Who is a Teacher?

Acharyavan veda means the one who has an acharya is the known one, or has understanding, or has knowledge. This Sanskrit saying not only describes someone who receives good education, but also points to the qualification of a teacher.

A teacher is one who does not teach continuously to the student till the end of her student-hood. Once the acharya (teacher?) gives the initial guidance and teaching, the acharya stops her teaching and helps the student learn more on her own initiative and interest. Then the main role of the acharya is only to remove ‘doubt, ignorance and contradiction in learning’ (ஐயம், அறியாமை, திரிபு).

“This concept is clearly taught by Jnanasambandar in one of his Thevaram hymns around 1700 years before,” said Prof. Mahalingam in this (28-11-14) morning’s program (Panni Yesai Vittahahargal) on Makkal T.V. Then he quoted the following Tevaram:

நூல் அடைந்த கொள்கையாலே நுன் அடி கூடுதற்கு
மால் அடைந்த நால்வர் கேட்க, நல்கிய நல் அறத்தை
ஆல் அடைந்த நீழல் மேவி, அருமறை சொன்னது என்னே
சேல் அடைந்த தண்கழனிச் சேயஞலூர் மேயவனே–ஞானசம்பந்தர், தேவாரம்,
தொகுப்பு, வ.ம. சுப்பிரமண்ய ஐயர், 1:048

Digital Tevaram ed. By V.M. Subramanya Aiyar, Jean-Luc Chevillard and S.A.S. Sarma, Institute Francais de Pondichery, Collection Indologle 103

Civan in Ceyanalur which has cool fields where there are Carnatic carp!
When the four sages who were confused in mind,
Came to you to clear their doubts about the truth.
What is the reason for giving out the secret of self-realisation which was revealed in the obtuse Vetams sitting under the shade of the banyan tree, in order to attain your feet.—ibid.

What is interesting to me is the artificial dichotomy between Dravidian versus Arya created by the Indological scholars. This has been blindly followed by overzealous promoters of exclusive Tamil versus the Sanskrit influence in India. Yet, they forget to note the deep influence of Tamil and Sanskrit on each other.1

In fact, it is the subject matter of the books: Bilingual Discourse and Cross-Cultural Fertilisation: Sanskrit and Tamil in Medieval India, Whitney Cox and Vincenzo Vergiani, (eds.),  Pondicherry, Institut Francais De Pondichery Ecole Francaise D’extreme-orient, 2013 and Passages: relationships between Tamil and Sanskrit, ed. By Kannan M. Jennifer Clare, Institute Francais De Pondichery, Tamil Chair, Department of South And Southeast Asian Studies, University of California At Berkeley, 2009.

The influence of Dravidian and Aryan (read Tamil and Sanskrit) is proved with authentic facts on various fields by scholars. It is also established by tracing Dravidian words in the Rig Veda and lots of Sanskrit words and concepts in ancient Tamil Sangam literatures. ‘It has been stated with authority that the reception of Dravidian words by Sanskrit is as old as Rig veda’, says Prema Nandakumar2 and he gives the information by Vishvanath Khaire about the Agasthya myth in this context.3

But what is important for me is that the one important concepts of Tamil-land was bhakti. This has no doubt its origin in Tamil literature which later moved to the north via Karnataka and Maharashtra.4 That is why no matter how acharyas like Sankara tried to establish advaita based on knowledge where the role of a personal god is secondary or doesn’t even exist, other great acharyas of Vedanta through their presentation and interpretation of Veda established the role of bhakti throughout Indian sub-continent. Almost all the other acharyas who promoted bhakti through their commentaries and teaching (siddhanta) too originated only from South India.

So in giving these various shades of information, I have tried to show that the trace of bhakti in Veda is also proved by scholars like P.V. Kane and others — though others reputed it.5 Even in this Tevaram, Jnansambandar mentions Vedam (Veda), yet the teaching of Siva was to remove the confusion of the sages who were well versed in Vedas, but did not know the way to attain the feet of Siva through bhakti. This is the secret of ‘self-realization’ taught in Veda according to Jnanasambandar.

But a student like me, not knowing both Tamil and Sanskrit properly, has to take help from these teachings that enhance my relationship with the Lord and other bhaktas, than try to prove from the scriptures themselves. Where angels fear to tread a simple student of scripture like me should not even venture to write this kind of brain storm.

However the paper by Prof. Krishna will throw more light on this subject and I will share some of his main points from this in the foot notes.6 I know I am giving more notes than my text. Already I get blamed for this, but there are many reasons. First is laziness. To read and give a summary consumes lots of time. More importantly, since I cannot (with my English) correctly summarize the thought of the scholars, I prefer to quote them verbatim. Those who are interested can read it or ignore it. Another reason is that all don’t have time and books to read such books. So, by giving the main points in the notes, perhaps some will be motivated to read the whole book.


