Brahmasri Samavedam Shanmukha Sarma
Brahmasri Samavedam Shanmukha Sarma, the Indian Spiritual teacher, is a well-known
proponent of Sanatana Dharma, the wisdom of the Indian rishis and sages—and deeply
involved in the revitalization of Indian culture. His pravachanamulu
(expositions/discourses/exegeses) are specially noted for his bhakti bhavam and joyous in-
depth insights on the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Bhagavad Gita; spiritual texts and mantras such as Rudra Namakam, Vishnu Sahasranamam, Sivanandalahari, Soundarya Lahari, Lalitha Sahasranamam, Siva Tatvam, Ganapathi Tatwam, Sri Krishna Tatwam, Dakshinamurti Tattvam, Sutha Samhitha, Aditya Hrudayam; and Puranas such as Bhagavatam, Mahabharatham and Ramayanam. His discourses are informed with his knowledge of Indian culture, society, geography, yoga, history, philosophy, and many aspects of Hinduism. He also possesses masterly knowledge about the kritis and compositions of the South Indian composers or Vaggeyakaras.
He is engaged in various service projects such as the establishment of ‘Sri Vallabha Ganapati’ along with fifteen other Ganapati forms in Konthamuru, Rajahmundry including a Gosala (Cow shed); protection of cows; participation in Yagas &; Yagnas; restoration of old temples; provides financial aid to the needy such as women and handicapped; and hosts medical camps etc. On his recent visit to Austin, he kindly granted an interview to the-pov.com on June 29 the , 2022.
Learn More: http://saamavedam.org/index.php/about-us/
Note: Pravachanam (Singular) * Pravachananulu (Plural): Discourse/Exposition/Exegesis
Interview by Usha Akella (2022)
Brahmasri Samavedam Shanmukha Sarma
This is my life: the remembrance of God at every step, working with the love for God at every step.
The more we understand something, the more our love for it grows, and the more love grows we want to know more about it.
Knowledge only comes from the grace of God (Bhagavath Kripa), this Bhagavath Kripa is the fundamental
reason for everything, everything comes from God. The love and grace of God is primary.
Usha Akella: Respected Guruvu garu, I offer you my sincere namaskarams, and gratitude for agreeing to speak to pov.com. You were born and brought up in Orissa, how did your training in Telugu and Sanskrit begin, what were your family influences, and how did you your journey of acquiring the vast scholarship with which you inspire so many today begin?
Brahmasri Samavedam Shanmukha Sarma: I was born in Asika, and we later moved to Paralakhemundi; even though Paralakhemundi is in Orissa, as it is situated on the border of A.P. and Orissa close to the Srikakulam border, Telugu was dominant in the region.
Telugu was taught in the schools, but my serious education and training began with my father. My father Shri Rama Murthy Sarma garu was a great scholar and pandit in Telugu and Sanskrit in Paralakhemundi. He was my first and most important Guru, I started learning and studying our various Vedantic texts, Kavya vachanas, Shastras and our Sampradaya Sahityam in both Telugu and Sanskrit, under his guidance. Academically, I studied Economics formally in college (Berhampur University), while my education with my father at home happened simultaneously. I studied Telugu poetry by myself, and read modern poetry as well on my own.
UA: Audiences are inspired by your brilliant and extempore discourses, and by your ability to make linguistic and textual connections effortlessly in an inspired stream. Unique oratory art forms like pravachanam and ashtavadhanam are gems in Telugu Literature that are not present in any other world literatures. Did you have any special training for pravachanamulu and bhashayam?
BSSS: I have had no formal training in my life. My father used to do Purana pravachanamulu (discourses on the Puranas). As I began to do my own exploration and study of literature andspiritual texts, it dawned on me that our culture, heritage, Dharma and spiritual history was so lofty and great; I began to yearn to want to share it with others. Initially, when I began to give pravachanamulu I did not do them by imitating or learning from others. If I did learn from anyone, it was from my father alone by observation. My belief is that the ability to make connections drawing from various sources, and from life is a God-given gift from his beneficence and grace. When I think of making a point, I am inspired by all the relevant material, it comes to me without any exertion.
UA: The memory you exhibit is phenomenal to us in the audience! Where did you give your first pravachanam?
BSSS: As mentioned, I was born in Asika, and soon thereafter my family moved to Paralakhemundi in Orissa. Telugus refer to it as Parlakamidi. I did my elementary education to my degree there. While in college, I began to give my first pravachanamulu at the Telugu organizations there. I was 18 or 19 years old.
