune. The families of Vadiraj and Shrikrishna Gajendragadkar moved to Mumbai.
Setu-Madhav-Acharya, the second son of Bal-Acharya, studied with his father. He became an expert in Grammar and Dvaita-Vedanta. The Government of Vadodara awarded him the title of “Vyakaran-Vishnat” and an Institute in Kolkata awarded him the title of ‘Vidya-Vachaspati”. He then moved to Dharwad, Karnatak and served as the Sanskrut Shastri there for 12 years. He wrote commentaries for students on immortal kayva or poetic works including Kalidas’s Shakuntal, Kumar-Sambhav. Krutu-Samhar as well as other works such as Harsha-Charitra and Dasha-Kumar-Charirtra. He passed away on 28 July 1938.
Ashvathama-Achraya (October 1, 1892 – November 8, 1947)
It can be argued that Ashvathama-Acharya blazed a new trail for the Gajendra-Gadkar family just as the Founder, Raghavendra-Acharya did when he moved the family to Satara. He was the first Gajendra-Gadkar to learn English. He achieved the first rank among all the students in B.A. with
English and Sanskrut as his main subjects.
He broke tradition of his illustrious ancestors and became the first Gajendra-Gadkar to argue in favor of modern liberal thought in debates on Shastra or Law. Upon becoming elected as the Chief of Brahman-Sabha in Mumbai, he took the then revolutionary step of removing prohibitions on the “untouchable castes” and welcoming their participation in all religious festivals of the Brahman-Sabha. He was also an ardent supporter of the education of women and his essay on “women’s education” received the first prize.
In June 1946, he was invited to be the first Principal of the “Siddarth College”, the college formed by the great humanist, leader and constitutionalist Dr. Baba-Saheb Ambedkar. (It is impossible to do justice to the greatness of Dr. Ambedkar in his site except to say that Dr. Ambedkar can be truly called one of the greatest sons of modern India. Born as an untouchable, he became one of the greatest scholars of his time and achieved his mission of emancipation of the “untouchable” community. Our greatest respects are due to Dr. Ambedkar and we would encourage all readers to learn about Dr. Ambedkar).
He was also the first Gajendra-Gadkar to add the dimension of military training to his academic training. Like the legendary Ashvathama of Mahabharat, he preached the importance of military education and mindset to all his students and colleagues. He founded the “Swastik League” in Mumbai and served as a Lt.-Colonel in the University Training Corp. He also served
as the head of the Civic Guard and Commander of the Home Guard.
He helped institutions in many fields succeed and flourish with his guidance and active help. He helped the development of Marathi Natya (“Theater”) extensively as a member of the executive committee of the Sahitya-Sangh in Mumbai. He also served as the Vice Chariman of the Asiatic Society in Mumbai. He also served on the executive committees of Hindi
Vidya-Peeth, Bhandarkar Oriental Institute and Nathibai Vithaldas University.
In the true Gajendra-Gadkar tradition, he was famous for his scholarship in Sanskrut. He extended the family’s tradition by his scholarly commentary and translation of classics such as Shakuntal, Artha-Sangraha, Veni-Sanhar, Kayva-Prakash, Dasha-Kumar-Charitram, Krutu-Sangraha, Harsha-Chartira, Swapna-Vasav-Datta, Tarka-Sangraha, Tarka-Bhasha among others. These books featured copious commentary as footnotes through out the texts. His use of detailed footnotes became so popular that the use of footnotes became required for all subsequent Sanskrut textbooks. His books were appreciated by both scholars as well as lay readers and continue to be used to this day.
As a true patriot, he celebrated the independence of India on August 15, 1947. However, within three months of the independence for which he had worked so hard, he passed away on November 8, 1947 due a massive heart-attack during his evening walk. Realizing his end was near, he managed to get to his beloved Swastik League and passed away there among
his friends and followers. Over ten thousand people carried his body to his final service and hundreds of garlands adorned the body as a true expression of love, respect and deep sadness. Many leaders spoke at his service and the service ended with a military statute.
“Appa’ as he was called by the family was a source of tremendous support to the entire family. His wife “Kamalabai” or “Tai” as she was affectionately called was a great companion to him. Their flat at Maharaja Building in Mumbai was the seat of many family get-togethers, a memory that is still cherished by the editor of this site. In his honor, the library at the Marathi Sahitya Sangha in Mumbai has been named as the Ashvathamacharya Gajendragadkar Library.
Prahlad-Acharya (March 16, 1901 - June 12, 1981)
Prahlad-Acharya, the youngest son of Bal-Acharya spread the fame of the Gajendra-Gadkar name to all corners of India and across the world. He followed his elder brother Ashvathama-Acharys to Mumbai and carried the torch of the Gajendragadkar tradition in Nyaya ("Law") to the English-spreaking world.
He passed LL.B. with honors in 1926 and joined the Bombay Bar on the Appellate side. In the early years, he edited the "Hindu Law Quarterly". His critical edition of the classic "Dattaka Mimamsa" earned him a great reputation for scholarship. He became the acknowledged leader of the Bombay Bar, well-known for his forensic skill and legal acumen.
In 1945, he was appointed a Judge of the Bombay High Court. In January 1956, he was elevated to the Supreme Court Bench and rose to become the Chief Justice of India in 1964. His contribution to the development of Constitutional and Industrial Law has been hailed as great and unique.
After his retirement as the Chief Justice of India, he served as Honorary Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University. At the request of the Government of India, he headed a number of commissions such as the Central Law Commission, National Commission on Labour and the Bank Award Commission. At the request of Amt. Indira Gandhi, then the Prime Minister of India, he held the honorary office of the Gandhigram Rural Institute in Southern India.
