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Epic soul-searching
Personality: From young professional to mature priest-author,
that's the story of Krishna Dharma

By Mark McClelland

At 25, Kenneth Anderson had acquired the trappings of success: an officer's job in the merchant navy, a girlfriend and a lifestyle that included drinking binges, smoking and the occasional drugs.

But this ‘dream life' was filled with emptiness until Anderson came across the Bhagavad Gita and discovered Hinduism. Now, 20 years later, his transformation from Kenneth Anderson to Krishna Dharma, a Hindu priest, is probably complete: He has authored an English version of the Mahabharata that runs to 1,000 pages.

Krishna Dharma (above left) hopes that his 1,000-page Mahabharata will
become the definitive English version of the epic.

Dharma, who is the president of a temple which he founded in Manchester in 1986, says that reading the Gita was the greatest thing that happened to him.
"After reading it I suddenly gave up everything I had and went to live in a temple," said Dharma, whose wife of 15 years, Chintamani, also converted to Hinduism after meeting him. "In the temple, I rose at 4 a.m. every day and meditated. Discovering the spiritual side of things improved my life immeasurably. If I hadn't taken to this I might have gone crazy or killed myself."

Dharma, who has three children aged 11, eight and four, had stopped practising Christianity before he discovered Hinduism. After he started believing in Hinduism, he returned to Christianity seeking the answers he had been looking for. All he found was disillusionment. "Christian scriptures have a lot to offer," he said. "But the church has diluted the message, twisted it and misinterpreted it. Not only did I not get anything out of going to church, I actually became an atheist."

Dharma believes that the teachings of Christ and Krishna are not very different from each other and that Hinduism is more about spiritually-centred simple living and high thinking. The dialogue going on between religions and the willingness of people to explore other faiths was one of the factors in his deciding to write the Mahabharata in a simple form. "The Mahabharata is such a wonderful book and I wanted to share it with others," says Dharma. "The spirit of the epic is so different from today's harsh age of science and technology and materialism.

Dharma hopes that his book will become the definitive English version of the epic. "What is available in English is not so easy to read. The language is stilted, written by people for whom English is a second language. In the digressions, one easily lost the thread of the story," says Dharma, who hopes that his book, which contains many coloured and sketched pictures, will be of interest also to readers of fantasy fiction such as Lord Of The Rings.

Dharma has plans for a 300-page abridged version of the book. "A lot of people will balk at reading a 1,000 page book. It's not something you can carry with you to read on the train on the way to work. But, a lot of people may read the smaller version."

While Dharma has laid himself open to criticism of misinterpretation, he has not heard dissenting voices so far. "Everything I have heard has been positive," he says.

The positive feedback began with his American publishers who contacted him when he was looking for an agent. "They offered an attractive proposition, saying they would get behind it and they have," says Dharma. "They're pushing it well out there and the reviews I've had in the States have been excellent."

Although it took Dharma two years to write the book, which is priced Rs. 900 in India and available from Torchlight Publishing, New Delhi, he says that was only a small part of the process. "You need to read the verses a lot to get a good grasp of them and I read them over a number of years. There was a lot of cross referencing and I had to be definite about what I was looking for."

After a lifetime of searching, Dharma has found exactly what he was looking for in the Mahabharata.



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