HINDU RENAISSANCE AWARD
Shri Morari Bapu is honored for decades of Ram Katha that has inspired devotion and adherence to dharma for countless Hindus the world over
SHRI MORARI BAPU, A RENOWNED EXPOUNDER of Ramcharitamanas, has been reciting Ram Katha for over fifty years. His nine-day discourses of Hindu devotional storytelling spread messages of universal peace, truth, love and compassion. For taking Ram Katha across the globe, keeping India’s rich oral tradition alive, and for his humanitarian contributions, he has been chosen to receive the 2016 Hindu of the Year award.
Temple priest Prabhudas Bapu and his wife, Savitri Ma Hariyani, gave birth to Moraridas in 1946 in Talgajarda village, Gujarat. Born into the Vaishnav Bava Sadhu Nimbarka lineage, the boy spent much of his childhood with his grandfather and guru, Tribhovandas Dada, and grandmother, Amrit Ma, who brought him into the katha way of life. Each day, Dadaji would teach his grandson five verses with meaning which the youth memorized while walking to and from school, often singing to the trees along the way. By age twelve, the boy had memorized all 4,712 four-line verses of Ramcharitmanas; by fourteen, he started reciting Ram Katha. After secondary school, Bapu taught at the J. Parekh High School for ten years. During that time, he listened to prominent speakers and met many spiritual leaders. Reminiscing on those times, he says, “I would take leave without pay to deliver kathas in rural areas.”
A katha refers to the Indian tradition of narrating an oral text by a trained kathakar or storyteller. Morari Bapu’s nine-day kathas are based on the Ramcharitmanas, a devotional retelling of the Sanskrit Ramayana in a dialect of Hindi known as Avadhi. Ever since the 16th century, when it was composed by poet-saint Tulsidas, the Ramcharitmanas (“Spiritual Lake of Ram’s Acts”) has been hugely popular throughout North India. In seven chapters of mostly four-line stanzas, the Manas tells Lord Rama’s life story in poetry. This vernacular retelling made the Ramayana epic accessible to those who do not speak Sanskrit. Morari Bapu has taken the baton forward by elucidating the meaning in both Hindi and Gujarati. “Ramcharitmanas is not merely a book; it is the very heart of the sages of this country,” Bapu has stated. He also performs kathas on Gopi Geet, an ode to Lord Krishna by the gopis of Vrindavan who seek to merge with Him.
His first katha in Talgajarda Ram Mandir, at age fourteen, was attended by three people. As of today he has performed over 750 nine-day kathas in Indonesia, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, Brazil, Australia and Japan. Of special note were his 2011 katha at the foothills of Mount Kailas in Tibet, his 2012 Ram Katha in Jerusalem, Israel, and his invitation to Iran as a state guest, also in 2012.
Explaining the relevance of Hindu scriptures in modern-day life, Morari Bapu calls out to humanity for love and mutual respect. He does not consider himself anyone’s guru; rather, he is a conduit to inspire devotion through the narration of Rama’s story, attracting people from all walks of life.
Morari Bapu’s charitable activities are many. He has organized marriage ceremonies for Hindu and Muslim girls who were unable to pay for their wedding, provided free education to students and free healthcare to thousands. He has contributed financially and arranged for volunteers to assist in disaster-stricken areas such as the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, the 2011 nuclear leak in Fukushima and the Bihar floods. He provided 100 million rupees (US$150,000) for relief work after the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, and 10 million rupees (US$15,000) to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund for the 2014 Jammu and Kashmir flood victims. Spreading messages of communal harmony through Ram Katha, he was among the first Hindu leaders to lead a peace march through the riot-torn areas of Ahmedabad during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
An avid supporter of the arts, Morari Bapu has organized several literary and cultural programs in his hometown. These include the annual three-day Asmita Parva with scholars of the Gujarati language; Sanskrit Satra, which brings Sanskrit specialists together; and the Regional Ramayanas conference that discusses the many linguistic versions of the Ramayana. As a social reformer, he believes women should be permitted to perform last rites and priestly duties, and organizes events such as “Voice of Women,” which commemorates the life and works of female poet-saints of India. He gives away yearly awards to artists and scholars, honoring those who work to preserve folklore, traditional dance and forms of Indian art.
