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Captivating story-teller

Nagai Mukundan is a name to reckon with in the field of religious discourses. A profile of the upanyasakar.


"I WILL prepare you to be like me," Keeran told the young schoolboy, who stood before him rapt in attention. The words were prophetic, because now the yesteryear lad is a name to reckon with in the field of religious discourses. Nagai Mukundan — who was inspired, influenced and to a certain extent, guided by Keeran himself — was in complete awe of the man who often came to Nagapattinam to give discourses. Passion for the Tamil language and admiration for Keeran who could flawlessly quote the literary and religious texts drew Nagai Mukundan to the field of upanyasam.

Those of us who have heard Pulavar Keeran in his lifetime still miss his mesmeric voice, fluent tongue, his chaste Tamil and the cascading impact of his discourses in which literature and religion melded into a captivating whole. If the devout came to listen to the religious tales, language lovers came for the literary impact that his talks had. The same can be said of Mukundan, whose discourses include everything from religion and literature to politics, current events and social evils. It was a godsend for Nagai Mukundan when one K. R. Santhanakrishnan approached him for a discourse at the Kachaleeswarar Temple in George Town area, in place of Keeran, who could not accept the assignment. That was Mukundan's first experience as an upanyasakar.

It sounds almost incongruous when Mukundan says he is a Zoology graduate. And probably that explains why he analyses and interprets our religious texts scientifically. "The number of youngsters who attend my talks should realise that our religious stories have a logical, scientific base. That would draw more youth into the path of goodness, piety and religion," he says and goes on to explain in a pithy manner how the entire Mahabharata is being enacted in every individual's body and soul. As he begins with the Pandavas as representative of the five senses and connects man's daily life to the epic, the ingenuity and revelation impresses the listener.

It was a memorable moment for Nagai Mukundan when the former Chief Minister, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, told him that he had heard Mukundan's discourse (a 78-episode series) on Vijay TV, and appreciated his knowledge of Tamil literature. Soon the then State Government honoured him with a Kalaimamani award. The next unforgettable event was when Suki Sivam, another stalwart in the realm of discourses, congratulated him for the award and hosted a dinner in his honour — " a great gesture from a person in the same profession," says Mukundan.

Mukundan's first television appearance was on Doordarshan. Andal Priyadarshini of DD gave him the chance and he has been appearing often on television ever since. Mukundan's skilled, literary tongue, deep devotion and knowledge have literally taken him places. He has travelled to London, Paris and Singapore for his upanyasams. "I will be going to London again this August," he says.

Apart from discourses at temples abroad, Mukundan has also lectured at the Thamizh Mozhi Panpaattu Kazhagam in Singapore. "They asked me if I could make it a purely literary exercise but for me literature combined with religion alone will live forever. So the literary discourse was on the oneness of religion, combining the salient aspects of Islam and Christianity also... " Mukundan relives the experience.

This flexible approach has been a significant reason for the litterateur's success. From the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha to Kanda Puranam, Peria Puranam and Villi Bharatham, his subjects are many. Similarly, he quotes extensively from great literary works beginning with Thirukkural. "I incorporate Sanskrit slokas and English adages also," says this voracious reader who even on the busiest of days devotes at least an hour to reading.

When Mukundan gave a series of talks on the Mahabharatha at Pattukottai, there was this Muslim, who was present throughout. On the final day, the gentleman walked up to him and said, "I am enamoured of your literary style ... it drew me to your lectures everyday." The words thrilled the speaker.

Nagai Mukundan springs a surprise when he tells you that he has been an employee with the Karur Vysya Bank for over two decades now.

Straddling two such demanding professions could be an onus. "It would have been, if the bank had not encouraged me. My employers have been very supportive from the beginning even when I had not made much of a name. Otherwise I could not have come this far as an upanyasakar ... " says Mukundan.

He is also working on a book titled, "Mahabharatham — Andrum, Indrum, Endrum". "Next I wish to train young theists who have a penchant for literature, in discourses ... " he adds.

Nagai Mukundan is the only person in the field of religious discourses, who was honoured at the recent Peetarohana celebrations of Swami Jayendra Saraswathi of the Kanchi Math. From the time when as a new entrant in the field, (encouraged by D. Ganesan and R. Krishnaswamy, advocate) he rendered a discourse at the Asthika Samajam at Venus Colony, for a thin audience of 10, Nagai Mukundan has indeed come a long way.

MALATHI RANGARAJAN

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