Dushyanth Sridhar is the new wonder boy of Harikatha. BITS, Pilani, from where he secured his engineering degree, is in no way connected with his present day world of Harikatha and Sanatana Dharma. He has given up an active professional career in Mumbai and his engineering moorings to take up religious discourses full-time.
Dushyanth has also had to take the decision of moving to Chennai if he wanted to concentrate on Harikatha. These days he spends as much time as possible in Chennai, to meet the rigorous schedule of sabha programmes, besides continuing to do some work as a consultant to a consultancy services firm. He has now settled down in Chennai.
This young scholar, twenty eight years old, did his schooling in Bangalore and Chennai. He later learnt Sanskrit and Tamil scriptures and is presently trained in the higher Vedanta under illustrious scholars. He has learnt classical Carnatic music. He has visited several countries as well.
Dushyanth is now a familiar figure in Tamil television channels.
His strength is a sound knowledge of the Shastras but more important is his ability to connect with different age groups in the audience especially the youth.
He has introduced a Breathless Ramayana, which is available as a DVD. "To encourage our classical works and above all, Sanskrit - the language to which the world is yet to spot a match, it becomes imperative on us, the artists to take to the listener, the best of the pieces. This is undoubtedly, one such composition that I have been rendering since my childhood. I hope, this breathless-like rendition reaches the ears of many people worldwide and may the beauty of Sanskrit and of course Ramayana - the sweetest epic known touch their hearts," says Dushyanth Sridhar.
Dushyanth Sridhar, an exponent on the religious texts of Sanatana Dharma, has travelled widely and is a regular speaker on television channels. He is trained in the necessary scriptures by revered preceptors and has been duly acclaimed by them for his oratorical skills. He has visited several countries as well. Dushyanth stands out with his own brand of humour and narrative style. He can sing as well, though he doesn't believe in overdoing music.
Q: How did you get an inclination or an urge to take up Harikatha? After all, you were studying engineering at BITS, Palani. At what stage in your college life, did you decide to move away from engineering to religious discourses as a career?
Dushyanth: Actually, I had a liking for public speaking even during my school days. I spent some time studying the scriptures, learning Sanskrit and even attempted doing Harikatha in college, as the then vice chancellor, Mr Venkateswaran, too supported my discourses. At that time, it was mostly a group of students and some faculty members who formed the audience. However, their response was good and I decided to take it up more seriously. After completing college, I did a discourse or two in Mumbai. A Tamil television channel spotted this and its telecast of a Harikatha was noted by a number of people and gradually more and more people began inviting me for religious discourses in Mumbai and Chennai. I went in for thorough training as well. Soon, I began doing discourses, some in Tamil and some in English.
Q: You have also been doing some discourses in languages other than Tamil too? Like Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam?
Dushyanth: In fact, I had to put in a lot of effort to acquire proficiency in Tamil. Initially, my Tamil was not very good, though it was my mother-tongue, since I lived outside Tamil Nadu most of the time. I also picked up enough knowledge of other languages as well. Initially, I had to work hard to know Sanskrit well -- to read the scriptures, the epics and so on. Once I could follow Sanskrit, it became easier to learn other languages as Sanskrit words were quite common in Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada besides Hindi. Ideally, one should learn as many languages as possible. There is nothing wrong in learning a language. It helps one read the great works of literature or religion in the original language, and that helps in better understanding of the text.
Q: How do the youth respond to Harikatha? There is a general perception that the youth do not care for serious stuff like discourses or even classical art forms. Is this perception correct?
Dushyanth: I don't think it would be correct to state that the youth are not interested in classical art forms, Harikatha etc. The problem is that our education system is flawed. The youth, in general, do not connect with the style of communication and imparting knowledge by most of the teachers. Lessons are not taught in an interesting manner. A dull presentation leaves the student disinterested. Instead, the education system should promote better use of communication techniques, narrative styles so that the student attends classes with interest. Though majority of the people attending my religious discourses are old, there is a fair amount of participation by the youth as well as I have a different narrative style, and talk their language. I refer to Facebook, Twitter, computer language too and IT skills to communicate, and this has appealed to the younger generation. Many youths show interest in our scriptures and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharat. I try to spend time with them as well and establish a connect with them.
Q: This break from the traditional style of discourses -- how is it seen by the orthodox sections of the audience, and others?
Dushyanth: I believe we must have a pleasing narrative style that communicates the essence of the scriptures. The important thing is not to be preoccupied with the story part like in Ramayana or Mahabharat, as the main story line is known to almost everyone. What is more important is to highlight the mission of Dharma, the challenges in taking decisions in a crisis relating to administration or family, and how the right choices need to be made in the interest of society as a whole. I relate these problems to present day life too so that the audience can understand the situation better, and draw the right conclusions about the path they should take.
Q: In terms of audience response, do things vary abroad? How do foreigners respond to Indian Harikatha? Is there a difference of perception between audiences abroad and in India?
