A DEBNARAYAN ACHARYYA READER

It is appropriate to offer the reader Professor Acharyya’s brief biography :  Deb Narayan Acharyya was born in Calcutta, West Bengal, India.  His father Dr. Ratneswar Acharyya was an eminent Dental Surgeon and Eyes Specialist.  Deb has learned about the wonder of India from the existing account of his grandfather, Mr. Bisweswar Acharyya, a graduate of British India, and his father, who taught “Deb” to associate himself in the unbroken Civilization of the sub-continent of India.  His mother Mrs. Kiran Acharyya, [a daughter of a prominent professor of Medicine], a School Principal, and an accomplished educator  instilled him with a love for Language and Literature and a deep appreciation of religion.  Deb inherited from his parents precisely those qualities which have distinguished himself as an elucidator of Indian history and culture in recent decades.  He is not only a master of letters but also an accomplished musician and a soccer player.  At the age of eight he began to sing folk songs and Rabindra Sangeet and thus he developed appreciation a love of music.  By the age of fifteen he has written several compositions.  In later years, on visits to his home, students and friends might be entertained by selection from Tagore, Kazi Najrul Islam, Sandhya Mukheriee, Hemanta Mukherjee and popular Chaitanya bhajan.  During his formative years he tried his hand at writing and even published a collection of poems in school and College Journals, and edited with the-exclusive help of his brother, Mr. Ranendranaravan Acharyya, {now an accomplished Engineer in Canada,} a Wall-magazine “Natun Pravat” (new dawn) in 1956.  Deb quickly realized that his real calling lay in the study of Indian History and Culture.  After completing his B.A. and M.A. in Indian History in 1959 from Calcutta University he finally won a scholarship from London University to research on Sri Krishna Chaitanya (1486-1533) at the School of Oriental & African Studies University of London, and in 1963 he graduated with honours in Ancient Indian history and culture with high distinction from that institution, and he continued to pursue advanced studies in Indology under the supervision of Professor A.L.Basham, who was one of the world’s foremost scholars of ancient Indian culture and religion (in subsequent years Deb became a close friend of  Basham who in various occasions jointly conducted seminars at Cambridge and Oxford in England and there after in the United States of America at the universities in America such as Santa Barbara, U.C.L.A. worth mentioning.  (Also, Basham used to visit Deb’s home in Calcutta).  He completed his Ph.D. in February 1967 from London University, with a thesis that has become the classical study of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, founder of Neo-Vaisnavism.  The life and times of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, which brought together all the available information on the sixteenth century religious sect of vaisnavism, opened the door for a more complete understanding of the religious tradition of medieval India.  It remains one of the principal source books in the history of Indian religions.  Also, this single volume brings Acharyya’s experienced perspective of Hinduism, useful for the general reader, the student, the world-wide devotees of Krishna consciousness and the scholar.  Already in 1963, he has been appointed as a part-time lecturer at the London University under Professor Basham. In 1968 he obtained a U.G.C. grant, dept. of education, govt. of India and served as a senior research fellow at the national council of educational research and training until 1970, where he wrote a book on the methodology of historical research while in India.                                       During this period he was invited as a guest professor both at Delhi and Calcutta University.  As a keen promoter of oriental studies he had been elected fellow of many learned societies in Britain, India and America, and distinguished himself as an active administrator and organizer.  He was director-editor of “Hinduism” published in London from 1970 to 1974: executive member world congress of faiths, England, vice-president Bharat Sevashranm Sangha in London, Elected Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland in 1964, and he was elected Fellow of the Asiatic Society in W. Bengal in 1968.  He was awarded Lady Mountbatten Prize and Convocation Prize in 1966 for his Outstanding contribution in Indology.  In  1965 he had a debate with Dr. Ramsay, Archbishop of Canterbury on the similarities of miracles between the life of Lord Jesus Christ and Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya.  Same year he addressed to the Queen mother on Hinduism today, also addressed to Robert Kennedy, attorney general of U.S.A. :the subject of the address was the traditional relationship between India and America since World War 1

Prof. A.L. Basham wrote the foreword of Deb’s book on the Life and Times of Sri Krishna Chaitanya:  “The problem of shifting the historical corn from the hagiographical shaff is a very difficult and hitherto very few scholars have made a serious attempt at doing so.  My friend, Prof. D.N. Acharyya has subjected all the legends of Sri Chaitanya to a very careful analysis, and by these means, he has been able to present a biography of the great teacher which is more credible, more historically accurate than anything hitherto written…he has not allowed his feelings of love and respect for the teacher to cloud his judgement as a scholar and he has produced a work which will long be read as a sincere and successful attempt to present the- life of Sri Chaitanya to the 20th century world.”  In a testimonial Prof. Edward C. Dimock, Jr. South Asia Language and Area Center, University of Chicago, wrote about Deb: ‘This is to introduce Prof. D.N. Acharyya, Ph.D. from the University of London under Prof. A.L. Basham.  Prof. Basham wrote commending the abilities and scholarship of Prof. Acharyya:  After meeting Prof. Acharyya  and reading his thesis, I find Prof. Basham’s enthusiasm understandable.  The thesis of the Life and Times of Sri Krishna Chaitanya is an excellent piece of scholarship on the Vaisnava Movement in Bengal, employing both Sanskrit and Bengali sources, and is a noteworthy addition to the literature in the field.  I should add that Prof. Acharyya, at a seminar at the University of Chicago, furthered my feeling for his scholarship both because of his obvious knowledge and the dignity and clarity with which he made his points.’  About Deb’s book, Prof. J.G. de Casparis, Prof. of History of South and South East Asia, University of London writes: ‘By a minute comparison of the different traditions concerning the most important episodes in Chaitanya’s life, Dr. Acharyya succeded in reconstructing Chaitanya’s life and by so doing, threw important new light upon the development of the legends around Chaitanya.  Dr. Acharyya has attempted this remarkable result partly owing to his continuous perseverance and his success reflects favorably upon his considerable qualities. ‘Prof. T.W. Clark of London University and Prof. F.R. Alchin of Cambridge University, who were Deb’s Ph.D. examiners, wrote very high on Acharyya’s thesis and recommended that the thesis was suitable for publication as it was submitted.  As an executive member of World Congress of Faiths, he was invited as a guest professor of the International Congress of World Faiths when it met at Birmingham in 1971.  The subject of his address to the congress was on social consciousness in modern Hinduism.  In 1971 as a guest professor at Balliol College, Oxford University, Deb was invited several times to address both graduate and undergraduate in the Bhagavad-gita, its place in the epic tradition and its religious significance, and the rise of theism.  Based on strong original evidence, the Bhiagavad-gita, the Hindu equivalent to the Christian New Testament according to Deb is in fact a composite of three different strata written by at least three authors over a period of two hundred years, reaching its final form around 100 B.C.E.  He was appointed as an editor of the Ministry of Environment in England in 1970 and worked there until 1974.  Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Chicago in 1974 under Professor Edward C. Dimock.  In 1975 Deb conducted series of seminars on the International Society for Krishna Consciousness –its religious legitimacy- under the chairmanship of Professor Dimock at Classics Hall, University of Chicago.  Also Planning and Evaluation Specialist at the Florida Parole and Probation Commission from 1975 to 1976 (first Indian national to serve in this prestigious position.

He teaches Indian history and culture since 1976 at the University of southern California and was administrator of Affirmative action Programme.

In 1994 Mr. Gary Davis, governor-elect of California endorsed Acharyya’s work on the Life and Times of Sri Krishna Chaitanya.

Acharyya’s contribution in writings might have been more numerous, has he not been the teacher that he is.  He is very much of a Pita (father) and guru in the Indian sense.  As such, the knowledge transmitted has been orally, specially to his undergraduates, graduate, and advanced research students, of whom he has over 300 in India and guided over 28 advanced research students in the western world.  He is very sincere when he claims that his greatest contribution to Indian Studies are his students, many of whom have gone both in India and abroad to become distinguished scholars and administrators in their respective field of South asian studies.

His approach to the study of Indian religion and Hinduism in particular may be characterized as a traditional Indology with personal intuition for it has combined history, Philology and Phenomenology.  In his opinion, Philology and comparative history, religion and literature are the scholar’s principal tools, personal experience and intuition are not excluded as long as they don’t contradict existing hard data when properly executed, this process of controlled imagination produced a reasonably accurate picture of Ancient Indian History or of Hinduism.

Since data derived from ancient India are notorious for being ahistorical and generally wanting in any sense of chronology, and exact picture is hardly attainable.

Throughout his career, Acharyya has never deviated from his fundamental approach to Indian History and culture.  But he did define and synthesize it based on new information derived from the research of students, extensive reading, and frequent trips to sites associated with Indology.

He is currently attached to the University of Southern California (since 1976).

He is in sabbatical year. 

This presentation of Classical Hinduism is the product of Acharyya’s many years of refinement and synthesis.

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~ by Manuel Palacios V. Ti´kara on July 16, 2008.

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