India-Info title

home contact search menu
Follow on
Snippets of Information

* 18 Aug 21
Religious discourses
were essentially a means of communicating the essence of the great scriptures - the epics, puranas,  to thecommon man through easily acceptable formats, different methods of storytelling.

Smriti or "remembered" texts which refers to a specific body of Hindu religious scripture.  The Smritikaraka defined the qualification of the Guru in their Smritis. Thus the human intervention through smritis was essential to preserve the purity of the imparting of Srutis. Also the Smriti mandates that the person who learns the Vedas should impart it to others and prescribes penalties for the failure of such duties. Thus traditionally the guru sishya parampara system ensured that the vedas were transmitted from one generation to the next by listening.  This time-tested methodology because of its purity of transmission of knowledge by a proper guru, who was bound by the rules of the smritis on his conduct as a guru, was adopted as most suited mass communication methodology in discourses on Dharma to the common man.  Our Smritis include Dharmasastra, Itihasa (Mahakavyas or Epics Mahabharata and the Ramayana), eighteen Puranas, Vedanga  (the Shiksha, Vyakarana, Chandas, Nirukta, Jyotisha, & Kalpa), Agamas or the doctrines, Darsana or philosophies (Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa & Vedantas). 

Right from the beginning, our ancestors carried our traditions by word of mouth through storytelling and discourses. This tradition has continued till today.  In India each region has developed its own style and tradition of religious discourses in various regional languages.  Epics, Puranas and ancient stories of wisdom in Sanskrit were the common material for religious discourses in most of the regions of India. Such performances were usually held in Temples, weddings and other religious or social functions and nowadays discourse has become a part of the fine art season in sabhas too.  The art of religious discourses was usually a one-person theatre, but now a days more than one also perform. The performer had to be versatile and resourceful in all the aspects of the exposition and was looked upon as an acharya (teacher) who can explain religious and mythological texts of the past with simplicity, to the present and future generations. Prasangam (Lecture), Patakam (Dissertation), Upanyasam (Sermon), Pravachan (Expounding Scriptures), Harikatha (Story of the Lord), Harikeertan (Lord's Praise), Kalakshepa (Narration with Music), Villupattu (Reciting with bow instrument), Burrakatha (Tales with Tambura Instrument) are some of the traditions that are practiced in different parts of India. They are all similar in the sense that they are all discourses and story telling on religious theme, yet they are different in presentation style.  Pravachana (Expounding Scriptures) and Kathakalakshepa (Narration with Music) are the two main forms of Hindu discourses popular throughout India.
Source:  The Art of Hindu Religious Discourses, - C.R. Kaushik, Texas, USA,

* 18 Aug 21
Harikatha or Kalakshepam
Harikatha (lit. "Stories of the Lord"), otherwise called Katha Kalakshepa is a form of Hindu religious discourse was introduced to Tamilnadu by the Maharashtrian Keerthankars during Maratha rule in Thanjavur during the 17th century.  The Bhakti movement of Maharashtra, called Bhagavata Sampradaya, saw saints like Janabai, Ghorakumba, Vikoba, Namdev, Jnandev and others use simple verses to show people the path to salvation.

The songs by the Odhuvars, Villupattu, upanyasam were prevalent for a long time in South India. It is this art form that was modified and refined during the Maratha rule. Marathas were great supporters of art and culture, and Carnatic music flourished and grew during their rule.

During the 17th and the 18th century, the Marathi Harikatha was introduced in Thanjavur. To Tukaram goes the credit of amalgamating the elements of the Varkari tradition with its emphasis on songs and chants, and the Naradiya tradition with its emphasis on narration. Tukaram’s Harikirtana was later codified by Samartha Ramadas, who gave it the name Harikatha.  Samartha Swami introduced Harikatha in Tamil Nadu.  He established his Mutt in 1663.  Some of his disciples like Bhimaraja Goswami conducted keertans and bhajans in the Mutt regularly. During the late 17th century, many other Maratha keerthankars helped popularize the Harikatha style. One of the early pioneers of Harikatha in Tamil Nadu was Thanjavur Krishna Bhagavatar (1847 - 1903), who wanted to improve the Kalakshepa style.

Harikatha involves the narration of a story, intermingled with various songs relating to the story. Usually the narration involves numerous sub-plots and anecdotes, which are used to emphasize various aspects of the main story. The main story teller is usually assisted by one or more co-singers, who elaborate the songs and a Mridangam accompanist. The storyteller uses a pair of cymbals for maintaining the beat.

