Liberal, rational voice

Sanskrit scholar and Temple Tantra expert T S Syamkumar talks about temples,religion, Renaissance movements in Kerala and atheism.

Q. How did the concept of divinity bloom in your mind?

A. The concept of thirty-three crore divine manifestations blossomed in me through my grandmother, who told me many stories. And in them were not just Hindu gods, but Jesus and Prophet Mohammed as well.

Q. You had an uncommon child-hood. Tell us about it.

A. The hues and shades of stories from the Puranas she told me made me curious to know more. That inspiration led me to the study of many Puranas including Bhagavatham. When I was in my seventh grade, I started getting trained under Manikantan Pillai of my village in the reading and understanding of the Puranas. Later, from Damodarapark, a distant relative of mine, I learned astrology. He inspired me to learn Tantra, Vastuvidya and Sanskrit from Kumaran Namboothiri of Chiththambil Madhom (Haripad)

Q. How did you start learning Sanskrit? Did you learn it as ‘the language of the gods’?

A. I started learning Sanskrit along with Temple Tantra. It helped me in understanding the texts of Temple Tantra well. I never considered Sanskrit as the language of the gods. It was during my college days that I started hearing the language being referred to as the language of the gods.

Q. About gurus...

A. My first guru was Manikantan Pillai, from whom I learned the Puranas, including Bhagavatham. Then, my uncle Damodarapark and then Kumaran Namboothiri of Piththambil Madhom. All were my dear gurus, who showered me with great love and knowledge.

Q. Your involvement with Sree Narayana Guru and his teachings?

A. From an early age, I had idolised Sree Narayana Guru. The Gurumandiram in front of my home could also be an influence. When I was in my eighth grade, the visit of Bhrahmasree Vidyananda Swamy from Sivagiri Madhom to our village (Veeyapuram) and my proximity to him brought me closer to Sree Narayana Guru. I used to think of him as my grandfather those days, and I dearly loved him.

Q. You have become the liberal voice and the last word in the field of Temple Tantra research in Kerala. Can you elucidate on your journey?

A. I turned to Temple Tantra research as I started my PhD at the Kaladi Sanksrit University. The research I did there moved me deeper into the study of Temple Tantra. The discipline of looking at Tantra in a historical and cultural perspective was given to me by my guide Dr K. M. Sangameshan. If at all, as you said, I have become the liberal voice in the subject, I owe it to Sangameshan Master. Posing strict rules and regulations to abide by, he also showered love and care on me. The part he played in my growth is not very far or less from that played by my parents. Hence my love and respect for Sangameshan Master would be like mine towards my mother, or even more at times.

Q. Your book on Sabarimala is the most authoritative one on the subject. About that work?

A. One of the other positive outcomes of the research on Tantra is that book on Sabarimala. Sangameshan Master always reminded me of the fact that research is done for the benefit of the society and the money spent on it by the government is the sweat and blood of the taxpaying common man. This awareness made me interfere and respond to the Sabarimala issue. Two known personalities had been the driving force and inspiration for me to write a book on Sabarimala – Sunny M. Kapikkad and you, Lekshmy chechi.

Q. One of the reasons behind the current scenario in Kerala can be seen as the challenges posed by the numerous places of worship and the growing racial and religious inequality around them. Being an expert on this topic, do you think temples would be the venue for man’s proximity to the gods. If not, where would these challenges lead Kerala to?

A. Though debatable, for an ordinary devotee, temples are sources of solace and peace. Temples, however, justify inequality even in their structure. There is no wonder that the Brahministic priesthood-led temples of medieval Kerala in due course of time became the deep-rooted seats of religious classification and communalism. In the Indian context, the Hindutva communalism has its roots in the Braministic thoughts. Hence, new worlds can be envisioned only after shedding Brahminism, as it defies the concepts of equality and fraternity. For the same reasons, the temples with Brahministic leadership have become the seats of schism and communalism. Brahminism in temples has led to a pseudo-supremacy and a modern form of Hindutva, which has led Kerala astray. This has been proven by the Sabarimala issue.

Q. The journey from an ardent believer to the self-confident young man..

A. The stories that my grandmother told me made a believer and an atheist simultaneously. I understood God as a representation of love and mercy. But the more in-depth study of the Puranas, Dharmashasthras, texts on Smriti and Tantra, and associated legends along with the scientific awareness of the present day led me to realise the truth that man does not need God for his subsistence. In a way, the journey of transformation from atheism to self-confidence was kindled by avid reading. Having lost my way from being a theist completely, I was helped on the path of self-awareness and confidence by the visions and thoughts of Dr B. R. Ambedkar.

Q. What are your future plans?

A. My main motive would be a more in-depth study and research on texts written in Sanskrit. I look forward to writing well-researched, elaborate works based on the historical and cultural outlook of the Puranas, legends and Dharmashashtras. I am also interested in writing critical commentaries on my main subject of research and interest, Keraleeya Tantra

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