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In Conversation With Prema Pandurang

Ranjani Saigal

Bhakthi Bharathi Professor Prema Pandurang was professor of English for postgraduate students in the Presidency College in Chennai for around two decades.
She has been giving spiritual discourses on the puranas and other Holy Scriptures since she was 15.
She drew inspiration from her father Dr.P.Nagaraj Rao, a well – known philosopher and the first student to earn a doctorate under the guidance of the former president of India, Dr.S.Radhakrishnan.
Premaji’s exceptional commands over the English language and remarkable oratorical skills have helped her develop a distinct communication style of her own.
One that blends Indian heritage, thinking and traditional values with English philosophical thoughts and literature.
Listening to her, as she takes one on a journey of spiritual fulfillment and mental awakening, is indeed a bonanza Little wonder, that she was bestowed with the title, the Acharya of Raja Rajamba Pada Theertha.

Professor Prema Pandurang is a multifaceted personality. She is an eloquent orator, powerful writer, humble teacher and a compassionate human being. Her distinct way conducting discourses and her mellifluous voice keeps her audience spellbound. Professor Prema Pandurang cut across all artificial barriers of religion, age, caste, etc with her soul inspiring discourses.

She has delivered a number of endowment lectures like the Kanchi Acharya Endowment Lecture, Rt.Hon Srinivasa Shastri Endowment Lecture etc and views Hinduism as a way of life and presents her lectures with relevance to our modern life.

She has participated in international conferences in The Hague, Prague, and Copenhagen, Nepal and has conducted spiritual discourses in more than 30 countries including UAE and Bahrain.
Currently she is traveling to different cities in the US on a Dhrama Prasar Yatra. She gave a discourse that the Sri Lakshmi temple in Ashland, MA where she was interviewed by the Today Show. She spoke to Lokvani about her unusual career and the importance of giving “roots” along with “wings” for Indian American youngsters.

What inspired you to give spiritual discourses?

It is all a Divine plan. My father was a philosopher and from a young age I used to listen to the discourses of the great Anantaram Dikshitar. When I was only fifteen Dikshitar suddenly said “this girl will speak on in the incarnations of Krishna”.  I am not sure how I did it but thoughts and words came pouring out of mouth.  That was the beginning of a life in the world of spiritual discourses. I always tell God I am His Public Relations Officer (PRO) .

Despite you interest in preaching, what motivated you to become a professor of English?

I think the Divine was preparing me for my destiny as a preacher by first creating a career for me in the teaching profession. Since I know English it makes it easier for me to connect with people who may not be familiar with Indian languages. Children in America are a good example. I also know Hindi well, which gives me greater reach.

When I was a professor I learnt about the issues that confront the youth. I also learnt how to convey our message to young people.  Even when I was a professor I used to conduct discourses on the weekend and many youngsters attended with enthusiasm. 

What is Dharama Prasara Yatra?

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad sponsors this Yatra or travel to create an awareness of our Indian traditions among the youth. 

Parents especially in the US work hard on giving wings to their children so they can fly high in their career. But it is equally important to provide them with roots. They should know about the richness of our heritage. Indians have a vast inheritance and they should be fully aware of the treasure that is theirs. 

In this age of information technology people want to give the knowledge of software to their children. I would urge them to also give their children Soulware. They should bring their children to temples.

The youth of today seems focused on materialism. How can we inculcate spiritual values in them?

If we teach them sincerely the youth will listen. The problem is not with the youth, it is with the lack of values in the adult society. There is a lack of sincerity. There is a lack of role models. There is a lack of Swami Vivekanadas and Mahatma Gandhis who lived model lives and preached with sincerity.  The education system is also to blame. It does not provide value education. I am trying to establish a college of values to address this problem.

What is the value of the temple when the Hindu’s prayer is not restricted to the temple?

Temple as a microcosm is actually an entry point to the macrocosm. The Vigraham (idol) is a real entry point to the Lord.  In the Hindu way of life everything is God centered , be it fine art , music , Ayurved or any other aspect. 

In the temple all hearts and minds are concentrated on the Divine. It is thus easy for us to be swept away in that energy.  So I urge people to come to the temple.

In this context I must speak of the role of the Priests. I have to earnestly request temples to not denigrate the Priests to the level of employees. The needs of the Priests in the ancient time was completely taken care of so that they could raise their hand in blessing instead of asking for Dakshina. Take care of the Priests and treat them with the respect they deserve.

What is the value of rituals in the modern context?

Rituals also provide an access to the Lord. Doing them will help connect you with your heritage and with the Lord. Having said that , I also must state that rituals should be modified to suit the time and place where it is performed. In the old days when milk was poured over the Vigraham , it was collected and distributed as prasadam. In the modern days the milk pouring ritual needs to be modified since it was never the intention of our ancestors to throw anything as precious as milk down the sewer.

What makes you such a strong believer in the concept of Divine?

I am not a believer in the Divine, I know He is real. I can sense Him in every thing. You can too if you pay attention. Miracles are constantly happening everyday for those who can see them.  The Divine is a reality.

Could you describe the position of a woman in Hindu society?

 In Hindu society the woman is the center point of the family. It is key to note that she is “Dharma Patni” which means if the husband does his Dharma by  treating her with respect and protecting her she will fulfill her role admirably. She not a mere Patni like in other traditions. She  is responsible of the spiritual growth of her children,

She is a compliment and not a competitor and men will do well to understand this. It will keep families from breaking apart.

Hindu History has significant evidence to show that the woman was held in the highest esteem. Hindus gave driver’s license to women since the beginning of time. Subhadra, Kaikeyi and Sathyabama drove their husband’s chariots during the time of war. More recently after the Mughal and the British invasion was the woman’s rights more curtailed.

All our Devis have the most important portfolios. Lakshmi has finance, while Shakti has defence and Saraswathi has education.

What is the role of charity and community service in Hindu society?

It is absolutely critical. Giving is the fundamental way of life. Poor feeding is part of our tradition. Charity and community service is what motivated me to set up the Kshetropasana trust where we engage in a variety of activities from poor feeding , animal shelters, elder care and many other. Please visit our site for the list of activities at http://kshetropasana.org.

Any other thoughts for our readers?

You are all inheritors of a vast heritage. Live by the values given to us by our ancestors. Teach those values to your children. During difficult times in life – and everyone has their share of those – it is not your Harvard education that is going to come to your rescue. It is your spiritual values that will help you and hence make sure that your children learn those values. It is the most important education they will ever receive.

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