UA: Do you remember your first pravachanam?
BSSS: My first important one was on Annamacharya Kirtanas, I also published it as a book and sent it to TTD (Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam), they liked it very much, and helped to print it. After graduating, I worked as a sub-editor for Swati, a Telegu weekly in
Vijayawada. All throughout this time, I continued to enthusiastically give pravachanamulu. Looking back, I think my life is strange! I worked in the film field from 1995-2002. I wrote a number of lyrics which became popular hits for films like ‘Peda Rayudu’, ‘Pelli Sandadi’, ‘Surya Vamsam’ etc., I did well in the field and earned a good reputation. I was living in Madras, and was motivated to continue with giving pravachanamulu. Around 2000, TV Media began to gain prominence, there was no YouTube at that time. Bapu garu and Ramana garu engaged me to write the lyrics for a TV series, they were impressed by my thought processes and ideas during our discussions, and mentioned my name to Eenadu TV. The channel invited me to give my first TV pravachanam. Furthermore, Bapu garu and Ramana garu habitually attended my pravachanamulu in Madras. This was one phase in my life. The pravachanamulu began to become popular, and people began inviting me to their towns and cities. Gradually, my interest and involvement in this aspect of my life increased, and I exited the film world.
UA: What is your personal mission, the one you hold in your heart?
BSSS: We have a great and rich heritage. The knowledge imparted by the rishis, the values they taught are relevant to any time and age, they are eternal, and there is a lofty wisdom embedded in their teachings to benefit humankind. Not just one but so much literature and texts! Kavya, Upanishads, Shastras, Mantras… and many more. But time is going by without their value being fully understood or imparted. They need to spread. I feel they give a fullness to life, and should be applied to life. I have personally derived great joy from practicing these teachings. I want others to also benefit from it. And so, my life has become dedicated to writing, reading, studying, speaking, sharing and establishing Dharma. I started editing and publishing a monthly magazine Rishi Peetham to share thoughts, and also started an organization dedicated to this work. The magazine has had an uninterrupted run for 23 years. We made it a bi-lingual publication two years back.
UA: For many of us it is not just the mastery, oratory and proficiency you demonstrate, the unique signature of your heartfelt pravachanamulu is bhakti—and and humility. There is pure Anandam seeping from your heart in your discourses. Comment?
BSSS: Basically, I love God/Paramatma a lot, perhaps, this is the only thing I can say because the rest of it—knowledge, scholarship etc., is only his grace. I want to live loving God every second, and my goal is to reach God or attain him—these are the only two important things for me. The more we understand something, the more our love for it grows, and the more love grows we want to know more about it. All the things I got to know were inspired from Bhagavath Bhakti (bhakti for God). Great souls have come from India from the oldest of times and will keep coming to enlighten us.
UA: Are there experiences underlining your inspired discourses? The beauty and flow seem to indicate not just intellectual knowledge but an experiential level as well. When I listen to your Lalitha Sahasranamam pravachanamulu, I get this feeling…I can feel your joy and Bhakti bhavam through the youtube screen… I’d like to know more about the experiential side of your life if you are comfortable disclosing it.
BSSS: Due to the grace of my Guruvu garu, the process of turning the attention within has come about, this has given me some experiences with God. I have had the good fortune to meet many Siddha purushas (realized souls; the great ones with siddhis and wisdom); there are many yogis not known or famous, who exist quietly and don’t aspire to be famous or to be known. Depending on our luck, we get to know and have satsang (saangachyam) with these satpurushas if the grace of God is with us. The satsang and good
conversation (saangatyam) with souls like this has been a great blessing. Due to the grace and blessings of yogis and mahatmas like the Sringeri Peetadhi Pathi Bharathi: Thirtha Mahaswamy, and Kanchi Mahaswamy, I have been able to have some experiences with God. I also make pilgrimages personally to experience the blessings and darshan of these places. The pravachanamulu take me to many places from Himalayas and Uttar Kashi, to Brindavanam and other places in the South. Telugu speaking communities have attended these pravachanamulu in the North and South. I am connected to Kashi perhaps, more than any other place. My Guruvu garu gave me my diksha in Kashi. My name too is associated with Kashi, Kashika Theerthananda Natha. You are the first person I am revealing this name to.
UA: Is this the Natha Sampradayam?
BSSS: It is the Ananda Natha Sampradayam in Sri Vidya.
UA: The same joy so imbued in your pravachanamulu!
UA: Your inspirations?
