Upanyasam no longer the forte of the old and wise

Youngsters, some as little as 10 years old, are holding religious discourses, and drawing huge crowds

February 06, 2015 12:00 am | Updated 08:08 am IST

Listening to stories is something everybody enjoys, even elders. And, in Chennai, tales of gods and goddesses have an even larger fan following.

Religious discourses where feats of Lord Rama are belted out, or the mystery of Sri Parthasarathy Perumal’s white moustache decoded, are extremely popular.

Though famous names include Velukkudi Krishnan, Damal Ramakrishnan and Perundevi, V.S. Karunakarachariar, Kidambi Narayanan and Vishaka Hari, youngsters too are making it to the dais and drawing large crowds.

TCS employee Dushyanth Sridhar is just 28 but has over 1,100 upanyasams to his credit.

He also has a huge online following (one million-plus views online).

“The first time I gave an upanyasam was at BITS Pilani, where I did the Ramayana. I speak in English too so it appeals to the younger generation. I also deliver upanyasams in Hindi and speak in Kannada. I sing Marathi and Bengali songs,” says the youngster who sleeps just three-and-a-half hours a day.

His interest in listening to upanyasams grew as a child, listening to giants like Mukkur Lakshminarasimhachariar and Sengalipuram Anantharama Dikshitar that his grandparents used to play on tape. It is an inherent interest in storytelling that brings most youngsters to upanyasams .

S. Manikandan, whose impressive biodata includes a course from The Music Academy’s Advanced School of Carnatic Music, says he loves telling stories.

Interest in storytelling

“I started in 2009 and draw my inspiration from Dikshitar’s krithis . Since upanyasam involves storytelling and singing, my Carnatic music background helps. My gurus have been kind enough to explain the meanings of songs while teaching them,” he says.

A lot of school students too are taking to upanyasams. G. Magesh, a class XI student of Vivekananda Vidyalaya in Chromepet, has around 60 upanyasams to his credit.

“As a child, I listened to a lot of stories from my grandfather and would narrate them to family and friends. When I had to enter a competition in school, my mother suggested I deliver an upanyasam and that’s how it began,” says the student who balances academics and upanyasam .

He has a library of around 300 religious books.

Ten-year-old K.S. Saidarshan has a slightly different style. He does harikatha with a full orchestra. He says he picked up the skill from his mother V.K. Subha.

“My mother teaches me the stories, and I like to tell jokes. I have been learning Carnatic music for a year now but have been singing bhajans with my parents for quite sometime,” says the youngster.

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