His intense humanism and belief in the directive of Bhagwan Shri Krishna in Bhagwat-Geeta - "Yogaha Karmasu Kaushalam" (Yoga is excellence in work - figuratively Work itself is worship) propelled him to forms of service outside Law. He served twice as the President of Social Reform Conference and organized campaigns for eradicating the evils of casteism,
untouchability, superstition and obscurantism to promote national integration and unity.
Prahlad-Acharya also carried forward the GajendraGadkar tradition of Vedanta and Mimasa. He served as the General Editor of "The Ten Classical Upanishads", a series sponsored by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
Like his great father, Prahlad-Acharya was also a "mukhasta-vidwan". His memory was prodigious and eloquence flowed naturally when he began to speak. His knowledge was vast and deep, his insight was sharp and multi-directional and his mastery over English, Sanskrut and Marathi was absolute. Yet, he was humble and spoke of his illustrious ancestors with
great respect. The editor of this site has heard him describe Bal-Acharya, his father, as the brightest man he had ever met. This is extraordinary praise from a man who knew Pandit Nehru, President Rahendra-Prasad and almost all of the great scholars and leaders that India produced in the twentieth century.
To the editor’s generation, Prahlad-Acharya remains the true link and the perfect embodiment of the greatness of the Gajendra-Gadkar tradition. This last Acharya of the Gajendra-Gadkar School passed away on June 12, 1981.
ShriKrishna Gajendragadkar (January 1, 1917 – October 15, 1997)
ShriKrishna Gajendragadkar, the third son of Narasimha-Acharya, completed his high school education in Satara. He then followed the example of his two uncles “Ashvathama-Acharya” and “Prahlad-Acharya” by moving to his Mumbai for his college education. His college education was funded by the deep affection and generosity of his uncle, Prahlad-Acharya.
He received his Ph.D. in Sanskrut under the guidance of the noted scholar, Professor H.D.Velankar. He joined the Sanskrut Department of Wilson College and later became the Head of the Department of Sanskrut. He also served as the Chairman of the Board of Studies in Sanskrut, Pali and Prakrut for several years.
He extended his field of scholarship to include Lingusitics. In 1964, he joined the new Department of Linguistics at the University of Bombay as a Reader and then as Professor and the Head of Department. He became well known both for his scholarship and oratory. He delivered the Government
Fellowship lectures on “Avesta and Vedic Sanskrut” to the Cama Oriental Institute and on “Indian Languages – Convergences and Divergences” to Hindustani Prachar Sabha. He served as a Senior Fellow of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore.
He published 5 books and a number of research articles on Indian Culture and Linguistics. His work on Brahma-Sutra Sankar-Bhasya was recognized for its scholarship as was his book in Marathi on Linguistics “Bhasha and Bhashashastra”. His book (co-authored with his wife, Prof. Veena Gajendra-Gadkar) “The Gita-Rahasya of Lokamanya Tilak” brings to the lay
leader the majesty and the depth of both the Bhagvat-Gita and the great commentary of Lokamanya Tilak of Gita. He helped edit the MM Dr. P.V. Kane Commemoration Monograph as well as the Prof. H.D. Velankar Commemoration Volume.
Like his uncle, Ashvathama-Acharya, he embraced military training and served as a Major in the National Cadet Corps. He helped the development of the Asiatic Society by serving as Vice-President of the Committee of Management and as the Chairman of the Journal Committee. He also helped the Bhandarkar Oriental Institue and worked with his friend and colleague Dr. A.M. Ghatage at Deccan College, Pune.
After his retirement, he became focused on social development and served this cause in a number of ways. He served as the National Secretary of Rehabilitation Coordination, as a Chairman of the Peoples’ Free Reading Room and as a leader of the Lions Club.
In the Gajendra-Gadkar tradition, he became renowned as a gifted speaker. In the words of his colleague, Mr. S.G. Moghe, “Many of his students and members of the public who had occasion to hear him still cherish the memories of his remarkable mind and the phraseology in which he expressed it.”
He was affectionately called “SN” by his colleagues in academia, as “Shri” by the family and “Doctor” by his colleagues at Lions Club. The Editor of this site and his Gajendra-Gadkar cousins are often greeted in Mumbai by the question “ are you related to Prof. S. N. GajendraGadkar?”
He passed away after a brief illness on October 15, 1997 and with his passing, the tradition of Sanskrut Scholarship in the Gajendra-Gadkar family has come to a pause.
Murti of Maha-Lakshmi – A heritage of the Gajendra-Gadkar Family
Dedicated to the pursuit of Sanskrut scholarship, the Gajendra-Gadkar family was never rich in a material sense. Yet, in the Gajendra-Gadkar family deo-ghar (temple in the house) resided a exquisite murti of Maha-Lakshmi made of pure gold and adorned with golden and silver pataka.
Folkore states that this murti was one of two murti ever made of this type one of which was sold to a Prince in Rajputana and the other gifted to one of the Gajendra-Gadkar ancestors in appreciation of great scholarship.
ShriKrishna GajendraGadkar felt that this great heritage should be preserved for posterity and he persuaded the far-flung Gajendra-Gadkar family to formally donate this murti to the Chatrapati Shivaji Museum in Mumbai.
This valuable murti is usually brought of the Museum’s vaults and displayed for visitors during major festivals. May it bring good luck to all its viewers as it did to the Gajendra-Gadkar family for many generations!
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