Thursday, January 14, 2010

N. Sri Ram

Nilakanta Sri Ram (1889-1973) was the fifth President of the Theosophical Society (Adyar). This alone would not be enough to merit much comment here. But two actions of his make him notable for readers of HPB. In 1956 he arranged for the Theosophical Publishing House (TPH) at Adyar to take up the publishing of the H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings series. As Boris de Zirkoff, the compiler of the series, noted in the Foreword to Volume VII: “It augurs well for the ultimate success of the entire venture, and contributes greatly towards an earlier completion of the task at hand.” Sri Ram also decided to have the Theosophical Publishing House issue Walter A. Carrithers’ Obituary: the “Hodgson Report” on Madame Blavatsky, 1885-1960 (published under his pseudonym Adlai E. Waterman), giving this attempt to rehabilitate HPB’s reputation a wider audience. This was not the sort of publication that could ever have been regarded as financially remunerative, but as Sri Ram noted in his Preface, it was the right thing to do.

This seems to be the tenor of his life: expressing right ethical action. Pedro Oliveira, former International Secretary of the Theosophical Society at Adyar, and now Officer-in-charge of the Editorial Department there, has written a short biography of 223 pages, N. Sri Ram: a Life of Beneficence and Wisdom, just published by TPH. Using family narratives and personal recollections from those who knew N. Sri Ram, as well as his writings, Oliveira has managed to create a well-drawn portrait of a life devoted to theosophical principles. The history of the Theosophical Society during the last half of the twentieth century is so intertwined with that of the Nilakantha family as to be almost indistinguishable at times (Sri Ram’s sister, Rukmini Devi, a force to be reckoned with, ran in every presidential election during that time, and his daughter, Radha Burnier, is its present President), and Mr. Oliveira has furnished the future historian with a valuable tool for understanding the period.

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