BSSS: First, my father for his Bhakti Samskaram (culture of Bhakti) imparted to me. Knowledge is a limitless ocean, we can’t claim to know anything, as there is no end to it. Furthermore, knowledge only comes from the grace of God (Bhagavath Kripa), this Bhagavath Kripa is the fundamental reason for everything, everything comes from God. The love and grace of God is primary. Regarding the Gurus next to God, i.e., the Gurus after my father: I feel God sent me to Madras—Mahadevaanandanatha, was the disciple of the Kanchi Parama Acharya. He was a great practitioner of Sri Vidya. He bestowed me with the initiation into Sri Vidya upadesa, and due to him I am on the path of Sri Vidya.
Another chief and inspiring Guru in my life is the Mahayogi Sri Sivananda Murthy Garu, he showered me with fatherly affection. He inspired and initiated me to adopt the viewpoint and goal that the desham (country) is dharmam. Till then, I practiced my sadhana for my personal evolution but changed direction due to his influence.
The devotion I feel has inspired the writing of Siva Padam, a composition of 1000 plus verses on Lord Shiva in Sanskrit and Telugu We are publishing these as books, many people are singing them, and rendering them as songs. These are expressions from devotion and of the knowledge gained from my spiritual seeking and explorations. I have been writing these Siva padams from the time of my lyrical compositions for films.
UA: It feels that there is a Hindu resurgence happening in India, while also the horrors of the Kaliyuga go on. How do you view these opposing strands or currents in the country? How do you understand the times we are in?
BSSS: Mainly, as modern and contemporary culture has seen the increase in technology and different streams of media, we are able to spread teachings, and more people are able to connect with our culture, and are able to connect with our culture. People who possess some logic, rationale, and broad mindedness without prejudice are able to understand, realize and connect with Hindu Dharmam, and understand its greatness. At the same time, in my opinion, decades of foreign influences and culture created an inferiority in the masses, the loss of pride happened, and was dominant in previous generations; our culture went through some negligence, and we lost our connection to it—in spite of long-standing wisdom traditions and spiritual knowledge. Along the way, we lost the perception of the wisdom inherent in our culture and way of life. Before knowledge, there needs to be pride—pride in ours, in mine, and what we come from. Due to the lack of pride, a close mindedness to one’s own culture has occurred. Adverse energies have taken advantage of this, and exploited it for selfish reasons. In our religion alone, we acknowledge all religions are great. We never thought of religion as a commercial commodity that needed to be spread. Religion was understood to be a way of life, a way of practice, a sadhana to evolve, a path of yoga, not something to be spread pointedly. But some religions are motivated by spreading religion—political, commercial and business reasons spur this intention.
We must understand that Bharath Desam and Hindu Dharmam are one and the same (India and Hindu Dharma are the same), they cannot be separated. The very ideology of the country is Hindu Dharmam since yugas (time immemorial). The nation’s future is lost if we lose Hindu Dharmam. Swami Vivekananda recognized this long ago. Annie Besant made an observation just as when a tree is uprooted, the tree cannot survive, similarly if you take Hindu Dharmam out of India, India cannot survive. Swami Vivekananda emphasized the basic lofty ideal of Hindu Dharmam: Live and let live as the dominant thread of our great culture. Not just tolerance but acceptance too are its very roots. The broad mindedness to accept various paths as valid, is its essence. We don’t believe in decimating others; we can take and recognize good from other paths, but there is no need for conversion. This is a great culture that understands there is one God but countless expressions of God. It is a path that cannot inherently hate, these are its undying basic concepts. From the very beginning, we have lived with diversity, within Hindu Dharmam, we accept everything as a dimension, as an aspect. So many streams co-exist, there are Shiva bhaktas, Vishnu bhaktas, Shakti bhaktas. There is one Paramatma but many forms, so whoever says something, we are not resistant, we think of it as another expression. We never thought only one way was great or dominant. The very foundation and greatness of this world view became its undoing. But the thing is though Hindu Dharmam appears to have weakened it is strong, has always been strong, and is inherently resilient. In spite of attacks and invasions, by hostile forces, it has survived, and living, and undoubtedly will stay strong and persist. On the world stage at the Parliament of religions in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda called it the “Mother of all religions.” It is my belief that that the source of anything good in the world is rooted in Hindu Dharmam.
UA: Can you share some insights into Indian philosophy and thought that modern science has caught up with or is reflecting?