Morari Bapu’s vision goes beyond the Hindu faith with the belief, “Supreme love is the supreme religion.” In Jerusalem he told the story of Jesus and his lesson of love. In Hiroshima he spoke of compassion. In January 2009 he organized “Harmony through Dialogue,” an interreligious conference inaugurated by the Dalai Lama that brought together leaders of many of the great world religions—Jain, Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Muslim—to seek peace between communities. That same year he hosted Sadbhavana Parva, a conference in which 300 Christian, Muslim and Hindu delegates discussed ways to foster harmony among their faith traditions.
Devotees’ praise of his work can help us understand Morari Bapu’s impact. Sunil Patel, software engineer, Atlanta, says, “When I lived in London, in 1994-1995, my commute to work each way took two and half hours. My mum suggested that I listen to Morari Bapu katha, which till today I am so thankful for. The narration of katha by Morari Bapu was extremely powerful. To explain the meaning of the slokas, Bapu set the stage with the scenes so vivid, decorated with words, that I felt as if I were part of the Ramayana. The multitude of examples and jokes, mixed with emotions to drive the point, were powerful enough to be ingrained in my heart. My commute felt like five minutes. This led me to turn towards God. I know this must have been a divine plan, because only after listening to the katha, I found a beautiful home very close to work.”
Abhishek Mehrotra, entrepreneur, India: “Param Pujya Shri Morari Bapu ji stands out as a true propagator of the bhakti marga (path of devotion). His discourses have more far-reaching effects than one can imagine. They have impacted and kept millions of young adults on the righteous path of dharma.”
Prachi Pandey, Delhi University student: “Through reading and listening to Manas, I have learned to be considerate and tolerant of others while standing up for the right causes. Morari Bapu doesn’t just recite Manas and preach blind faith in God. He makes it clear that we can choose our beliefs. He asks us to read and listen to Manas katha to improve ourselves as human beings.”
Dr. Lalitya Lalit, Editor, National Book Trust, Delhi: “Morari Bapu is a missionary who reduces the stress of people caught in this never-ending race without direction or aim. The message I get is that good conduct makes us peaceful and blissful. He points out that we spend more time with electronic gadgets than with our own family members and that our lives will become more prosperous and fulfilling if we abandon these gadgets even for a few hours every day.”
Tejal Pandya, teacher, Rajkot, India: “Shri Morari Bapu’s katha often comes up with solutions. Whenever I hear him, he makes me feel that whatever so-called problems I am facing are universal and it is not just me. So that ‘why me?’ question has been erased out of my life. Secondly, there is no problem which does not have a solution; only a paradigm shift is required.”
Previous recipients of the Hindu of the Year award have been Swami Paramananda Bharati (’90), Swami Chidananda Saraswati (Muniji) of Parmath Niketan (’91), Swami Chinmayananda (’92), Mata Amritanandamayi Ma (’93), Swami Satchidananda (’94), Pramukh Swami Maharaj (’95), Satya Sai Baba (’96), Sri Chinmoy (’97), Swami Bua (’98), Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Divine Life Society (’99), Ma Yoga Shakti (’00), Dr. T. S. Sambamurthy Sivachariar (’01), Dada J.P. Vaswani (’02), Sri Tiruchi Mahaswamigal (’03), Dr. K. Pichai Sivacharya (’04), Swami Tejomayananda (’05), Ramesh Bhai Oza (’06), Sri Balagangadharanathaswami (’07), Swami Avdheshanand Giri (’08), Swami Gopal Sharan Devacharya (’09), Sri P. Parameswaran (’10), Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji (’11), the Shilpa Parampara (’12), Sree Sree Dr. Shivakumara Swami (’13) and the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi (‘14).