Monday, April 6, 2009

Pandurang Shastri Vaijnath Athavale

Hindu leader, born in Roha, near Mumbai, India. His father was a Brahmin scholar who founded the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita Pathashala, a seat of Vedic learning. Under the guidance of his grandfather, he learned Sanskrit and Hindi, English, comparative religions, and Eastern and Western philosophy. He became founder and leader of the Bhagavad Gita-based self-study known as swadhyaya, a movement that encourages the recognition of God within all humans. Open to all faiths, adherents are dedicated to quiet, selfless volunteer work that is now credited with liberating many millions of people in villages in India from poverty and religious, racial, and class strife. His awards include the Mahatma Gandhi Prize (1988) and the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (1997).

Pandurang Shastri Vaijnath Athavale (1920-2003, affectionately known as dada, meaning elder brother in marathi) A philosopher and social reformer who created the Swadhyay pariwar movement in India.


Athavale was born on October 19, 1920 in the village of Roha near Mumbai. Athavale, then 5, saw his grandfather taking a bath upon returning from such a trip. Athavale was surprised and posed the question that if in the Bhagavad Gita the Lord exclaims that God exists within all human hearts then how can anyone including the so-called 'untouchables' be considered inferior to anyone else? Bones of few of them broken and one Pankaj Trivedi was killed by his novice followers - believed to be incited by lies to kill the old dedicated followers.

When Athavale was twelve years old, his grandfather set up an independent course of study for the young boy with individual tuition. Thus, Athavale was taught in a system very similar to that of the Tapovan system of ancient India.

In 1954, he attended the Second World Religions Conference, held in Japan. There, Athavale gave a superb deliverence on the concepts of Vedic ideals and the teachings of the Bhagawad Geeta. But a man named Dr. Wilson Compton was impressed with Athavale's ideas and offered him a post in the USA, where he could spread his ideas. Athavale politely declined, saying that he had work to accomplish if he wanted to show the world a model community peacefully practicing and spreading the divine Vedic thoughts and the message of the Bhagawad Geeta.

From then on, he worked to spread the ideas of the Bhagwad Geeta to the masses. The movement had its main influence in the Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, where Athavale used to frequently visit to spread his work, but now, its influence has spread to almost major parts of India, in the villages as well as the cities.

"Swadhyayees", as the followers of Swadhyay are called, are not just people of the lower or poor class; Athavale's idea of "brotherhood under the fatherhood of God" is followed in the many Swadhyay "kendras", or "gathering"; Many Swadhyayees also devote their time to go to various places around the country or world to spread the ideas that Athavale once did himself.

Athavale has had many recognitions by many various dignitaries of the world.

Athavale passed away on October 25, 2003, in Mumbai, India. His body was viewed at the institution that he had set up 50 years before, Tatvagyan Vidhyapeeth, in which many of his followers saw their first and only close-up glimpse of Athavale, before he was cremated the evening of October 26.

Tatvagyan Vidhyapeeth is an institution set up by Athavale 50 years earlier, in which he, himself, often gave discourses to the many youths that studied there.