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Puranic Discourses and Films
(HinduDharma: Puranas)

In the days gone by Mother would rise with birdsong and go about her household chores. As she sprinkled the house and surroundings with cowdung water, , as she decorated the courtyard with kolam and as she churned the curds, she recited tales from the Puranas. Children got to know such stories by listening to their mother or grandmother. A deep impression is made on their youthful minds by listening to narratives that contain lessons in dharma, stories told with such art that the characters come to life. When the boys and girls grow up they add to their knowledge of the Puranas by reading or by listening to the pauranikas.

Today all such good practices are forgotten. From childhood itself people become addicted to film songs, politics, fiction, newspapers. It is true that puranic themes are enacted on the stage or potrayed on the screen and may be some people benefit a little. But it is doubtful whether they will have the right kind of knowledge of the Puranas from them. More often than not the impact made by puranic films is unhealthly since the producers usually attempt to make them as spicy or as exciting as possible with the addition of undesirable features for, after all, the purpose of making movies is popular entertainment, not providing moral or spiritual instruction. Cinema does not come under the category of kanta-sammita because the producers or directors abuse their licence, so much so that the original story is changed in an objectionable manner.

Those who frequently go to see a film or a dramatic performance become more interested in the qualities of the actors and actresses than in those of the characters of the stories itself.

You must listen to puranic discourses given by great men of virtuous conduct who are also steeped in the qualities of the high-souled characters whose stories they tell. Only then would you be drawn to the virtues exemplified by these characters and to the dharma practised by them. To listen to discourses given by pauranikas who are after money and fame and who do not practise the dharma that they ostensibly uphold is no better than seeing a drama or a movie. Dramatic (and cinematic) performances are likely to do good if they are based on the principles of drama enunciated in our canonical texts. For instance, only a couple married in real life can performance the roles of the a hero and a heroine [husband and wife] in a play. The sastras have also restrictions with regard to the enactment of erotic scenes [portrayal of srngara].

Nowadays puranic and other religous discourses are held almost every day in the towns and cities. I myself am amazed to see so many listed in the engagement columns of newspapers. Talks are given on religious themes, on stories, on the Puranas, in fact subjects I myself am not familiar with. People flock to them, educated people who may be said to be "modern" or "sophisticated". It seems as if there is a religious awakening.

But a point to consider is how far discourses given by pauranikas are in good taste. Adding a few stories on their own to the main theme is all right so as to enhance audience interest. Similarly, a little bit of humour and brief references to politics also seem to be not altogether improper. But these should not be far removed from the main story, the main theme, and must be without prejudice to the truths to be driven home to the listeners. Otherwise the whole exercise will be in bad taste ("rasabhasa" ). That which calls the Lord to mind is "rasa", a true flavour. The puranic stories must be told without straying too far from the text and a healthy impression must be made on the minds of the audience. The narrator must have faith in Isvara, must adhere to traditional customs and must firmly believe in dharma and in the principles he himself expounds in the course of his discourse. If he has profound knowledge of the subject of his talk he will not be tempted to depart from the main theme to tell irrelevant stories or make tangential references to current happenings. Puranic discourses will serve no purpose if they are treated as a pastime like films and fictions.

In the villages and the smaller towns not so many discourses and bhajans are held as in the cities and bigger towns. It is in places where more and more people have taken to the modern style of living (and perhaps as a reaction to it according to the Newtonian law) that you see a growth of interest in subjects related to our religious and cultural traditions. Religious or puranic discourses must be held in every village, also bhajans, at least on every Ekadasi.

"Hindu Dharma" is a book which contains English translation of certain invaluable and engrossing speeches of Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi MahaSwamiji (at various times during the years 1907 to 1994).
For a general background, please see here