Edgar Hütte tells Sophie French about what goes on behind the teaching at Veda Studies, how the students’ donations help support various causes and why we should all be thrilled about the new Veda Studies website and teaching platform.

The famous proverb, Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman works in reverse at the Veda Studies team. We all know and love our teacher, the Founder of Veda Studies, Shantala Sriramiah. But, the reason for Veda Studies and its success is actually two men (well, one man and a little boy) and also a little girl. Shantalaji often tells us the story that inspired Veda Studies. When her son Milan was born, she didn’t want him raised by a nanny or leave him at day-care and wanted to be present for her son. She decided to launch Veda Studies so she could spend more time with her son and later, with her daughter, Béla. While her children may have been the reason to start Veda Studies, the entire administration and back-end of Veda Studies is managed and executed by Edgar Hütte, Shantalaji’s husband. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Edgar in Mysore when Shantalaji was visiting the city in 2023 and I have brief glimpses of him during my meetings with Shantalaji to discuss these interviews and other administrative work. These brief but meaningful interactions with Edgar are sometimes what I look forward to most they’re interactions that are filled with kindness and Edgar’s very European sense of humour. But it’s the kindness that’s my favourite part. You sense it as soon as you meet him. He’s disarming. 

Edgar first became involved with Veda Studies in 2013 when Shantalaji had just launched Veda Studies. “I was helping with administration and dealing with all the receipts, invoices and the money streams. It’s something that every company everywhere in the world has to deal with, and Shantala is not a big fan of that so I took over that aspect quite a few years ago. I had my own business then so I dealt with my own administration, which was much more complicated than Veda Studies but basically because I knew the accountant and I know how it works. I did that work for my company and Veda Studies. Also, that way, the accounts we gave to our accountant even though we had two different businesses was streamlined,” says Edgar. 

In 2020, when the world was affected by what we all know was one of the worst pandemics of recent times, Edgar’s business had to shut down and that’s when he became more involved with Veda Studies. Recalling those years he says that, “I had a pretty nice travel tour operating agency which had to shut down overnight, so I had to deal with all that stuff. At the same time, Shantala couldn’t meet with her students for live classes anymore. At that time, she was meeting her students several times a week in Brussels, in various Yoga studios and also in our home. So even her offerings shut down. So many of us had to deal with this situation across the world. Fortunately, she had quite a few offerings online already like the self-paced courses and that’s when she started offering online live classes as well so she could continue her work without having to travel or meet her students in person. So while my business shut down, Veda Studies went the other way and I took over the administration so Shantala could focus on what she is destined to do.”

Meeting India

Edgar doesn’t recite Veda, at least not yet, and he isn’t Indian or Hindu but he isn’t a stranger to India or our culture. He spent a few years in India as he was working in Mumbai and even though he met Shantalaji for the first time in Amsterdam, they got to know each other when he was working in India and those meetings led to their marriage and subsequent move to Belgium. “I was living and working in Mumbai around 2007 but I think I was truly introduced to Indian culture when I met Shantala’s family. I didn’t travel to India as a yogi and I have no background in Indian spirituality so I can’t even recall when I first heard Veda recitation. I knew more about India historically and didn’t have any experience of its culture let alone religion. I think I absorbed Indian culture while I was living there and just experienced it. I think I heard chanting first or at least noticed it for the first time in Shantala’s home because her mother was also a teacher. But I really learned more about it in 2012 when Shantala started teaching and I am familiar with the sounds now. I can even tell the difference between sounds from one lineage to the other. I wake up to the sounds of Veda and hear it until I go to bed so I am surrounded by it,” explains Edgar. Lucky him!

