Atheist Centre 1940-1990 Golden Jubilee
International Conference Souvenir
Vijayawada, February 3, 4, and 5, 1990
[OCR, Tim Sullivan; HTML, editing, Cliff Walker]

Atheist Centre -- A Way of Life
R. Kasturi
Advocate, Coimbatore.

It is a matter of immense satisfaction that the first Atheist Centre in the world is celebrating its Golden Jubilee. This function is historic in the annals of Atheism, in mere than one sense, because it is the celebration of the first golden jubilee of the first Atheist Centre in the world. From a humble beginning from a corner of Andhra Pradesh, the Atheist Centre has grown into a grand institution, embracing the entire world of thinkers, rationalists, humanists, reformers, revolutionaries and atheists. This institution has grown from strength to strength and is winning success after success. On an occasion like this, we pay our respects to Mr. Gora and Mrs. Saraswathi Gora, the rounding parents of this great institution.

Having been born, bred, and educated in an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family, it is something unthinkable that Mr. and Mrs. Gora had chosen to become atheists, chalking out for themselves an atheistic way of life and established this Atheist Centre, more than fifty years ago, at a time when the word "Nathigam" (atheism) itself would have provoked greatest opposition and in a society saturated with age old superstitions. untouchability, regimented caste-system, contradicting creeds and religions and plurality of gods and goddesses. Fighting against such an inimical society and surviving, inspire of such difficulties, penury, sufferings and sorrows, the young Gora couple gave us this unique institution of Atheist Centre.

With a sharp, prominent nose, twinkling eyes, and smiling lips in a closely-cropped round head with a broad forehead, of more than medium height, with a soft bright colour, clad in pure Khaddar dhothy twisted around his strong legs in traditional fashion and an upper cloth covering his body around his back, Mr. Gora, an out-and-out atheist, looked a real Gandhian, but following atheistic principles. His principles are Gandhian minus Deism plus atheism. He was a revolutionary, in thought, word, and deed. He defined Atheism as a positive, affirmative way of life. The natural inclination of man is not faith in God. The man was made to acquire such beliefs and faith by imitating and following the tradition, age-old customs, and influenced by surroundings. So atheism is not negative but it is a positive affirmative system of living. He had the greatest faith in man and in his happy rational future, uninfluenced by false beliefs and hoped that humankind at least in a distant future will accept the nonexistence of god as a means of a healthy human life for brotherly peaceful human existence.

Gora was unique and original in many ways. To him any act of man should be directed to enhance the happiness of human life. He originated the garland of vegetables, to substitute garland o flowers, and vegetable gardens in the place of parks of flowers and crotons. Above all it was he who started and propagated the holding of cosmopolitan dinners of pork and beef as a means of eradicating the evil of caste prejudices and religious taboos of certain food.

No doubt Gandhi was a great force in the modern world and Gora was a Gandhian in many ways, except Gandhi's faith in God and traditional customs. Gora rejected the whole of Hindu Sanatana Dharma and Varnashrama Dharma, four-fold caste system, in which Gandhi totally believed and advocated as necessary aspects of Hindu religion and society and as a matter of fact for all societies. Among the traditional practices of Hindu Society and tenets of Hindu Scriptures, Gandhi was only against untouchability. He was more a traditional-bound social reformer. In the interview between Gora and Gandhi and in the course of the discussion between them, regarding atheism, Gora very nearly convinced Gandhi to accept the correctness, sanity and necessity of atheism.

According to Gora the ideal of atheism has to be achieved by the Gandhian way. He was a humanist. He hated none and loved even those who held opposite views and criticise him. He did not organise parties and regimented institutions, probably for fear of evolving atheists as another caste. These are the fundamental principles, on which Atheist Centre has been functioning.

Atheist Centre is having continuous contact with its counterparts and sister and similar institutions in Tamilnadu, just as it has similar associations with the rest of India and several parts of the world. We in Tamilnadu know Mr. & Mrs. Gora, the couple of atheism, for a long time. We know their trials and tribulations, their difficulties and miseries and their successes The course of a true atheist can never run smooth. This atheist couple had necessarily to tread on a rough, rugged slushy and thorny path of Gandhism to achieve the goal of atheism. Gora was a born revolutionary, who could not tolerate slightest injustice to any human being.

For this undaunted couple, atheism is not confined only to a table talk or to a public meeting or for writing a book or editing a journal or for preaching to others. For them atheism is a way of life, atheism has to be lived and it shows the way how human beings should live as human beings without any distinctions and differences of race, religion, creed, caste, sex and colour and we are just human beings and not anything else.