1..     To one of the protagonists, a non Brahmin Tamil, Sanskrit represents or embodies the following: Aryan, outsider, white or fair skinned, Vedas, the laws of Manu, Sanathana Dharma; a sacred, divine, dead language; cultural hegemony, caste system, untouchability, oppression, North India, Hindi, Hindu fundamentalism, demolition of Babri Masjid, Hindutva, Ayodya, B.J.P., R.S.S….

To the second protagonist, a pro Sanskrit person (mostly Brahmins with a few exceptions), Tamil represents or embodies the following: Dravidian, black non-(p.xi) Brahmin, Madrasi, South Indian, Sudra, Dalit, tribal, profane, banal, anti Hindi, anti India, vernacular, linguistic parochialism, Tamil nationalism, Tamil chauvinism….—M. Kannan, introduction, in Passages: relationships between Tamil and Sanskrit, ed. By Kannan M. Jennifer Clare, Institute Francais De Pondichery, Tamil Chair, Department of South And Southeast Asian Studies, University of California At Berkeley, 2009, pp. ix-xxii, pp.x ix-xii

…Further, we see these quarrels affecting public perceptions and attitudes. Sanskrit, despite of official patronage and funding it receives, dwindles to an exotic tool in the hands of upper caste, upper class India and its diaspora used for the naming of children and offering a return path marked by superficial ritual and leading to recently unveiled and very convenient ancient “Indian” Hindu roots.

Tamil for its part, is in a desperate quest to divest itself of Sanskrit influence but is unable, in the process, to rid itself of a linguistic jingoism which disguises itself as self defense (pure Tamil) and scholarship and opens itself up unreservedly to English.—ibid. p. xv.

…It is said that the ignorant are the more innocent, but in this field it was the opposite: the ignorant were the most guilty for they were the most vociferous in shouting down opposing views…..—ibid. p. xx.

….it is only at our own peril that we are indifferent and ignorant towards the other.—ibid. p. xxi.

2. Veda bhasa, Marai moli: the Indian helix, in Passages: relationships between Tamil and Sanskrit, ed. By Kannan M. Jennifer Clare, Institute Francais De Pondichery, Tamil Chair, Department of South And Southeast Asian Studies, University of California At Berkeley, 2009. pp. 251-265, p. 254.

3. ‘Tamil-Sanskrit Interaction in the Agasthy Myth’, Journal of Tamil Studies No. 13, p. 61.—notes 5, p.254, ibid. see also George L. Hart The relation between Tamil and classical Sanskrit literature, in Passages…pp. 19-57

4. Both the Bhagavata and the Padma say that (the cult of) bhakti first arose in Dravida country, it progressed or prospered in the Karnataka, it was found in only a few places in Maharastra and declined in Gurjara country; it was, on account of the terrible Kaliyuga, broken up by heresies and remained weak for a long time; but having reached Vrndaavana (near Mathura) it got a fresh start and assumed fine form…—P. V. Kane, History of dharmasastras, Pune vol.V. part.II p.979.

5. …Traces of the doctrine of bhakti may be discovered even in the Rgvedic hymns and mantras, some of which are full of loving faith in God, particularly in some of the hymns and verses addressed to Varuna and also Indra (Rg.III.43.4, X.42.11 X.112.10–in all of which Indra is called `sakha’ friend and I.104.9, VII.32.26–in both Indra is said to be like a father)…the Vedic sages had reached the stage of sakhya-bhakti, that the form of a wife for the sake of a devotee, that Indra partook soma juice from a devotee who, in the absence of the proper implements for crushing soma stalks, extracted soma juice from soma stalks crushed with the devotee’s own teeth…-ibid. vol.V. part.II. Ch.XXIV, p.951.

Though the word `bhakti’ does not occur in the principal ancient Upanisads, the doctrine of the bhakti schools that it is God’s grace alone that saves the devotee is found in the Katha and Mundaka Upanisads…The Svetasvataropanisad employs the word bhakti in the same sense in which it is used in the Gita and other works on bhakti…But among the original sources of the Bhakti cult are the Narayaniya section (chapters 335-351 of Citrasala ed. = cr.ed.322-339) of the Santiparva and the Bhagavadgita…-ibid. p. 952.

…There are gods, on earth and in heaven, but they do not dispense grace (with the possible exception of Varuna, who came from Bactria). They do not expect loving devotion or bhakti. The Vedas are not a religion in any of the many sense of that widespread term….— Frits Staal, Discovering the Vedas,: Origins, Mantras, Rituals, Insights, New Delhi, Penguin Books, 2008. p. xvi.