Zara Hatke, Zara Bachke, Yeh Hai Mumbai, Meri Jaan

Only people who have lived in Mumbai can love it the way Mumbaikars do. I was thrilled to find out that Mumbai is Edgar’s favourite city in India. Most Westerners I interview are spiritual aspirants so the India they experience is very different from the India even we Indians experience. Edgar’s India is a more real India it’s daily life India. Talking about his time in India and especially Mumbai, he exclaims, “I always loved India. I think that a lot of yogis have this connection with India that is hard to explain. I always liked India but when I went there in 2007, I really experienced it. It’s such a huge country. It’s hard to understand all the differences inside the country. It’s hard to grasp how the relationships are going on between people or to understand the cultures, the backgrounds of people, or to even understand the cuisine which is completely different from state to state or region to region. I think Mumbai is by far my favourite city. I love Bangalore as well. It’s very nice. It’s very green but the life of Mumbai… you will not find it in any city anywhere else. The way people live and how hard they work is insane. I left Mumbai in 2010 and I often ask my friends in Belgium, ‘How many buildings in Mumbai have been constructed in the past decade that are higher than the highest building in Belgium?’ The answer is almost 200. Such is the speed of progress in Mumbai. In just 14 years, they built 200 skyscrapers! And it’s not only about skyscrapers. That’s just one proxy for how fast things are going in Mumbai and in India. It is something unheard of in Belgium or Western Europe. Of course, for millions of people life could still be much better in India but it has already improved so much and that is amazing to see. It’s something that we hardly realise here in the West how fast things can grow and how you can improve life if you work hard.”

Paying it Forward

If you’ve been studying and attending Veda sessions at Veda Studies, you know Shantalaji hosts free community events on Fridays, and the four weekly Gāyatrī Upāsana sessions are also free. The reason for these sessions is to encourage the awareness and practice of Veda. Shantalaji supports the Mysore Veda paramparā and her Guru Maṇḍala through dāna (donations)   it is her way to support the preservation and dissemination of Veda knowledge. Veda Studies also supports various organisations to create positive change and Edgar deals with this aspect of Veda Studies. “Shantala has been organising donation events or charity events for a respite home in Brussels. This is basically a house for very sick children or children who need extra care. They can stay at this home for a few days or weeks, so they can have a nice time with other children under professional guidance. We were touched by their work so we decided to help in our own way. When we choose which organisations to collaborate with, for me, just giving money is not enough. We want to work with causes that also have a good business model so that their work can create real impact. When Shantala and I decide to collaborate with a cause, we make sure that the money actually has an impact. In addition to this home, we are supporting three organisations locally. The first is a couple that has set-up stables for old horses and donkeys as these animals meet unfortunate ends in their old age. What we love about this organisation is that in addition to helping these animals, they also have another angle where they invite special needs children to interact with the animals. So we see children with mental disabilities spending time with these animals in open meadows and it is all so healing. Even the local village children are invited to spend time with the animals. So we love the work they are doing and we love supporting this project. The second project we support is the Belgisch Centrum voor Geleidehonden (Belgian Center for Guide Dogs). This organisation trains dogs to assist blind people, and the third project we recently started supporting is the Centrum ter Preventie van Zelfdoding (Center for the Prevention of Suicide). These past few years have been very difficult for people to deal with and I know people who struggled to deal and ended their lives. I lost a good friend to this, my father’s colleague lost a son and one of my colleagues lost his brother. I think that life is about living and if we can prevent people from taking this step with just a phone call, we must support that kind of help. We know a lot of stories where people who were contemplating suicide called this helpline and were able to gain the inspiration to live and get back on their feet. So we support this cause. Our plan is to start with local causes, then national causes and then help global organisations. Shantala is also keen on and already supports various organisations in India that are dedicated to the preservation of Veda. All of this is also possible because of the very generous donations we receive from the students and supporters of Veda Studies. It is incredible how the students are so generous and we always raise enough money to make a real impact so we are very grateful to the students for helping and being a part of this initiative,” says Edgar.

Veda Studies 2.0

Edgar is now working on the new website for Veda Studies which is going to be more interactive and allow students to share and collaborate more. “We hope to launch the new website soon. Shantala is very prolific and she is just offering course after course so just to transfer the content from the old system to the new has been a process. But we do think that the new website will give the students a better experience. It’s going to be easier to navigate and use, and especially for the live courses, we want to create more interaction opportunities for the students. Having said that, we want the focus to remain on the students and learning so it’s not like we’re doing some version of Facebook for Veda Recitation (laughs). But at least for the more advanced students, we want to create a place where they can share and exchange with other students in terms of learning. So there will be a platform where you can share information and experiences, and you can even share your recitations so other students can hear. We’re taking our time to make sure it is exactly what we and the students need and we will be launching it soon.” As a student of Veda Studies, I’m very excited by this news and I can’t wait to continue my learning with the Veda Studies community and my fellow students. A big thank you to Edgar for everything that you do for Veda Studies that enables Shantalaji to teach and allows us students to learn. 

For further information on Veda Studies or for information on the website, email Edgar at [email protected]