Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mysuru Kendra: Remembering Dr. Mathoor Krishnamurthy
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns

Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mysuru Kendra: Remembering Dr. Mathoor Krishnamurthy

October 4, 2021

In the human garden, where flowers bloom, Mathoorji was also one; but one that was  perfumed spreading subtle fragrance.

On 25th September 2021, I had the privilege of unveiling the bust of Dr. Mathoor Krishnamurthy at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s (BVB) Sports Ground named after him, at Vijayanagar I Stage. That event sent me down the memory lane of the birth and growth of BVB  in Mysuru.

It was in 1989, BVB was established in Mysuru with the initiative of one Prof. V. Chandrashekar, I think, retired Principal of Manipal Engineering College and R. Vasudeva Murthy, President of the city’s well-known educational institution Mahajana College, Jayalakshmipuram. Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, the scion of the Mysore royal family, was the Chairman of the BVB by request.

As I remember, I was one of the early members of this BVB more for sentimental reason of having studied Journalism at BVB Mumbai than for any other reason. Prof. V. Chandrashekar was the Hon. Secretary and managed the working of BVB while Vasudeva Murthy was the Vice-Chairman. It was functioning in a room given pro bono by Vasudeva Murthy in Mahajana School (or College) building with a telephone, a table, a few chairs and probably an almirah. Prof. Chandrashekar was the boss and soul of it conducting some short-term courses in labour, human resources etc., for some fee. The show went on without much public exposure uneventfully.

About a decade passed in this state when this dormant BVB found Mathoor Krishnamurthy, who was in BVB London for over 23 years and had joined BVB in Bangalore Centre in the year 1995.

Chance seems to play a  role not only in an individual’s life and career but also institution’s. It was in the year 2000, Mathoorji, known for his discourses on Hindu epics, was invited by the Swamiji of Sri Ramakrishna Ashram in city to give a ‘Vaachana Vyaakhyana’ for five days on ‘Rajasuya Yaaga’ at the Ashram. He agreed. It was then he thought of rejuvenating the already existing but ‘sleeping’ BVB. No cultural activities. Only classes as mentioned earlier.

Serendipitous discourse of Mathoorji at the Ashram became very popular and thus Mathoorji himself was enthused to hold more such discourses. And BVB Mysuru became an ideal platform. From now on events moved fast.

When Priyamvada Birla (Badima) of the well-known Birla family visited BVB Bangalore, Mathoorji broached the subject of developing BVB Mysuru and she agreed to visit Mysuru. Many may not know that the born-again BVB Mysuru Kendra was born in Prof. A.V. Narasimha Murthy’s house in Jayalakshmipuram. At that time Prof. Narasimha Murthy was the Chief Editor of BVB’s Indian History volumes being translated into Kannada. He was requested to be the Chairman of BVB, Mysuru Kendra and Badima lit the lamp to inaugurate the Kendra. BVB  Mysuru Kendra never looked back thereafter.

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Soon a new Committee was formed and that was when I became the Vice-Chairman and later the Chairman of the Building Committee. The present Hon. Secretary P.S. Ganapathy was also taken in as Hon. Treasurer. Other influential members were also taken as Vice-Chairmen, office-bearers and Committee Members. Soon Mathoorji’s programmes helped raise nearly Rs. 20 lakh and through membership and donation money flowed in. One of the Vice-Chairmen Prof. B.S. Pandit provided rooms in his Geetha Shishu Shikshana Sangha (GSSS) building in Siddartha Layout for BVB till BVB raised its own building we see in Vijayanagar today.

It was the time when Jaganmohan Palace auditorium was the centre of attraction for those who loved  Mathoorji’s discourse so much so Mathoorji was able to persuade many philanthropists to donate substantial amount. Mrs. Madhuri Thathachari, a resident of our city, participated in a number of cultural activities conducted by BVB and also donated a huge amount of Rs. 10 lakh in the name of her scientist-husband. Similarly, Bellur Kamalamma Subbanna and family donated Rs. 12.5 lakh. Of course, Badima donated a huge amount for the building construction.

Interestingly, the year we decided to plan and construct the building happened to be, I think, the International Women’s Year. So I suggested to Mathoorji, N. Ramanuja of BVB Bangalore and other Committee Members to entrust the designing of the building to women architects. At that time, Anu and Tara used to be one and so they were given the assignment.

Mathoor Krishnamurthy was a go-getter, he was one who would stoop to conquer. At his instance, I had the rare honour of hosting Badima in my house in Kuvempunagar where she showered me and my wife with gifts and blessings. One of the reasons (a minor one) why Mathoorji treated me with high regards could be because I was a journalist owning two local popular newspapers. And Mathoorji loved publicity. That of course is a weakness of 90% of VIPs and famous people.