6. The following points by Prof. Krishna Sharma, though long, help us to understand this subject:

In all academic works, historical as well as others, bhakti is defined as a monotheism based on devotion to a personal God, and as the opposite pole of the monistic stream of the Hindu religious tradition which advocates belief in an impersonal God. Bhakti is therefore understood as the antithesis of the Advaita Vedanta and its emphasis on jnana. What is known as the Bhakti movement is interpreted in accordance with these specifications of bhakti. Its inspirational sources is therefore fixed in the theologies of the medieval Vaishnava acharyas—Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, and Vallabha—all of who had upheld the concept of a personal God and had questioned the Advaita or (p. 294) monistic interpretation of the Vedanta.This perspective is generally accompanied by the proposition that the movement was a reaction against the religious ideology of Sankaracharya, the greatest exponent and systematizer of the Advaita Vedanta. It is argued that the impersonal concept of the God and the path of jnana, which Sankara had stressed upon, amounted to a purely intellectual approach to religion. Such an intellectualized religion was beyond the comprehension of the common man who needed a simple faith in a personalized God—a God unto whom he could surrender, a God whom he could love, adore, and depend upon. It is further posited that Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, and Vallabha fulfilled this need by propagating the ‘bhakti cult’, the popularity of which led to a countrywide movement of bhakti during the medieval period.— Krishna Sharma, ‘Towards a New Perspective’ in  David N. Lorenzen.  Religious Movements in South Asia 600-1800. New Delhi, Oxford, 2004, pp. .291-332, pp. 294-95

A definition is a specification implying or containing a configuration of determinants.  The justification and correctness of a given definition, therefore, lie in a valid and uniform configuration of the relevant elements.  If one element or factor contained in a definition changes, and all others remain unchanged, the definition tends to lose its validity and exactitude.  Continued usage of the same definition cannot then mean or deal with the same thing.  If these principles are accepted, the current definition of bhakti cannot be applied to all Hindu expressions of bhakti….—ibid. p. 297

…the modern academic definition of bhakti was, in fact, formulated in the nineteenth century by some Western scholars regardless of the indigenous understanding of it.  Having arrived at this conclusion, it was easy to identify the fallacies inherent in the established notions about bhakti and the Bhakti movement….—ibid. p. 298

…the scholars who elaborated upon the bhakti theme associated religion and Hindu theism with the worship of the personal deities.  They described the impersonal concept of God found in the Upanishads and the Advaita Vedanta as pure philosophy.  Taking this position, they projected Vaishnavism as a monotheistic religion since it showed both the presence of a personal concept of God and concentration on the worship of one personal deity, be it Vishnu or his incarnation, Krshna.  Bhakti (made synonymous with Vaishnavism) was thus explained as a monotheism and was distinguished from the monism of the Hindu philosophical tradition.— ibid.  p. 299

…Hinduism in which religion and philosophy have always remained interconnected and wherein ‘theism’ does not necessarily imply belief in a personal God.  Besides, the Hindu thinkers never thought of making any distinction between what is understood by monotheism and monism.  In other words, the impersonal concept of God (as Brahman or Atman) has been as much a part of Hindu religious tradition as the worship of numerous personal deities.  Disregarding these factors, when the Western scholars applied alien criteria in the analysis of Hinduism, it resulted in a number of misconceptions, including those connected with the bhakti theme.— ibid.  p. 300

…If the generic meaning of bhakti is taken into account, and if Nirguna-bhakti is recognized as a particular form of bhakti, the question of incompatibility between bhakti and the impersonal concept of God can hardly arise.  The possibility of bhakti within the framework of the Advaita Vedanta would not seem incongruous then. Similarly, if jnana is understood in its Vedantic meaning of knowledge of the Brahman (by the self of the Self in the sense of Self-realization), it would not appear as antithetical to bhakti.— ibid. p. 301

While discussing the errors and limitations of the current theories about bhakti and the Bhakti movement, I have tried to establish Nirguna-bhakti and the Bhakti movement, I have tried to establish Nirguna-bhakti as a category separate from that of Saguna-bhakti.  The contention is that a co-relation between the two is possible—but not essential.  They stand correlated when the saguna (determinate) or personal concept of God is identified with the nirguna (indeterminate) concept of the Brahman or vice versa.  Nevertheless, synchronization of the two is a striking characteristic of the Hindu religious tradition….— ibid.  p. 301

…Taking into account the Hindu pantheon and the seeming Hindu polytheism, in what way can the existence and nature of Hindu monotheism be correctly determined?  Is it justifiable to connect Hindu monotheism with the worship of any one personal deity of the Hindu pantheon, like Vishnu, as suggested in the Bhakti theories? Should it not be sought in the realm of Hindu speculations about the oneness of God?  My inquiry into the nature of Hindu theism and monotheism is an attempt to answer these questions.  Such an inquiry is very necessary to rectify the long standing errors that the modern definition of bhakti entails.— ibid.  p. 302