The Marathi Keertan or Harikatha were of two types: Varkari and Narada. The Varkari style consisted of singing various compositions of Marathi saints. These songs were accompanied by explanations of these songs. There was no appreciable story telling in this style. The Narada style, which became popular in the Thanjavur court, gave importance to stories from prominent epics. Thanjavur Krishna Bhagavathar adapted the Marathi metrical compositions used in stories to highlight the mood and the characters.
After Krishna Bhagavathar the noted stalwarts in the field were:
1. Sri Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar
2. Sri Mangudi Chidambara Bhagavathar
3. Sri Chidambaram Srirangachariar
4. Sri Srirangam Sadagopachariar
5. Sri S.T.Srinivasachariar
6. Sri Tirupazhanam Panchapakesa Sastrigal
7. Sri Pandit Lakshmanachar
8. Sri Avaduyarkoil Harihara Bhagavathar
9. Sri Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar
10. Sri Thiruvaiyaru Annasamy Bhagavathar
11. Sri Neduntheru Sadagopachariar
12. Sri Embar Vijayaraghavachariar
13. Sri Balakrishna Sastrigal

Noted lady exponents of Harikatha were:
1. Smt. C. Saraswathi bai
2. Smt. Kanagambhujam
3. Smt. Banni bai
Source: ;

"For 100 years (1860-1960) we followed Krishna Bhagavathar's Marathi tradition. We are at the crossroads now. We need elements like short, simple songs and a livelier narration to make it entertaining. We have to pitch the story telling in a language that is colloquial and easily understood. In Tamil Nadu we sing in four languages. "
Source: Premeela Gurumurthy,

* 1 Aug 21
Harikatha and Burrakatha are two great art forms in Telugu. Harikatha means the stories of Lord Hari, so it is all about devotional. Burrakatha is keen on patriotic or historic subjects such as Alluri Sitarama Raju, Palnati Yuddham, and Bobbili Yuddham etc. This was introduced during the English rule in India, to motivate people to take part in the struggle for independence. Harikatha makes the people devotional, and expose them to the holistic knowledge.

* 30 Jul 21
Paruthiyur Sri Krishna Sastri (1842-1911), revered as 'Paruthiyur Periyava' 'Pravachana Pithamaha' and 'Ramayanam Sastrigal' was a pioneer of Hindu religious discourses. He was considered the greatest exponent of the Ramayana, who had traveled all over India and had conducted discourses in various subjects spreading the knowledge. He was a versatile Sanskrit scholar well versed in Vedas, who was good with ragas and had conducted many Harikatha Kalakshepa, narrating story with music in a grand style. With good knowledge of the Sastras, he quoted from Pracheena Vyakyanas like Govindaraajeeya Kavyas and Thilaka Vyakyanas in his lectures and his Pravachanas made him most famous. Sastri was an avid connoisseur of Hinduism, a Philanthropist and above all he was a great Bhakta with immense devotion to Sri Rama.
Reference: Brahmasri Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri by C.R. Kaushik,, 2008

* 30 Jul 21
Pravachan (Expounding Scriptures)
“Pravachanam” is a Sanskrit word which means a discourse from a Guru on any matter related to spirituality or code of conduct. In the good old days of Guru-Shishya tradition, Gurus dedicated their lifetime propagating the principles they believed through “Pravachanams” to the interested Shisyas in particular, and to the common public in general.

Purana-Pravachana, literally means, "expounding the Purana". Pravachan  is a form of Hindu religious discourse, which are lectures about scriptures. The Pauranika or the Pravachan pandit becomes a spiritual interpreter of these scriptures. Pravachans usually have a religious theme, usually the life of a saint or a story from one of India’s epics.  He elaborates on the significance of the sloka or scripture he reads and gives several bhavas and angles to look at a single verse or even a single word. Upanyasa or Pravachanas concentrated mainly on Sanskrit  and Tamil texts. Music was kept to a minimum and was used sparingly to recite the slokas. Reading the original sloka and presenting the meaning was the methodology followed by Pravachan pundits.
The 19th-century Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri provided interpretation and commentary for each verse; creating a new style, he is considered the father of pravachans. Pravachan, Patakam and Upanyasam can be synonyms for the narration of stories from epics and puranas and the interpretation of scriptures.