BSSS: I recently read of Dr. Hans-Peter Duerr, Emeritus president of the Max Planck Institute in Munich, a senior most scientist in Quantum Physics who said that all research is pointing to one energy or one tattvam. India has been saying this since ancient times in the Upanishads, and Adi Shankaracharya said it. Now Science seems to be discovering it as the truth. I am again reminded of Swami Vivekananda who once said that as Science develops gradually the greatness of Hinduism will be revealed. Hindu Dharmam is capable of answering the challenges posed by science. We have perfect philosophies like Advaitam propounded by Sankaracharya, and reflected in the Puranas and Upanishads. Advaitam was not invented by Sankaracharya. This ancient philosophy reflected in the experiences of Ramana Maharishi is being revealed as the ultimate philosophy. Let’s consider many other concepts such as Surya shakti— the energy of the sun—our Veda mantras have revealed many things about it, and contain many secrets about the sun that correspond and correlate to the findings of modern physics. I have done my own research into this information, explored these ideas that came in a book.
Take the subject of Cosmology (Antariksha Vignyanam) related questions. Contemporary Cosmology scientists are recognizing that ancient Vedic Cosmology has answers and more research is being done into it now. In Kashi there are 12 Suryaalayalu (temples for the 12 Adityas or Surya, the Sun God). Each temple is so situated that it corresponds with the position of the sun in a particular rashi of the 12 signs of the zodiac. There are 56 ancient Ganapathi temples situated as receivers of cosmic energy, and were constructed as receiving centers. Prof John M. Melville, a Cosmology professor from University of Colorado worked on the Kashi temples, and collaborated with Professor P.B. Singh on the subject of cosmic geometry. Their work is fabulous research into the scientific relation of the location of kshetra with cosmic energy. Vedic astronomy has a lot of information about the solar system. Historically, astronomy is attributed to Babylonian culture which no longer exists. But Indian culture is a living culture, it is a continuum, and our ancient findings are not being quoted enough unfortunately. We made immense progress in astronomy. We made strides not just in spirituality or astronomy, but in medicine as well. I have Ayurveda practitioners as friends, and learnt much in my discussions with them, I have studied Ayurvedic Science as much as I could, and feel we made great strides in medicine You might ask what is the relation between Hindu culture and Science. Science and Spirituality are not separate according to the Indian religious system. In the rest of the world, there is a division between the two, they are compartmentalized. We need to look at the whole human being and understand the interrelations. Ours is a knowledge-based religion Dharma, not just based on blind faith.
There is a holistic lifestyle in Hinduism, it is not just theoretical, Yoga is the foundation of our life. There is a holistic view, the overall wellbeing of the human being is in consideration—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual are interrelated All levels are important. The Vedas talk about Apara vidya (Material knowledge) and Para Vidya (Beyond material). We respected both levels of knowledge, and studied both of them, and revealed astonishing things. Hygiene, Medicine, wellbeing, health and such were also addressed—it was not just a faith-based religion that addressed the spiritual but a knowledge-based religion. It permeated our very lifestyle. A way of life was stipulated—waking up early at the Brahma muhurtha, the practice of yoga etc., were recognized as a part of life. The world is now recognizing Yoga which was part of Sanatana Dharma. This Yoga is foundational in Hindu Dharmam, and is recognizable in the Bhagavatam or any of the Puranas. Yoga and Hindu religion are the same. The greatness of Hindu Dharmam is that it speaks of the overall happiness and wellbeing of the human being or individual. Success is required even here on the physical plane in life—and Paramatma also has to be realized. This is the great thing in Hindu philosophy. The ancient seers did not discard life as separate from spirituality. We have to till life, one has to work in life and achieve many things in life, and make it fruitful to the point of perfection. There are Veda mantras that reflect this:
Meaning that in the 100 years of our life all our organs should function properly, and we should be healthy and functional. Or in sayings like: Pasyema, Srunavvaama, Prabravaama.
On the one hand, we prescribed Yoga shastra for physical well-being, on the other medicinal sciences for health, then we also had meditation or dhyana for mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, thus addressing various aspects or levels in the human being. We had geological sciences that spoke about the fire in the earth, and agricultural sciences etc., Agricultural methods were put aside as irrelevant and out of use. Even regarding the various arts, we have to understand that they flourished in a civilization at a peak, when other civilizations were fledglings. I think the natural evolution of the culture paused due to historical reasons, and if that had not happened there would have been even more contributions. Even after independence we did not regard these ancient sciences and knowledge as possessing any value.