…Wilson’s reference to bhakti as a religion opened the way in Western scholarship for treating Krishna-bhakti as the ‘bhakti religion’, and for the subsequent identification of the ‘bhakti religion’ with Vaishnavism in general.  The writings of Albrecht Weber and Monier-Williams contributed most in this regard….This idea was strengthened by Lorinser, a contemporary of Weber, who drew attention to the Bhagavad Gita as its relevant scripture.  Subsequently, Monier-Williams used this connection to identify the ‘bhakti religion’ with Vaishnavism…. (p.303) Monier-Williams … described the Vaishnava faith (identified with bhakti) as a monotheism, placing it in juxtaposition to the monism (also described as pantheism) of the Upanishads and the Advaita Vedanta.  For purpose of the analysis of the multidimensional Hindu religious traditions, Monier-Williams categorized its content under two broad divisions, that is, Brahmanism and Hinduism.  He made a distinction between the religion of ‘the higher, cultured, and thoughtful classes as Brahmanism’; and ‘of the lower, uncultured, and unthinking masses as Hinduism’.{Monier-Williams, Brahmanism and Hinduism or Religious Thought and Life in India, London, 1891, p. xi}  He placed the Upanishadic/Vedantic content under the former, and the cults of the personal deities and the related sects, under the later.  This categorization was, however, an over-simplification of a sort since it ignored the interrelation and the intermixture of the elements placed under the two.  But it went a long way in helping Moner-Williams to draw a distinction between Hindu monism and monotheism.  In short, bhakti through the writings of Monier-Williams, got more firmly defined as a monotheism in its Western technical sense, that is, as a religion of love and devotion for a personal God, accompanied by a feeling of otherness on the part of man in relation to Him.

Using the broader canvas provided by Monier-Williams, George A. Grierson constructed a historical account of Vaishnavism and called it the ‘ancient monotheistic religion of India’ by tracing its antecedents in the religion of the Bhagavatas, and in the Ekantika-dharma mentioned in the Mahabharata.  Whatever he said in this connection was taken as an elaboration of the nature and history of the ‘bhakti religion’.  Grierson added yet another factor to the bhakti theme.  He linked the medieval Hindi bhakta poets with the ancient religion of bhakti, and described the religious movements led by them as the collective expression of its resurgence during the medieval period.  This description of the different devotional currents of that period as the ‘Bhakti movement’ was followed by further theorization to fix its source of inspiration in the system of Vedanta evolved by the medieval Vaishnava acharyas (Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, and Vallabha). (p.304)

The bhakti theories were constructed, step by step, by the aforesaid authors through: (a) their general works on Hinduism; (b) the articles they contributed to the different learned journals (particularly the Journal of Royal Asiatic Society); and (c) the papers they read at various Oriental conferences from time to time.  The whole academic process of their artificial formulation was complete by 1909 when the current definition of bhakti in its consolidated form was incorporated in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics edited by James Hastings.

The bhakti theories initiated by the Western Orientalists found a ready acceptance amongst the Indian scholars of the nineteenth century….— ibid.  pp.303-05

The Christian thinkers rejected all explanations of God offered by the philosophers and proclaimed that religion and philosophy were two separate realms.  They evolved a new form of Christian theology, through modern modes of reasoning, to establish the validity of the personal concept of God.  Sharpening the difference between religion and philosophy, they defined religion strictly in terms of faith in a personal God.  The conceptual categories of theism, monotheism, pantheism, and monism, as they are understood today, were evolved in accordance with the pattern of Christian theology which took shape after the emergence of modern European philosophy, to serve the Christian purpose.  Subsequently, they were commonly used by the Western scholars in studies of other religions as well.  No doubt, these categories could be applied with equal justification in the study of revealed religions similar to Christianity.  But not to Hinduism.  To the extent the Bhakti theories were conceived with the aid of these categories based on alien norms and non-Hindu criteria, they were artificial and contrived.— ibid.  p. 307

Curiously enough, assessment of the Bhakti movement in Indian historical studies had not emerged from the discipline of history itself. It was not shaped by the historian, but by the Indologists. In other words, it was not achieved through the (p.316) historical analytical method of first examining the facts, taking all the variables into account, and then drawing the conclusion from the total evidence.  In contrariety with this, the Indologists had framed the definition and the conceptual theories about bhakti first (and that too with a definite Western bias), and had then applied those theories to the medieval Indian religious situation….— ibid. p. 317