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Surprisingly I once casually asked him to come to my village and visit my ancestral house in Kakkabe, Kodagu. He was willing. I was flummoxed. So I requested my cousin who was the Principal of the nearby Srirama School in Napoklu to arrange for a speech and let me know the date. And Mathoorji made that ardours journey in the monsoon!

I also remember one medical  doctor Dr. S. Krishna Murthy of Nanjumalige, Mysuru. He and his wife would be attending Mathoorji’s discourse at Jaganmohan Palace regularly with great religious fervour. Dr. Krishna Murthy would address Mathoorji as ‘Swamiji’ and even treated Mathoorji like one with extreme reverence.

Mathoorji had given two discourses at Jaganmohan Palace lasting 21 days each. And it was Dr. Krishna Murthy who would drop Mathoorji  to the Bus Stand to catch the Bangalore bus at 10 or 10.30 in the night after the discourse! The kind of personal, physical trouble Mathoorji was taking was unimaginable. He would again come by train or bus next day to be ready at the Jaganmohan Palace for discourse. What a sacrifice for BVB. He was a true artiste who gets into ecstasy performing while making the rasikas, audience, enthralled.

Once Dr. Krishna Murthy invited Mathoorji for a Pada-Puja in his house. Mathoorji vehemently, adamantly refused. “I am not a Sanyasi or Swamiji,” he protested. “No Swamiji,” pleaded Dr. Krishna Murthy, “For me and my family you are a Swamiji.” Mathoorji had to yield and of course, I was to attend this event at noon followed by sumptuous lunch.

Mathoorji was made to sit on an ornate chair, his feet were lifted by hand and placed on a silver plate and the Pada-Puja began — the ritual. I was made to sit opposite Mathoorji within  earshot. As the ‘holy feet’ were anointed, washed and wiped, Mathoorji looked at me and said with a sly smile, “These are not my legs. These are not my feet” in a whispering tone. I smiled back.

In the human garden, where flowers bloom, Mathoorji was also one; but one that was  perfumed spreading subtle fragrance.

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8 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mysuru Kendra: Remembering Dr. Mathoor Krishnamurthy”

  1. Kautilya says:

    As some one who in his younger years had had traditional studies including Sanskrit and Upanishads, and was one an an avid reader of Bhavan’s Journal for several years, have the following observations:

    1. The BVB :
    The creation of K M Munshi, the Gandhian, was focused since its inception towards the middle class educated Hindus in quantifying the philosophical messages that emanate from great scriptures of India. Our milkman in those days, was a family friend, wordly wise, once asked me , after catching me reading a copy of Bhavan’s Journal, to explain to him in simple terms that he could understand, what that journal says, and what its producer the BVB stands for. After talkking for a while, I realised the esoteric quantification of the BVB approach was not going to attract, the very people like our milkman, a devout Hindu, who had many questions.
    Saints like Purandara Dasa and Kanaka Dasa made their messages very simple terms but yet in a nutshell the life practices that encapsulated the essence of the above great scriptures. That approach was what was expected from the BVB in order for it to be influential particularly in a vast mass of Indian society, who are not middle class or educated, and for whom the BVB’s esoteric philosophical pontification approach did not appeal. It does not today either. Sadly, the institutions like this have become self-focused, hoping that its mission would some how spread from its middle class followers to the others yonder in India , who are less educated and who understand a life thst encapsulates the sum total of the philosophical and Karma tenets, without philosophical abstractions and Sanskrit quotes.
    2. The late Mathoorji
    With no disrespect to the above, as far as Karnataka is concerned, I wonder kind of whether , the Harikatha exponents that I heard in my younger days, many of them were excellent in their preaching approach, but they employed the style of the above 2 great saints. I do not know as I have lived for decades in a Western country. What Mathoorji did not achieve is the kind of impact that many Indian expatriates expected from him through the BVB centre in London in which he stayed for over 2 decades. The Harikatha -style approach interspersed with Upanishad quotes did not appeal to them. What was really needed was the approach the late Swamy Chinmayananda so successfully adapted in his discourses, using Bhagvad Geetha as the main source. Even our milkman who understood rudimentary English did like his discourses.
    This required a different kind of person and messenger, focusing on that source, with demonstrable fluency in English and drawing parallels in the Bible in the Western world. The one person who could have achieved it in BVB Kendra in London was the late MPL Shastry, a Sanskrit scholar, exceptional orator, an educationist and an excellent networke, who established many educational institutions in Bengaluru. The BVB in Bengauru could have benefitted from him too. I wonder why it did not.
    The Bhavan did not invite journalists of main newspapers, radio and tv, it does not even today, prior to the Pandemic.
    I am interested to know how the ISCKON centre in Mysuru and else where in India are doing. One can say BVB has a different approach. But it is not working in the Western world for the reasons articulated above. ISCKON, I hasten to add, that I am not a member, is recognised for its downright simple approach focusing on the messages of Lord Rama and Krishna-in effect adapting the very successful Swamy Chinmayananda approach, in a slightly different way. One may not agree but its impact is undeniable and its name recognition that the BVB could only envy!

