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Shankaracharyas and Academics

I agree that these days the institutional space of social science research has changed considerably and not all may be aware of all the changes. A few days ago, I found myself ill at ease at the inauguration of an international seminar in an ICSSR institute where two Vedic priests were brought in to sing Vedic hymns. My discomfort was less due to the supposed usurpation of secular spaces by religious forces. Rather my immediate discomfort was I had my chappals on and was seated in a chair at the seminar table. As I have been brought up in a deeply religious family, I have always been disciplined right from my childhood days that on such occasions there were appropriate postures and dress codes that were to be followed. Shoes and chappals have always been strictly forbidden. I suggest that if these religious practices are going to be observed in our institutions, we abide by the same procedures that guide us in the observance of these practices in the religious sphere of either the family or the temples, as otherwise it deeply offends our Hindu sensibilities.

By the time I could reconcile to that, I found myself in yet another disturbing situation. The respected Holiness Shankaracharya of Joshimath, Swami Vasudevanandji (whose candidature for the post of Shankaracharya remains disputed), inaugurated another seminar in the institute and was received by the director and the registrar dressed in their suits, ties and boots. I have always seen the Shankaracharyas received with great reverence. Men in Tamil Nadu not only go barefoot to meet his Holiness, but always wear a ‘dhoti’ in ‘panjagaccham’ style with no shirt or banian on top as a mark of respect. I suggest that if our institutes are going to invite Shankaracharyas, our directors should receive them in culturally appropriate ways, as otherwise it is offensive to our Hindu sensibilities.

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