In 1949 Indian Rationalist association had been formed on all India basis, the first organising meeting was held at Madras. Gora is one of the founders of this association, along with Late Mr. S. Ramanathan, who subsequently became an Education Minister in Madras Presidency, and Late Mr. Annathurai, who led the first rationalist ministry, in Tamilnadu elected under democratic process and many others. He was also closely associated with Late Mr. "Koothusi" Gurusamy, a rationalist, a revolutionary, a close associate of Periar Ramaswamy and he was a person who wielded his mighty pen to topple the entire frame work of religious philosophies. Thus Gora had been closely associated with rationalist activities in Tamilnadu. He had participated in several conferences in Tamilnadu and had led several agitations.

In 1970 Gora was invited to Coimbatore, an important city in Tamilnadu to participate in a Rationalist convention. Late Mr. G. O. Naidu, a rationalist, Industrialist of world fame was his host and participated in the conference in a big way. A debate was organised on the subject, "Whether God exists or not". Leading believers argued that God exists and leading atheists debated that God does not exist and the debate evinced immense interest. Gora was an observer and concluded the debate by his unanswerable and telling remarks and observations. He also unveiled the portrait of Late Periar (Great) Ramaswamy, one of the great modern thinkers and who revolutionised the thinking process of Tamilnadu in this century.

In 1972 we organised a cosmopolitan beef and pork dinner function at Coimbatore. Late Periar Ramaswamy, the iconoclast and octogenarian presided over the dinner function. The Atheist couple from Andhra Pradesh Mrs. Saraswathi Gora and Mr. Gora were the guests and guest-speakers. It was a grand function. More than 700 persons participated. Some of them were couples. Mrs. Saraswathi Gora spoke of her experiences as an atheist, in chaste Telugu. Gora delivered his speech in English. Periar Ramaswamy, President of the function, who knew Telugu. English and Tamil, spoke in Tamil. Speeches kept the audience spell-bound. All the hearers knew Tamil. Some of them knew English and Telugu. The entire audience were really enthused. This function attracted a lot of youth to the atheist fold. Mr. Gora and Mrs. Saraswathi Gora, born Brahmins ... giving up their cherished age-old privileges and high caste status, plunging and allying themselves with common folk, and participating in beef and pork dinner, are historic and were talked of as the magnificent achievement of atheist way of life. Late Periar Ramaswamy and Gora couple were my guests as usual. Periar and Gora moved like members of a family and exchanged their views on several matters in sweet Telugu.

Gora had all love for me and took me to be his atheist younger brother, along with many Rationalists in Tamilnadu. The first World Atheist Conference was held in 1972 at Vijayawada sponsored by Atheist Centre. Late Periar Ramasamy and Late Mr. G.D. Naidu had planned to attend the Conference, but they could not attend because of their serious illness. Gora delivered his keynote address, giving the substance of positive atheism. I was given the opportunity to introduce Gora's book "Positive Atheism" in the conference. The conference was a laudable success and helped in a great way to propagate atheism as a way of life.

Some time later I had another occasion to go to Atheist Centre and it was a pleasure to live with them and to see how a family of atheists actually live in day to day life. Atheist couple have a large family. Every one of them is not only an atheist but lives a life of Gandhism. The family is a harmonious blending of Gandhism and atheism. They are a simple folk, with high thoughts and ideals. They work like a watch, whose each part big or small, unitedly moves to keep up the correct time; the key is the mother, Mrs. Saraswathi Gora. It is a wonderful family, not very easy to follow. Each member of the family has married from different communities. Some of them are "untouchables". The family is cosmopolitan in nature and composition, as well as in practices. This family is the greatest achievement of Gora and Saraswathi Gora. The wonderful principles of Gandhism and atheism had solely contributed to this wonderful success. One can win another by convincing him and not by compulsion. Following this principle, Gora had reaped rich dividends.

We have seen that we can convert thousands of men to atheism but not one woman; the woman cannot be diverted from her traditional beliefs, customary practises and age-old thinking, inspite of best efforts. But in the family of Goras, women are as much sincere to atheism as men. We see the entire family is devoted to the ideal of atheism; atheism is not only an ideal with them but it is a matter of practical life. The names of the members of this atheistic family are not mere meaningless sounds; every name has a meaning, indicating a particular incident. Gora touched every aspect of human life and whatever he touched, he did not fail to improve or to give a new life. We from Tamilnadu also attended in large numbers, the 2nd World atheist conference held by the Atheist Centre in 1980. We were all really happy that the Atheist Centre is really a centre of world atheist activities. We are all happy to note that it also serves needy people and takes steps to alleviate human miseries in the surroundings. It is not a mere talking society; but it also acts and helps man. It does not consist of mere arm chair theoreticians but its members are active practical workers. Many have thought but I am not one of them -- that the Atheist Centre would cease to be atheistic after the death of Gora, the great founder. But under the able and effective guidance of Mrs. Saraswathi Gora, the light lit by Gora is becoming brighter and brighter and the banner of atheism unfurled by Gora is carried from State to State, from Country to Country, displaying to the world that India, alleged to be a country of Godmen, Vedas, and superstitions is really a land of humanism, rationalism, free thought and atheism. We wish the atheist centre all success.