  2. Gautam says:

    The question is: what has the BVB achieved? I really see not much in its centres in London, New York and Sydney for example.
    Looking at the Mysore Centre, its office bearers are all over 80 or there about, finding another role here after their retirement. The young seems to have no place there it appears!
    The BVB like any other institution has all the trappings of power, suffering from maladies like: hierarchy, navel-gazing, antipathy to any new ideas, favouritism in appointments etc.. , but little else in terms of what its mission meant to be.
    Yes, late Chinmayananda, who with his Bhagavad Geetha discourses, attracted so many , a crowd full of young men, and women, who were never before interested in Bhagavad Geetha, attended his discourses, in the old Exhibition building and JSS College venues in Mysuru in 1960s and early 1970s. He kept his audience spell-bound for 2 hours at a stretch.
    Many professionals have joined ISKCON, and its recognition is astounding in the Western world. No wonder the Beetle George Harrison donated £20,000 to their centre’s construction near London, when the London BVB Kendra with Mathoorji as its director, was struggling to renovate the abandoned church donated to it free, by the church authorities to house the centre!!


  3. Shantala says:

    We get that a bunch of old men, who were retirees from positions where they administered institutions, wanting to find similar roles, thought of establishing the BVB Mysore centre. So this BVB centre today, like other centres in India and in London, New York and Sydney are controlled and run by superannuated men in their 70s and 80s. The late Kulapathy Munshi established BVB in the then Bombay, to create awareness of Hinduism through its best tenets which formed the ancient Indian culture. Yet in that culture, the 2 most important aspects of human life-wealth and wisdom are attributed as the divine gift of 2 goddesses- Lakshmi and Saraswathy! In BVBs, men reign supreme!
    I hope Mr Ganapthy, the current chairman of this Kendra, would change the culture of the BVB. Why not start with a female treasurer? Women are known for their skills in managing the budget in households. There are women bank managers too. Even the previous DC of Mysuru was a woman. Did the BVB Mysuru involve this woman DC in any cultural capacity? I guess not! The Goddess Chamundeshwari on the Hill, must be looking down at the machinations of men in an edifice like the BVB, getting exasperated
    Could we also expect, a few women columnists in the SOM too?
    Well. I had met Mathoor Krishnamurthy in London, after this centre under this:’go-getter’ was as usual run by men! He was more interested how I as a woman cold help in decoration, poojas, preparation of food, running music classes, but never as even in a minor part of running the organisation., which could have attracted women in Indian households in London, although it is located in an obscure place in a run-down part of West London , unlike a poster above mentioned, the ISKCON centre in an expansive green field near London, easily reachable by car. Thanks to George Harrison-the ‘Hindu’ Beatle, which the above ’go-getter’ could not get to, but ISKCON did!
    Well, that is the BVB for you. I saw in my travels similar attitude in NY BVB and Sydney BVB too!
    In Mysuru, o there is only one cultural centre that matters-the Suttur Mutt. It has been the way since 1960s,since the Mutt established a science college, which gave opportunities for women. Has BVB Mysuru Kendra linked with this Mutt in any way? What about its relationship with ISKCON centre in Mysuru?
    The late Mathoor Krishnamurthy, no disrespect to him, kept the BVB London safely away from ISKCON centre at Watford n near London. But the university of London students love what ISKCON does, as it service free lunch for them in their main premises. As for the BVB London, they ask, BVB , who?! No different in NY BVB and Sydney BVB too.

  4. Kautilya says:

    Apologies, some typos.

  5. Gautam says:

    In fact George Harrison donated £20 million! That was such a big sum that I like many missed it. Sorry!

  6. Gautam says:

    Apologies from me too. George Harrison donated £20 million to the construction of the ISKCON centre near London.

  7. Shantala says:

    @Kautilay. It should be £20 million donation by the ‘Hindu’ George Harrison, a sum which could have gone to the BVB, if this ‘go-getter’, did go and did manage to get it , which meant involving this Beatle star, in an important role at the BVB London, which was such a difficult for Mathoorji!

  8. Kautilya says:

    @ Shatala.
    My apologies for leaving a few zeros in George Harrison’s donation to ISKCON.
    Actually, I understood, as many did, that he would have spurned any formal role at the BVB London, and would have gladly donated, if for example, an event was held for his performance-where has honoured- he was a superb guitarist,, and that event would have generated massive fund in tickets and endorsements.
    Of the 4 Beetles, the famous pop group, he was a devotee of Hinduism ( his ashes were immersed in Ganga), and was a good friend of the late Carnatic vocal musician K V Narayanaswamy, when the two met at the Wesleyan College in Connecticut in USA, where Narayanaswamy was on a sabbatical teaching Carnatic music..
    Not much of ‘go-get’ it was for 23 years.


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