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`Modern' approach to scriptures

Prema Pandurang's lectures on the scriptures are presented in interesting ways relevant to contemporary society. She is involved in charitable activities as well.

RACONTEUR PAR EXCELLENCE: Prema Pandurang. — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

PREMA PANDURANG is a raconteur par excellence whose devotional discourses are attended by a cross section of society within the country and abroad. Her lectures on the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavatam and Narayaneeyam are presented in an interesting and attractive format. They are interspersed with renditions of the shlokas, explanations and bhajans. Analogues drawn from contemporary life woven into the lectures enhance the presentations considerably. She is actively involved in charitable activities. She runs an ashram in Sriperumbudur managed by the Kshetropasana Trust. Excerpts from an interview:

Today quite a few people are taking recourse to spirituality in different ways. There are many stress busters. Is this more a fashion fad or are people genuinely taking to this?

Each one has his own conscience. I can't make a bland generalisation and say people don't practise what they listen to. It is difficult to practice in one day, or a year. One may go on listening to discourses and sometimes it percolates into the soul and changes you. It may take some time but I am sure there is a genuine interest, otherwise people will not be sitting in such things for hours.

People are taking increasingly to yoga, meditation and other forms.

It is giving them some peace of mind. These are age-old methods which are coming back to popularity.

Are age-old methods being repackaged?

It has to be. Ancient truths come back in new forms.

Are morals and ethics declining today?

Again, that is a generalisation. What we would desire is people who are ruling, who are in significant positions to uphold values. This has an impact. If the common man fails to have values then it does not make any impact on the nation. But if a big institution or a leader does not have values, you somehow feel the nation is falling. That's what the Ramayana says. If an individual falls, an individual falls, but if the leader falls, the kingdom falls with him.

Do you feel a sense of achievement when more people come to the lectures. Is it visible in concrete terms?

When the audience is in thousands I cannot evaluate. But when they come and meet me individually I know the impact has been made. That gives me joy. I feel the message has reached. There is a satisfaction.

Is the Bhagavad Gita being used as a management treatise by corporates today?

The approach of the Gita is psychological. It is about the mind. The whole problem of Arjuna is attitude - perspective. And that is one of the main points in management - how you look at things and how you respond. The book talks about a sense of duty, values and commitment, humility - the management schools have a lot to learn from it. It has been and is being used. It is easy to understand and relate to it.

The youth today are influenced by the West in terms of dress code, music, lifestyle. What do you think are the reasons for this? How can one make them look at their own culture?

We have not presented our culture in a way that attracts the youth. But if you do they will come. One has to relate it to them - not just give them do and don'ts - but dialogues and workshops can be helpful.

There is a feeling that anything to do with spirituality is for the older people.

We are not going now. We will go when we are sixty is the attitude of the young. The young need it right now more than the old.

Is there a significant increase in the numbers of youngsters attending your lectures?

Yes, because of the medium - English

Is the West looking at the East particularly India for spiritual solutions?

It's not new. It's a very ancient one. All our ancient texts have attracted the West.

What is your message to society?

I feel with the growth in technology and scientific discoveries Man has grown intellectually, technologically. Somewhere the crux of life is missing. I want him to find his moorings. For me his moorings are faith. Divine power is the guiding, guarding, governing and kind spirit. Awakening of a sense of faith in the Lord I think transforms your life. It makes you a strong, kind and humble individual. In short, it makes you a beautiful soul.

Is faith declining?

No, It needs a little support every now and then. That is why we preachers are reminders. The human heart naturally loves, human mind naturally believes. The belief has to be boosted up now and then.

Could you elaborate on your charitable activities in Sriperumbudur?

Our main trustee Krishnakumarji who met me 20 years ago asked me if I was happy as a preacher. I said no. I feel a preacher is just like a performer. She comes, speaks and goes.

I want to be involved with society. Religion and service, the two words of Vivekananda, came back to me. We started a small ashram, an old-age home and a goshala.

There is an ayurvedic hospital which caters to the poor. We feed poor children and give them moral education. We celebrate every Indian festival with 5000 poor children.

Are you writing books?

I have started writing on the Gita. Right now I am bringing out cassettes.

Would they be recordings of your performances?

Some would be independent.

What are your other plans?

I have a long-term ambition of setting up a college of values. I would call it a utopian dream. Today there does not seem to be any parameters to measure values except success. I want an academic university but like a gurukulam with all the facilities of a modern college. Fortunately I find the response good. Whomsoever I talk to feel it is the need of the hour but they feel it is idealistic. But I am sure it will materialise one day as it is a dream near to my soul. Ultimately man needs values. Unfortunately he thinks non-values will pay but non-values may have a short-term profit

Have you ever thought of conceptualising seminars or workshops for the children and youth?

We have started thinking on these lines. Recently during my Bhagavata discourse in Kolkata, we had a children's session where there was a huge gathering of 20,000 students from different schools. We call it samskara parva. I want to conduct a teacher's training programme at Sriperumbudur - initially for a month and later for a year. The teachers should go back as our ambassadors of values. Nobody knows how rich India is. Children should know the ancient heritage.


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