THE DHOTI-CLAD NONCHALANT PROFESSOR
The year: 1976
The place: Room No. 5, SIr M.V. Institute of Technology, Bangalore
The audience: The girls of the class
A gentleman walks in with hurried strides, clad in dhoti and long kurtha, sandalwood paste adorning the bright forehead of his confident and peaceful face. There is a minute’s silence and the whole class of girls erupts in giggle, as they see a traditionally attired priest instead of a professor with well-combed hair wearing a conventional shirt and a formal suit. Has a Sanskrit teacher walked in instead of the psychology Professor. Does he know English at all? Let alone psychology! As these doubts ripple through the young minds in the class, he announces nonchalantly, “I am Ramachandra Rao, your psychology Professor.”
“What is psychology?” The class is speechless as he continues to explain the relation of psychology to the epic heroes, Krishna of the Mahabharatha and Rama of the Ramayana. As his lecture progresses, they realize his competence in both psychology and mythology. This professor grows to be our nation’s pride!
The world of art and culture knows him as Sakru, meaning Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao. Proficient in twelve languages, he was a person par excellence in literature, an unbiased critic in music, a great artist and a sculptor, a veteran in Ayurveda and a professor of psychology. Dominating diverse fields for five decades is no small achievement – he was knowledge and wisdom incarnate with the highest values.
THE BIRTH OF THE LEGEND – THE QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE BEGINS
Sakru was born in Hassan (4 Sept 1925). His early years were in Mysore, with schooling in Infant School and later in Nanjungud. He was brought up in a culturally rich and traditional family environment. His father, Saligrama Krishna Rao, was a great Sanskrit scholar; he imparted his knowledge and his wisdom to Ramachandra Rao who under him studied great epics like the Bhagavadgeetha and the Ramayana. He later continued his lessons in Sanskrit under Narayana Shastry in Nanjungud Patashala. He learnt philosophy, logic (Tharka) and Mukthavali under Agnihothri Vittalacharya.
He obtained his Bachelor’s degree from Maharaja College, and Master’s in psychology from the Mysore University. He assisted in research programmes in the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore for six years, and served as assistant professor in NIMHANS. He resigned this post and joined the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and later moved on to M.E.S., Bangalore. He also served as part-time professor in Mysore University all his life.
He never limited his quest for knowledge to just one field of study; he studied all fields with equal zest and dedication, continuing to do so even in his later years.
THE PERSON THAT HE WAS
Ramachandra Rao was a traditional and strict disciplinarian who led a simple life. But he was open-minded in accepting other religions and beliefs. In following the path of righteousness, discipline, morals and ideals, he emulated Rallapalli, his guru.
He was a generous man who never charged for his writings, which he contributed to many who came to him for help. He believed in spreading and sharing knowledge, not hoarding it. Many publications, associations, institutions, and also universities have taken help from his articles and research papers.
In NIMHANS where he was working, one of his colleagues after returning from abroad made a statute that all professors needed to be doctorates. His knowledge was much beyond that of a doctorate holder’s. Believing that his study was not degree-oriented, he resigned from the professor’s post, even though this affected his family.
At his residence, for decades uninterruptedly, he organized discussions on the Upanishads, yoga, Ramayana, Mahabharata and psychology every Tuesday and Friday. As a professor he was an ideal for all students and other professors and a favorite among students. He respected his students – he never gave in to the current trend of making quick money by exploiting students giving them private lessons. His method of teaching according to the situation and subject was his greatest strength. He influenced his students to study subjects other than their own so as to enhance their knowledge. He was never a professor who strictly taught according to the prescribed syllabus. From the Bhagavadgeetha, from Sanskrit to philosophy to psychology – diverse subjects were explained to his students during his hours of teaching. He would insist that they study Tolstoy, Lawrence and other great writers. His achievements in teaching methods were acknowledged by the University of California and he was invited to teach there; he humbly refused the offer.
THE WRITER: A LOVER OF LANGUAGES
He was proficient in English, Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Latin, German and many more languages. Ramachandra Rao learnt other languages in a strange way. When he was working in the IISc as assistant research scholar, he exchanged his Sanskrit knowledge with one Dr Graph for learning German and French. He also learnt Greek and Latin. His knowledge in Hindi was enhanced under Tripitikacharya. He understood Hindi classic literature.
Lama gurus introduced him to TIbetan literature, which led him to study and master the Tibetan, Jainism and Buddhism aspects of philosophy and culture. He would talk effortlessly to the Lama guru and the gurus of Jainism about their religion. To go into real depth about anything was second nature to him. For example, during his younger days, eager to know about Eswar Chanra Vidyasagar he went to Kolkata to his uncle’s house and also learnt Bengali. Later he received accolades from none other than Sri Rabindranath Tagore for translating Gitanjali into Sanskrit.
As a result of his association with the Sri Lankan Narada Mahathekar through Ramakrishna Ashram, Bangalore, he got deeply involved in the study of the Alwar Nudi Muthu (a book on Jainism) and other works on Jainism. Ramachandra Rao authored many books pertaining to philosophy, Jainism, Tibetan religion, Buddhism, Shantala and the Shankara Vedanta. His books are a storehouse of knowledge for scholars who study the subjects he wrote about. His Hiriyya Hejjegalu (Legends of our Land), published by Ananya, carries his unique line sketches of legendary musicians.
His father’s love for classical music resulted in his learning the veena. He was a melodious veena player and a balanced critic. He would play ragas like Thodi, Bhairavi and Kambhoji with ease and expertise. He did not take much to Hindustani music and shunned pop music. WHen asked why he did not become a musician, he would jokingly answer, “When my wife started playing the veena, I became a music critic and not a musician.” He has authored many great books on music: Psychology of Laya, Purandara Darshana, Geetha Govinda, Alwara compositions. Supporting many cultural organizations, he believed that “music spreads peace and solitude”.
THE PAINTER AND THE SCULPTOR
He inherited from his father his love of painting. Even as a child he would paint and also make idols from clay. He wanted to become the student of the well-known painter and sculptor, Venkatappa, who insisted that Ramachandra Rao should take up sculpture as his profession. Not agreeable to that, SKR decided to learn sculpture on his own, just like the legend, Ekalavya. The river bank of Kapila in Nanjungud was his school of sculpture. The clay from this river was very good for making idols. Later he studied the art of sculpture from various books and became a master in this art too! His terracota and beeswax sculptures have figured in art exhibitions. Since he was a lover of veena, he carved the figure of the famous Veena Seshanna as a tribute to him. His sculpture of Rabindranath Tagore adorns the Bangalore Ravindra Kalakshetra.
The various academies of art, sculpture and music and the government of India have bestowed on him several laurels for his dedicated efforts in diverse fields, honoring him with titles such as ‘Sangithakala Rathna’, ‘Vedanta Nidhi’ and ‘Vidhyalankaara’.
His books will always be a guide to every person seeking profound knowledge.
Drishti is grateful to him for permitting us to publish articles from his scholarly books, thus sharing his profound knowledge with our readers.
We thank Dr. R. V. Raghavendra for providing us with the pictures and information.