Neelanjan Dev Bharadwaj’s harikatha on ‘Rukmini Parinayam’ was interesting in parts.

The D.S. Foundation was set up in memory of Devanathan Srinivasan, whose grandfather was Maha-Mahopadhyaya Vedantachariar, principal of the Thiruvaiyaru Sanskrit College. The Trust has been involved in exploring traditional knowledge in a modern context, in service projects like the rehabilitation of ancient temples and in organising religious discourses and lectures.

As part of this effort, Neelanjan Dev Bharadwaj, son of late Devanathan Srinivasan, gave a harikatha performance at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. Although he called it harikatha, it had none of the features of that. As it often happens, harikatha was confused with sangeetha upanyasam, although the two are distinctly different.

Neelanjan is young and began suitably humbly, quoting Kalidasa, and saying that his attempt was akin to someone thinking he could cross an ocean in a catamaran. He has not had formal vocal training, a fact that was evident in the lack of modulation and finish in his voice.

Formal training needed

If he wishes to continue this format of part lecture and part music, he must get some formal training in singing. His diction needs improvement too.

He also needs to study a lot more, and through a guru. He has currently had a few years of training and says he has picked up a lot through the Internet and by listening to discourse CDs of other speakers. That is hardly the way to learn our vast religious literature. One has to go to the source, and read up the texts, with the guidance of a guru.

The topic he had chosen was ‘Rukmini Parinayam,’ which is an easy enough one to discourse on, given the dramatic elements in the story – a clandestine love letter, snatching away of Rukmini in the nick of time and skirmishes with villains. That perhaps saved the day for Neelanjan, who wisely kept away from more difficult subjects for his discourse. He explained each of the names Rukmini uses to address the Lord, and spoke of the role of Mahalakshmi in saving us.

Was it necessary for him to be an apologist for English? English has 26 letters, and the digits add up to eight, which is the number of aksharas in the Ashtakshara mantra, and that makes the use of English in a discourse suitable, he argued! To believers, the Ashtakshara is greater than the Universe and all that is in it. To equate it with a mere language would therefore be unacceptable.