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The Origin of Public Speaking in Ancient India

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Sritam is an SEO content writer with full exposure to subjects like leadership, public speaking, emotional intelligence, employee wellbeing.


Public speaking: An Art

Public speaking was always considered an art by the demagogues during ancient times. Experts often give credit to the practice of rhetoric and public speaking in the societies of ancient Greece. But now it is the time to turn the pages of history. India is the land that has given birth to many popular leaders who have been great speakers. Both in Sanskrit and regional literature (Tamil, Bengali etc.) one can find instances of the tradition of public speaking. Texts like Thirukural (Tamil Sangam literature of Thiruvalluvar- 500 CE), Ramcharitam (Sanskrit poem written by Bengali poet Sandhyakar Nandi from 12th Century CE), and Chaitanya Charitamrita (Bengali epic of Krishan das Kaviraj – 1557 CE) consider public speaking as an integral part of the daily lives of the people.

Though Sanskrit was not the spoken language of the mass but was considered the official language of ancient Indian royal courts. The court poets considered it as the language to express their idea of rhetoric. Though the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas, written by the ancient sages, were mainly instructed to the pupils, they were also the most ancient tools of public speaking. The hymns were instructed to the pupils by their Gurus (teachers) in a way that made the pupils listen to their Gurus with full concentration. The tradition of charismatic public speaking began here in India during the Vedic ages (1500-500 BCE). This tradition of listening to the teachers and orating the philosophical ideas, morals and hymns inspired both the playwrights and the leaders. Ancient Indian playwrights like Shudraka, Bhasa, Kalidasa and Vishakhadatta have penned major plays like Mrichhakatikam, Karnabharam, Meghadutam and Mudrarakshasha. These are the plays that influenced artists to showcase their charismatic way of performance. Along with playwrights and stage actors, leaders also practised public speaking in their arena.

Considering the history of the later Vedic age one can conclude that Gautam Buddha, the preacher of Buddhist ideas, was the greatest leader of that time. Unlike the fiery speakers of ancient Greece, Buddha had chosen a different style. He was more inclined to the ideas of patience and tolerance, for which he was calmer while talking. He was also unique in his choice of language. As a leader, he wanted to attract the mass who would easily relate to his ideas. To execute this purpose he had chosen Pali and Prakrit which were spoken by the mass in the northern and central parts of the country.


Thus said the God

Srimad Bhagwat Gita, or the Song of the God, can be considered another very prominent example of Public Speaking. Gita is considered to be the summary of all Hindu religious texts and scripts, which was said by Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The most inevitable and terrific battle between Pandavas and Kauravas is a major part of Mahabharat, the great epic. Krishna Dwipayan Vyasa, who is said to be the author of this vigorous epic, has given Gita a special space in the Mahabharat.

Through the ages, Gita has not only been considered the core idea of Hinduism but the idea of Gita is also attributed to the philosophy of life and work. When Arjuna, the third Pandava, tried to escape the horrors of warfare, Krishna came to him as a guide. It is interesting to note that Krishna played various roles in the epic itself. Krishna can be seen as the God who is helping the people from the dangers of both nature and the vile deeds of other human beings. He also played the role of a son, a lover, a friend, and again a guide. Here, it is important to note that Public speaking is not entirely dependent on the number of listeners. Even one person can be the audience for public speaking. The reason for raising this point here is to help the readers to understand the context of Krishna's speech. The Gita was only said by the God to Arjuna. Arjuna was the only listener to what Krishna told before the battle had started. The whole point of public speaking takes a different turn here. It actually breaks the idea of demagogues of ancient Greece.

Why Krishna had chosen only Arjuna is a question that is less relevant to public speaking, instead, it is important to understand how Krishna described the ideas of pros and cons of life and work. Gita is called the song of God. The reason for such nomenclature lies in the mode of his expression. Krishna explained around 700 verses to Arjuna in a particular tone. This is again connected with the ideas of playwrights of ancient India. They were more inclined to the idea of preaching their thoughts with a specific tone that will attract the audience. Krishna is repeating the same technique. At the end of the Gita, Krishna asks Arjuna whether he has been able to understand what Krishna has told him so far. Arjuna's reply to him is very firm and confident. He has been able to absorb the entire idea of the Gita.

It seems that the uniqueness of speaking, charisma, and persuasion have played a major role in the entire process. If we look at today's idea of public speaking we cannot skip these three-four basic rubrics of public speaking. The US market for public/motivational speaking, which has grown up to $1.9 billion (2020), and the global market are also getting the benefits of these attributes which were developed long ago in ancient Indian terrain.

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© 2022 Sritam

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