He is a software professional and a speaker on religious texts. Meet 27-year-old Dushyanth Sridhar, the modern ‘upanyaskar’
In a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, 27-year-old Dushyanth Sridhar looks a cool dude ready to pack his bags for a holiday. He is in fact taking a group of children and teenagers on a Harry Potter’s trip.
He begins with the bespectacled magic wizard and slowly shifts to ‘Hari Potter’ and his friends Uddhava and Kuchela. The group is fascinated and they listen to him without a break.
At another session, he is talking about team-building exercises and explains how Sethu Bandhanam was built with a team support.
Meet Dushyanth Sridhar, the modern ‘upanyaskar’ who connects to the young though his discourses by bringing a contemporary perspective to epics and derives logic. Dushyanth, a post-graduate in chemical engineering from BITS Pilani also works for a software company.
Sridhar was in Hyderabad recently for the 53rd Sri Rama Navami Cultural Festival held at Keyes High School and impressed the gathering by speaking about ‘D. Rama weds J. Seetha’ in his Ramayana upanyasam. His bio speaks of his accomplishments with 750 religious discourses in four languages across the globe. He teaches Vedanta on Skype and his YouTube videos have generated 2, 25,000 views. As one asks him if anyone in his family has been a speaker of religious texts, he smiles, “My mother was a teacher, wore skirts and loved Beatles. My grandmother used to read Shakespeare and my father was quite unconventional and from the pharma industry.” When he was five, his mother got him enrolled in a Sanskrit class under guru Indira Rajagopalan. “Her idea was that Sanskrit would help me in my memory and grasp different languages. But I was reluctant to go to the class,” he recalls. The little stories of Bhagavatham and different episodes of epics got ingrained in his mind over a period of time.
Then at 18, when he was reciting a hymn in the temple at BITS, Pilani (where he was doing his chemical engineering), the principal heard him and suggested that he sharpen his skills; so he took classes from the pontiff of Ahobil Mutt. “On once occasion I was struggling to speak in Tamil in front of 40 students wearing jeans and a four layered sweater in zero degrees,” he remembers. After his education when he moved to Mumbai, one of his hymn recitations in a temple set the ball rolling for his first album on Ramayana, with 36 hours of his speech in English.
His discourses are primarily in Tamil and English interspersed with Kannada and Hindi. During a session he even sang a Bengali song Dhano Dhanya Pushpa. He became a familiar face on television with his religious discourses and delivering Upanyasams in his own style on Vijay, Sankara, Jaya, D D Podhigai and TTD-SVBC channels.
Yet Sridhar is no fuddy-duddy. The upanyaskar is a movie-buff who has watched the latest Ragini MMS 2 and Shaadi Ke Side Effects; on television, he watches Koffee with Karan.
If he is dressed traditionally in a kurta and dhoti and sports a tilak and studs in his ears for his sessions in India, he sports a different, casual avatar for his youth sessions abroad. What is distinctive about his lectures is the power point presentations and playful approach even while talking about Upanishads. “We have to talk to the Facebook generation in their language. One has to preach and practice. I become one among the youngsters to connect with them,” he affirms and adds, “While I am working, you will see me dressed like any other corporate guy. I don’t believe in carrying my religious beliefs to the work area. While having lunch, everyone shares their problems and I share my words of wisdom about different aspects of Ramayana and how it is relevant today.”
Sridhar encourages parents to motivate the young to connect to the Vedas. “One should make use of technology in a relevant way. One should inculcate a liking for ancient scriptures among children and it cannot be done in a forced manner. Sanskrit is a great exercise to the tongue,” he states.
Sridhar has been married recently and his wife is one of his biggest admirers. “She loves my lectures. I hope she continues to like my lectures then she will not mind my travel frequently,” he says with a laugh. His itinerary is set for the next two months till May 10 where he will be travelling to seven cities for his lectures.
His biggest plan is to start a school which will be a blend of ancient tradition and modernity, where science and Vedas will be taught simultaneously. “If children learn religion and science together at a young age, they will not question religion when they grow up,” he notes. He concludes with this suggestion for parents: “Encourage your children to ask questions. Do not create fear but induce Bhakti slowly.”