If at least now, we wake up, and are able to perceive the wisdom in them… we have Bhagavata Gita, and the great epic poem Mahabharata which express a philosophy. The scope and canvas of it is large, applicable to personality development and the art of happiness outlined in Yoga, meditation techniques and Atma Jnanam which is being adopted and practiced by other nations. I notice that people are using these concepts and expressing these Yoga-based systems in modern terms—but many times I don’t see them being attributed to India, and the Hindus contribution to the world is not acknowledged or accepted. The philosophy expounded by great sages like Swami Vivekanada, Swami Rama Thirtha, and Paramahamsa Yogananda have spread in the West, and transformed Western outlook—these cultures have broadened their vision of life, altering their sense of superiority. They are realizing that tolerance and acceptance are crucial to life. This is definitely due to seers like Swami Vivekananda. A lot of people are proving the influence of Vedanta on the West like Dr Philip Goldberg in his book American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation How Indian Spirituality Changed the West. And there are other great Americans like Dr. David Frawley who are doing in-depth study and research–due to works like this, the greatness of Hinduism and Vedanta get recognition, and automatically India’s greatness along with it. Though, the world political scenario is still not accepting it, distorting facts, and history due to their own egos. And sometimes, even negative or false information is disseminated. At this time, at least ordinary people, the common people like you and me should educate themselves, and if they can connect with, and understand the value of the culture it would be good. That’s why when I do my pravachanamulu, I refer to such contemporary research as mentioned to you
UA: We need to find ways of addressing youth, creating awareness to those of us who live abroad…
BSSS: The greatness of our culture is it is not rigid, it can adapt to any lifestyle and convey a good message, and teach good habits, and beneficial modes of living. People like you who respect the wisdom inherent in our ways would know better how to contribute to creating awareness. We need to keep rediscovering, adapting and adopting. In spite of 1000s of years and generational shifts, the Dharma is applicable, and is evolving to suit the times. It is a timeless Dharma, we need to think of ways to teach the young, of ways to adopt and interpret and share. There are thousands of smrithis which tell us how to adapt Dharma to the changing times, there is a dynamism within the religion. It is a philosophy that can be practiced by a common man or a scholar, it is elastic, it is adaptable, and can give knowledge to anyone on any level—from Nama Sankirtana (remembrance by singing God’s name) to Dhyana Yogam (Meditation) to Samadhi Yogam (Yoga of Samadhi) —and none of these are contradictory to each other, there is a connectivity between them.
UA: What work is left for you to do?
BSSS: What is left? Nothing of personal ambition or for myself. Perhaps, the Siva Padams that I love, need to be published in their entirety, even if gradually. My pravachanamulu are for communication with the world, but the Siva Padams is my communication with Siva. I want people to recognize pravachanam as a source of knowledge, as an education, not as a pastime. I have given pravachanamulu on a number of topics and subjects. I feel I have discharged to some extent my goal of disseminating not just known spiritual texts as the Yoga Vasishtam but also rarer texts not known to many except pandits such as the Sutra Samhita. I found a rare Sanskrit text Siva Rahasyam in Thanjavur which contains 1,64,000 slokas upon which I did serious research, and extracted its essence. I feel I have quenched my thirst to some extent of disseminating the wisdom of the rishis. And through my discourses explored ways of helping people to experience them or applying them in today’s life. I want people to understand how to apply the wisdom of the rishis in daily life. We need to help people access this knowledge via technology which is why I am developing courses with various levels to help understand the value of our culture under the label of Rishi Abhyasam on the Gita, Sanskrit, Dharma Sastra both for adults, elderly people, and children. We have designed various syllabi as ‘Learn Gita’, ‘Gurubhyo Namaha’ and Sanskrit language.
UA: In conclusion?
BSSS: Practice is important not just knowledge, and the application of theory or practice to forge a lifestyle. If there is practice, Dharma gets established. Merely preaching, information- gathering or knowing is not enough. Knowledge has to transform into lifestyle. Anushtanam (practice) is as important as Adhyayanam (study). As I have no personal goals, I am happy enough if life goes on like this, because all this work is serving God, this work is my connection with God. I am aware of God at every step of my life. I thank God for the life he has given me, I was a journalist, I worked as a film lyricist, but ammavaru (the supreme mother goddess) turned my life in this direction due to the knowledge and blessings imparted to me by my Gurus. I initially never dreamt of a life of giving pravachanamulu, my sadhana began for my own spiritual progress, and ended up becoming useful for the world. This is not a career or profession but my very life. This is my life: the remembrance of God at every step, working with the love for God at every step.
I am very happy to speak to you.
(Translated by Usha Akella)