Sruti is a term that describes the sacred texts, which comprise the central canon of Hinduism. These works span the entire history of Hinduism beginning with some of the earliest known Hindu texts and ending in the early modern period with the later Upanishads. Sruti are not man made but revealed knowledge heard by rishis (saints or sages). The revealed knowledge was spread and carried over generations spanning many centuries by word of mouth. The Srutis (sruthva) are therefore identified with the Veda itself. The Vedas were handed over thru generations by oral instructions, as the pivot of whole educational system of ancient India was the teacher or Guru. The Vedas are learnt by hearing hence they are Sruti.
Sruti literature differs from Smriti or "remembered" texts which refers to a specific body of Hindu religious scripture. The Smritikaraka defined the qualification of the Guru in their Smritis. Thus the human intervention through smritis was essential to preserve the purity of the imparting of Srutis. Also the Smriti mandates that the person who learns the Vedas should impart it to others and prescribes penalties for the failure of such duties. Thus traditionally the guru sishya parampara system ensured that the vedas were transmitted from one generation to the next by listening. This time-tested methodology because of its purity of transmission of knowledge by a proper guru, who was bound by the rules of the smritis on his conduct as a guru, was adopted as most suited mass communication methodology in discourses on Dharma to the common man. Our Smritis include Dharmasastra, Itihasa (Mahakavyas or Epics Mahabharata and the Ramayana), eighteen Puranas, Vedanga (the Shiksha, Vyakarana, Chandas, Nirukta, Jyotisha, & Kalpa), Agamas or the doctrines, Darsana or philosophies (Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa & Vedantas).
The Smritis were learnt by selected sishyas (Students) who by their religious discourses imparted mass knowledge. Sishyas are told by their gurus to do these discourses when they find them to be most suitable for propagation of our scriptures by Sravanam (Listening) and Pravachanam (Expounding). Hence it is but natural Sravanam (Listening) was sufficient in Bakthi marga, as constant sravanam leads to Keerthanam, (Singing the praise of the Lord) which is another limb of Bakthi. The Pattabisheka Sarga Pala sthuti in the Ramayana speaks only of Sravanam (Listening) and nowhere mentions Parayanam (Reading scriptures), which came only later when the written compositions became popular with scientific advance.
The Art of Hindu Religious Discourses was a necessary off shoot with meaningful interpretations of our Smritis and with necessary ancillary explanations. Religious Discourses thus became a purposeful scientific art, which only a select few who were well versed in our Sruti, Smritis, could do effectively and accepted as the Gurus in the field.
the beginning, our ancestors carried our traditions by word of mouth through
storytelling and discourses. This tradition has continued till today.
In India each region has developed its own style and tradition of religious
discourses in various regional languages. Epics, Puranas and ancient
stories of wisdom in Sanskrit were the common material for religious discourses
in most of the regions of India. Such performances were usually held in
Temples, weddings and other religious or social functions and nowadays
discourse has become a part of the fine art season in sabhas too.
The art of religious discourses was usually a one-person theatre, but now
a days more than one also perform. The performer had to be versatile and
resourceful in all the aspects of the exposition and was looked upon as
an acharya (teacher) who can explain religious and mythological texts of
the past with simplicity, to the present and future generations. Prasangam
(Lecture), Patakam (Dissertation), Upanyasam (Sermon), Pravachan (Expounding
Scriptures), Harikatha (Story of the Lord), Harikeertan (Lord's Praise),
Kalakshepa (Narration with Music), Villupattu (Reciting with bow instrument),
Burrakatha (Tales with Tambura Instrument) are some of the traditions that
are practiced in different parts of India. They are all similar in the
sense that they are all discourses and story telling on religious theme,
yet they are different in presentation style. Pravachana (Expounding
Scriptures) and Kathakalakshepa (Narration with Music) are the two main
forms of Hindu discourses popular throughout India.
of Religious Discourse
television and the computer have become our modern day raconteurs. Present
day discourses include satire and humor and are able to convey the message
in several languages and reach larger audiences. As long as there
are devotees to hear and pundits prepared to narrate, the art of Hindu
religious discourses will continue to be an interesting way to spend time,
spread bhakti and induce good character to the community.
C.R. Kaushik a freelance writer belongs to a Sastriya family of scholars and educationalists from Thanjavur District. The author grew up in Chennai and had most of the early education from the University of Madras and presently resides in Texas, USA. Indian Art, Culture, Tradition, Hinduism, Temples, Spirituality and Fine Arts are some of the author's favorite topics.