Dushyanth: I think the audience abroad is more receptive to the nuances involved. For example, they have a questioning mind. They are full of questions as to why this was done, and why this was not followed etc. So, you have to explain to them every little thing, and they are willing to listen and learn about it.
Q: Travel -- discourses in various places means you have to travel a lot? How many countries are interested in Harikatha, and are people generally interested in attending more discourses than before?
Dushyanth: I have visited 30 cities and five countries. I have given over 1,000 lectures. In general I would say that more people follow Harikatha now than say a few years before. In the distant past, a lot of people would attend religious discourses or attend Carnatic music concerts, as there were no choices before them. Today, television and cinema are huge distractions. In this atmosphere, it is extremely difficult to wean them away from the influence of cinema to Harikatha. However, I must say that there is greater interest in Harikatha if presented in an interesting way. That is what I am attempting to do. Definitely, there is greater interest in Harikatha in the last few years.
Q: How do you see Bhakti among people. I am puzzled to see a businessman doing an elaborate pooja in the morning in his office before commencing work, and then once he takes up business work minutes later, he has no problem in violating laws, using illegal short-cuts or committing sins. If he genuinely believes God is omnipresent, surely he knows that God is seeing his misdeeds. The second type of person, who is also extremely religious, believes he can do anything illegal but he can still do his puja the next day and God will forgive him, and help him make more money illegally. Isn't this a contradiction, a dichotomy in what we see as Bhakti or faith?
Dushyanth: God is omnipresent, and he can certainly keep track of every person's deeds and misdeeds.
Here, in the two types you have mentioned, there are two things involved. One is Bhakti or faith. The second is Realisation. The Bhakti of these two types is superficial. What is more important is for a person to attain Realisation not just faith. He should acquire the inward Realisation to be true to oneself and others, and not commit misdeeds even if he is handling his business. Today, we see in public life -- there are so many people who profess many things but misuse power and benefits or cheat people, and still go about their daily life as nothing is wrong. It is only an inward Realisation that can take them to the right path.
Q: There is also the question of a set of people who would have had a dubious past, but after they had amassed huge wealth, go in for what is called straight business or put a certain percentage of money in a temple hundi or indulge in some charity. Should such persons be spared or forgiven and should a part of their money, may be ill-gotten wealth in the past or the present, presented as charity, be accepted by a temple or by organisations or the government? Or should the money be seen as tainted and rejected?
Dushyanth: The important thing is that a person who has committed sins in the past, should tell himself that he will not commit any more sins. Second, as far as the money for charity goes, there is no harm in a temple or some organisation accepting is as long as it is meant to help the poor and needy, or some projects for betterment of society. Still, cash is more acceptable than food or gold. Money is not eaten and will not remain in our bodies, unlike food (which enters the body) and gold (worn). It is better not to accept food or gold from such persons. Money, on the other hand, changes hands. It is passed on to the needy for charitable projects, and the currency notes will not remain with us.
Q: I have heard your passing reference in a discourse that one should not keep animals at home as pets. Are the Shastras against it?
Dushyanth: There is nothing specific but the Shastras clearly indicate that there is a place for animals where they can live peacefully and that is the jungle or the forest area. Basically, it is wrong for man to detain animals at home, confine them to a house, deprive them of living in a natural habitat along with other animals, and so on. Life is complicated as it is for man, and there are so many things that he needs to do. Why add to the complexity by having animals at home. In fact, there are only a couple of references about an animal in God's abode, though gods and goddesses have used animals for various purposes. The excuse given for modern-day use of pets is that "oh, they are so affectionate. The moment we come home, we are received with their wonderful welcome". Why look for animals alone to show affection?
Q: Exactly. Surely, human beings can be more affectionate towards one another, relatives can show more affection, why should they expect a dog to be affectionate? Should they not seek to minimise emptiness or loneliness in their lives, by showing warmth and affection to one another?
Dushyanth: Yes, certainly, showing affection towards dogs and cats is just a form of escapism. Instead, they should improve their lives by being more affectionate towards one another, and show true love. There is also the problem of cleanliness and hygiene in houses, and soiling roads and public places in the name of taking the animals out for a walk. However, essentially I think it is cruel to confine them to houses instead of allowing them to live in their traditional habitats. It is not that the shastras or the gods were against animals. Far from it. They wanted animals to be in designated places..
Q: Like cows in goshalas?
Dushyanth: Exactly. Goshalas take good care of cows and their needs are met in a good environment which is as natural as possible. Gods wanted men to take care of animals in places meant for their safety and comfort. Not in the narrow confines of a house, or worse, small flats.
Q: What about dress? These days, there is a lot of discussion about dress code and so on.
Dushyanth: Curiously, when I go abroad in a traditional dhoti, and sport the namam, and so on, no one is worried about what I wear and how I look. The only thing that happens sometimes is that some are curious to see what the dress is, but usually the question is accompanied by an exclamation, How nice, or something like that. In India, people tend to stare at you, or glare at you, as if you are wearing a wrong dress, or that you should not be in traditional attire in public places.
By R. Rangaraj