By Swami Harshananda
Harikathā literally means ‘stories related to God’.
The main purpose of the harikathā is to spread moral, ethical, religious and spiritual ideas among the masses. This is done through the recitation of interesting and touching stories and episodes from the epics, the purāṇa-s and the lives of saints. They are spread over 2 to 3 hours’ duration and popular even today. Temples and religious institutions are their patrons.
Modernization has caught up with this art also. Training institutions are coming up, where the future Bhāgavatar-s  are receiving training. Audio and video tapes of the Harikathās of the well-known exponents are also being made available to the public.
After preliminary prayers, the Bhāgavatar starts either with a song denoting deep philosophy of life or with a short account of some fundamental religio-ethical teaching. The teaching is then expounded in detail through the story chosen for the discourse.
Apart from devotional music, the narrator also embellishes his discourse with suitable stories and anecdotes interspersed with dramatization at appropriate places. The Bhāgavatar is accompanied by musical instruments like:
- Mṛdaṅga - percussion instruments
- Tāla - cymbals
Practices for Spreading Religion
The spread of culture and religion is much more in India than any other countries of the world. This has been mainly due to the methods of mass education adopted by the religio-cultural teachers of medieval and post-medieval era. One such method is the harikathā practiced mostly in South India. Equivalent practices observed there are:
- Kathā-kāla- kṣepa or kālakṣepa of Tamil Nadu
- Kirtana by the buvās of Maharashtra
- Harikathā and burrakathā of Andhra Pradesh
- Kathakathā or gīti-ālekhya of Bengal
- narrator of harikathā
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore