I had started writing this about eight months back, but somehow missed completing it and publishing. What prompted me to take up the subject was a report in the New Indian Express of June 22, 2007, which contained a statement that Vedic Pundits were not permitted to learn English
Many of you, I am sure, know more about the Vedas than I do. Nevertheless, a brief note on the basics. The four Vedas - Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, Atharva Veda - are the primary Sacred texts of Hinduism. Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are also greatly influenced by these scriptures.
There is a difference though. Hinduism considers that the Vedas (which means knowledge) are not human compositions but Wisdom that was ‘struti’ (heard). In other words they are Revealed Wisdom. The other religions mentioned above do not seem to concede the divine origin of the Vedas.
Different views are seen about the period when the Vedas came into existence. Wikipedia quotes Radhakrishnan and Moore: “The Vedic Period is dimmed by obscurity, but it may be placed between 2500 and 600 B.C.” It seems to be generally accepted that the Vedas were present in oral tradition long before they were reduced to writing.
The Vedic chants were always in Sanskrit. Therefore, the Pundits had no need to learn English. Whether there was a specific ban on them studying the foreign language/s is not very clear.
The Syrian Christians (Catholic denomination) of Kerala were discouraged or banned in the 19c from learning English because it was, at that time, considered by the Church hierarchy to be the language of the Protestants. Another restriction for this community during the same period related to Carnatic music because it invoked Hindu gods!
But historically, the theology and philosophy of the Syrian Christian community of Kerala had a strong root that could be traced to the Vedas. There was no conflict, That was not surprising. According to the great scholar, Father Bede Griffiths of Kurisumala fame, the Vedanthas are the greatest source of natural theology.
Also see: History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview
Public Domain image of Rigveda from Wikimedia Commons.