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SYMPHONY Damal and Perundevi at a performance
SYMPHONY Damal and Perundevi at a performance

RANEE KUMAR

Ramakrishnan and Perundevi make religious discourses enlivening and reach out to the younger generation.

The duo is a unique brother-sister combo. Both are professionals in their own right and yet, together, they share a common cultural platform. Damal S. Ramakrishnan and Perundevi are sought after scholars for their Puranic discourses. While in the city for the week-long Sri Ramanavami celebrations, they shared their views with Friday Review.Damal is the name of their ancestral village near Kanchipuram. The mention of mythology and talks on ancient epics is enough to conjure up images of dhoti-clad, tilak smeared old man, very unimpressive but looked up to by our grandparents who probably are interested in such `discourses.' But this duo takes you by surprise. For here is a good-looking man in his 40s, who is conversant in English as he is in Tamil. He would pass off as an income tax practitioner that he is by profession but he is also at ease in a bhagavatar attire that suits his second calling — Pravachanams (delivering lectures on religion) on stage. His sister and co-partner on the podium, Perundevi, is also a highly accomplished lady who can render Sanskrit slokas effortlessly and can effortlessly converse with you in both English and Tamil. Perundevi, too, has a nine-to-four job at LIC, Chennai and discourses are her evening avocation.The brother-sister's religious dais spans across 36 years. Such scholarship and talent has to blossom in childhood. This is how it all started: "We owe this blessing to our father, Srinivasa Iyengar, who was a renowned scholar and speaker of his times. If he inspired us to taking up our epics with a sense of dedication and discipline, our mother initiated us into reciting the verses with melodic intonation and then took trouble to teach us the inner and immediate meaning of every part of the epic we took up. She used to take us both to many religious discourses." The unassuming Perundevi effortlessly talks about Narayaneeyam. It's just a taste of the immense treasure of Sanskrit literature in her arsenal, not to mention Ramayana and Mahabharatha, which she took up along with her brother for the Ramanavami discourses here. While her rendition and elucidation were lucid, Ramakrishnan's was appealing even to children. There were as many children at the discourse venue as were senior citizens. "We are visiting Hyderabad after more than 30 years; it was an enriching experience for us. We were fielding questions every evening and most of them were from school children! Their queries were intelligent and it was heartening to know that GenNext does show interest in mythological stories," says Ramakrishnan. He makes it a point to reach out to the younger generation though the subject he's dealing with is centuries old. "No metaphysics; simple narration with sublime textual verses interspersed with topical instances. That's the way I fashion my discourses," he says. Though the talks are in Tamil the duo remind us that they also get invited to take up the stage in north India and sometimes abroad. "Then there will be more of English spiced with Tulsidas' Ramacharitra Manas quotations and so on. We've seen people listening with rapt attention. We believe it's a divine blessing," Perundevi signs off.

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