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MIZZOU'S YEARBOOK: The Savitar named for ancient sun god from India, new book explains

A "long cultural cooperation" also brought black and gold -- and a Bengal tiger named for a US President
 
COLUMBIA, Mo 8/21/13 (Beat Byte) -- If during a game of Trivial Pursuit, you get the question "How did Mizzou's yearbook get its name?" a new book has the answer.
 
An exotic, far-off land, an ancient god, and a century-old multicultural cooperation gave The Savitar its name, writes Murari Lal Nagar, a retired Ellis librarian.  His new book, The Savitar: Vedic Sun God of Light and Learning Alights at the University of Missouri tells how a Mizzou connection to India that dates back to the 1890s also gave the school its Bengal tiger mascot and black-and-gold colors.
 
"The story of the Savitar yearbook is the story of a multifaceted cultural cooperation and exchange of ideas that continues to this day," Nagar explains. "The University of Missouri has a reputation for welcoming international students and embracing different cultures."

The Savitar stopped printing in 2006, but 112 years earlier, "years of thought" prompted its first editors to settle on the name.  "Savitar" was the sun god of Veda, an ancient religion in India that generated some of the worlds oldest scriptures, the four books of Vedas

A word in the Sanskrit language, veda means "knowledge," an apropos choice for a university.

Savitar was not a mysterious god seen only by the faithful, but the most prominent feature on Earth: The Sun. At the same time, Savitar has many features of a god: you can't view him directly; he is the very definition of light and dark; and though he exists 93 million miles away, without him all life on Earth would perish.

This passage from the Rigveda, one of the Veda's four books, describes a daily event in sacredly poetic terms: "God Savitar, approaching on the dark blue sky, sustaining mortals and immortals, comes on his golden chariot beholding all the worlds."
 
What is that daily event?  A collection of hymns, the Rigveda is describing dawn.

Beside Savitar, Nagar and and his editor, Missouri School of Journalism student Christine Soucy, say they uncovered "countless" other connections between Mizzou-ian symbolism and Indian religious tradition.  Black and gold are also Savitar's colors, and the tiger is "the symbolic animal of India and more or less the country's mascot" Soucy explains.
 
A 1965 National Defense Education Act designation brought Nagar to Mizzou's South Asian Language and Area Center, where the school had amassed a "noteworthy collection of Indian literature and art," he explains.  He revived the teaching of Sanskrit, the primary liturgical language of the world's one billion Hindus, but also a major scholarly language of Buddhism's 1.2 billion adherents.

No wonder then it was "with much fear and trembling we submit our maiden effort," the yearbook's first editors wrote in 1894.  "The love of our Alma Mater and the thought of after-years spur us on. May someone in the distant future rise up and call us blessed, because of the fond memories brought back by the perusal of The Savitar."


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