The Art of Hindu Religious Discourses
- C.R. Kaushik, Texas, USA
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.
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).
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.
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
Krishna Bhagavathar (1847-1903) and Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri
(1845-1911) were the pioneers of religious discourses in India. Both of
them had conducted programs together during their early days. Paruthiyur
Krishna Sastri later did only Pravachans with minimum music. Thanjavur
Krishna Bhagavathar continued his Kathakalakshepam style. Only Carnatic
Keerthanas were sung by Bhagavatars before, Thanjavur Krishna Bhagavatar
adopted fine elements from the Maharashtra naamkeertans, introducing various
forms like Saki, Dindi, Ovi, Arya, Abhanga pada etc. into the art of Kathakalakshepa
and started his own new style, which became the standard for all other
Bhagavatars in this field and he was considered as the 'Father of the
Thanjavur style of Kalakshepa'. Brahmasri Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri
pioneered his own style of Pravachans with slokas and chants and indepth
interpretations of every aspect of the story. Reading the original sloka
and presenting the meaning was the methodology followed by Pundits before.
Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri was the first exponent who gave various interpretations
and commentary to each verse and created a new style and was considered
the 'Father of Pravachans'.
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.
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.