There were two important events which had a special bearing on Kerala’s vedic tradition in the 20th century. One is the Atirātra held at Panjal in 1975 at the initiative of a team of foreign enthusiasts led by Prof. J.F. Stall. It has given a new impetus to vedic studies in a global setting. Moreover, publication of the two volumes of AGNI is a monumental contribution to the world of knowledge. The second, and perhaps more important, is the rendering of Ṛgveda in Malayalam language. Till now, Vedic studies were confined to a minority ; rendering in the local language has made it a treasure of all humanity. The meaning also came to be important along with the chanting. A literal translation in verse of Ṛgveda was first done by Mahakavi Vallathol in the fifties. In the 80’s the sage-like O.M.C Narayanan Nambudiripad brought out the entire R. gveda with Sayan. a’s commentary in eight volumes in Malayalam. He has also pioneered an ambitious project for starting a correspondence course in Veda, which has borne fruit in the form of publication of sixty lessons.
In the meanwhile several learned articles have come out on various aspects of vedic literature. Some of them concentrate on the poetic beauty of the vedic mantras. There are yet others which attempt to interpret the hymns in its socio-economic setting, departing from the traditionally accepted religious views.
The vedic stream of knowledge did not stand isolated from the general stream, instead got merged to the renaissance movement.
Vedic studies hitherto, was confined to exclusive centres of traditional training in Trichur, Tirunāvāya, Irinjalakuda etc., and competitions held in the `anyonyam' at temples like Kat.avallur offered opportunities to young students to exhibit their scholarship.
It was in 1997 that vedic studies was incorporated, for the first time, to the university system in Kerala. The Sanskrit University founded at Kalady in the name of Sankaracarya was in its infant stage at that time. I was serving as its first Registrar. The circumstances that led to the establishment of a new school for vedic studies were quite accidental. Once during a meeting in the Sahitya Akademi, Trissur, Sri Killimangalam Vasudevan Nambudiri and Sri L.S Rajagopal were with me. During our discussions, they brought to my notice the pitiable state of the Samaveda tradition of Kerala.
The chanting of Samaveda was preserved for centuries in Kerala practiced by certain renowned Nambudiri families. The members of these families dedicated their life for the teaching and reciting of Samaveda. There were 21 families in which sāma was taught in a traditional way. Among this only five families at Panjal preserves this tradition now. Only five scholars, all aged, the senior most at 92, have the knowledge of chanting sāma in its pristine purity.11
The chanting of Sama has much importance in vedic sacrifices. The Udgātā recites sāma hymn in a musical way. The pitch stress and intonation of sāma recitation in sacrifices have attracted the attention of musicologists all over the world. This hoary oral tradition is at the verge of extinction. It will disappear along with these pandits and, unless preserved, will be lost for ever to humanity.12
The fact and their passion moved me. Coming back to the university I discussed the matter with the Vice-Chancellor Dr. N. P Unni and all concerned and with their blessings established a new school for vedic studies for the preservation of sāma chanting.13 The school took up the challenge and with the support of the traditional sāma scholars completed the work of faithfully preserving the entire recital. The recording of ārcika, grāmageya and candrasāma extending to seventy hours was completed in the first phase. The recording of 29 sāmastutis used in atirātra and 12 used in somayāga that are chanted in the ūha and ūsān. i style in 25 hours was completed in the second phase. The entire tradition of sāma chanting is now documented in audio and video CD’s of 95 hours. They are available for academic studies. The school of vedic studies extended further its scope by conducting seminars, short term courses, public lectures and workshops on various topics connected with the Vedas all over the state. Their untiring efforts have inspired other vedic institutions and they too became active during the last decade. This has generated a vast literature widening the knowledge-base of Vedas and has provided a public space for it among the intellectual and academic community.14