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The word pravachan is widely used by Jains. In Jainism, the word śrāvaka is used for the householders. The word has its roots in the word śrāvana, i.e. the one who listens (the discourses of the saints).
During the four-month rainy-season period, when the mendicants must stay in one place, the chief sadhu of every group gives a daily sermon (pravacana, vyakhyana), attended mostly by women and older, retired men, but on special days by most of the lay congregation. During their eight months of travel, the sadhus give sermons whenever requested, most often when they come to a new village or town in their travels.
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Pravachans are usually on a religious theme, usually the life of a saint or a story from one of India's epics. Pravachans sometimes become very emotional. People who listen to Pravachans have become more tolerant of their brethren, a sense of giving and forgiving has been inculcated in them.
In the olden days Pravanchan pundits were often well versed in the Sanskrit language and educated and well trained in Veda Sastras and Vedanta. It is easier to listen to some Pandit or Purohit who is conducting a Pravachan to understand some of the scriptures. Basically the Pandit elaborates on the significance of the sloka or scripture he reads and gives several bhavas and angles to look at a single verse.
South India has a long tradition of religious discourse. Religious scholars such as Oduvars who were knowledgeable in religious scriptures used to render discourses in Temples and monasteries. Villuppttu, in which folk stories were told accompanied by a stringed instrument resembling a bow, was also popular in Tamil Nadu. A form of Kalakshepa, in which the story teller, usually proficient in Carnatic music, interspersed the main story with music, dance and sub-stories, was also prevalent. Harikatha is a composite art form with story telling, poetry, music, drama, dance, and philosophy. Harikatha involves the narration of a story, intermingled with various songs relating to the story.
Pravachan on the other hand interprets slokas and scriptures and does not involve as much singing. A Pravachan can take several days to interpret a single line from a sloka. Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri's Rasanishyandini is an example of a detailed Ramayana explanatory work.
The period from 1870 to 1940 could be described as the golden age of the art of Pravachan, Harikatha, Kathakalakshepam and Upanyasa, not only in Tamil Nadu but also in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. The Kathakalakshepam style of Thanjavur Krishna Bagavathar (1841–1903) became the standard for all other great Bagavathars in this field for the next 50 years. Krishna Bagavathar was a disciple of Saint Thiagaraja. Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar (1866–1943), Mangudi Chidambara Bagavathar (1880–1938), Chitrakavi Sivarama Bagavathar (1869–1951), Soolamangalam Soundararaja Bagavathar (1890–1925), C Saraswathi Bai (1894–1974), and N S Krishna Bagavathar (1892–1984) were all inspired by the style and technique of Thanjavur Krishna Bagavathar.
Mannargudi Sambasiva Bhagavatar, Tanjavur T.N. Subramanya Bhagavatar and T.S. Balakrishna Sastrigal were Harikatha experts. Kalakkad Muthuswami Sastrigal, Sengalipuram Muthanna Sastri, Samartha Ramadas Swamigal, Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri, Sengalipuram Anantarama Dikshitar, Embar Vijayaraghavachariyar were the Pravachan experts of this Golden Age.
In later years Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Vivekananda gave excellent life straightening and motivational Pravachans. Afterwards, Keeran, Krubananda Variyar, Krishnapremi and Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamiji are very well known for their captivating lectures inducing Bhakthi into all listeners.
In the recent years Aniruddha Bapu, Sant Sri Asaramji Bapu, Swami Dayananda Saraswati Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Sathya Sai Baba, Mata Amritanandamayi are some of the many spiritual gurus who draw huge crowds, and have tremendous fan following because of their faith in humanity and the miracles that they have caused to happen in peoples lives.
Jagadguru Kripalu Maharaj is an authoritative orator and his religious discourses are attended by huge gatherings. These discourses are broadcast every day on TV channels such as Aastha, Sadhna TV, Sahara Samay and Sanskar TV. His discourses are also broadcast every weekday on TV Asia in the USA. In his TV discourses, Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj quotes the chapter and verse of everything he cites.
Of late Prema Pandurang, Jaya Raw, and Hariji, Vishaka Hari, Vengat G, Suki sivam, Brahmashri "Vittaldas" Jayakrishna Deekshithar and Erode Sri Balaji Bhagavathar are popular. They cut across age, caste, creed etc. with their soul-inspiring discourses. They are even able to reach western audiences.
Famous scholar & Vedantha Shiromani with the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt Kumbakonam, Rishiyur Sri N. Santhanam Aiyar (1887–1945), who translated Krishna Sastris Rasanishyandini in 1943, best describes Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri in his book. He quotes, "Paruthiyur and Krishna Sastri are synonymous, and in the Kaliyuga only Krishna Sastri is equal to Maharishi Valmiki in Rama bhakthi and capable of extolling the Virtues of Lord Rama. No Pravachan of Ramayana is complete without prayers to Valmiki and Krishna Sastri."
- Singh, Abhay Kumar; Arora, Udai Prakash (2007-01-01). Udayana. p. 423. ISBN 9788179751688.
- Jain, Satish Kumar (1975). Progressive Jains of India. p. 120.
- Gujarat. 2003. p. 650. ISBN 9788179911044.
- Cort 2001, p. 104.
- Patil, V. November 29, 2003. Partying with God, too!. The Tribune.
- Csordas, T. 2009. Transnational transcendence: essays on religion and globalization. University of California Press.
- Jagadguru Kripalu Maharaj on TV Asia
- Singh. K. Saturday, March 4, 2006. Tricks memory plays. The Tribune