'I wanted to get rid of my vices...'

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By SUBHASHISH MOHANTY AND SHILPI SAMPAD HOT SEAT - SWAMI NITYA CHAITANYA, FORMERLY SRIRAM PANDA, ODIA ACTOR
  • Published 7.04.12
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The Cavendar’s model who lured youths in the 90s to smoke cigarettes now dons the dress of a monk. How did Sriram Panda transform into Swami Nitya Chaitanya? Is it possible for someone to have such a dramatic change in life?

I was going through a phase of suffocation. I was deeply hurt because of the dark holes in my life. All sorts of bad habits had come to be associated with me. My lifestyle was completely different; it was a life of luxury but my consciousness had taken a deep plunge. I had no knowledge of spiritual transcendence. I wanted to get rid of my vices and build up a strong character to lead a life of light. A friend once brought me to the Satyananda Yoga ashram here where I saw photographs of spiritual masters including Swami Sivananda, read the literature and everything changed. I saw hope in Parmahansa Satyananda’s saying that a guru’s grace can transform even the worst sinner’s life. It was he who brought me on this path of transformation.

How do you view your journey from being the hero who had sung Mun Ta Paradesi Chadei (I am a migratory bird....) to Swami Nitya Chaitanya?

A tough journey. It was difficult to face the inner conflict within me at different levels of thought. Now, I am on the path of transformation. I cannot say what level of transformation I have attained; only my guru can give an opinion on this. Thanks to his grace, a sinner has been able to become a sanyasi. You must be aware how in Ramayan, a dacoit was reformed and became Saint Valmiki. On the other hand, a saint can also drop down to the level of a sinner. So, my spiritual masters, including Swami Swaroopananda, can say where I stand.

Gautam Buddha was Prince Siddharth when he left his wife Yashodhara and son Rahul to pursue a spiritual journey because he was moved by the sufferings in the world. But what was the immediate provocation for you to renounce the world and leave your wife and children to fend for themselves?

Why are you trying to link me with the past? I am an open book and everyone knows that. I am a river that tries to meet the sea, without drying up midway.

You were at the peak of your career when you renounced the world. Accept it or not, there is a perception that you took that path because of a serious rift with your wife or because, you were rejected by one of your female co-actors. And this had a major impact on your life, which forced you to leave for the ashram.

It isn’t so. Those were external factors that contributed for my drowning. But my guru recovered me from the abyss. I would like you to ask me questions through which I can touch people spiritually.

Didn’t you go bankrupt after some of your films failed to click and you saw the ashram as an escape route? As a yogi, you don’t have any responsibility towards anyone.

(Laughs). We think we are managing our own lives but there is an external superpower which controls us. Family disturbance, bankruptcy and then becoming a sanyasi might look like a loser’s story to the society. But even a sanyasi is bankrupt, he has no money. I have nothing of my own. All of you are banks. If I do a good deed, there would be no dearth of money.

Won’t you admit that you made a huge mistake by deserting your wife and two children alone at a crucial point of their lives?

Why are you dragging me to the past? For a sanyasi, the past is dead. Please help me in my journey of transformation. Put these questions to them (wife and children). Don’t you think the way I had been living my life then would have ruined their life anyway?

Do you have any idea where your family is at present?

No, I don’t and I have never tried to know. For a sanyasi, the past is dead.

Given an offer to act in films, either as Buddha or as a monk preaching about the values in life, would you accept it?

I have been thinking for a long time to make a film on spiritual themes. However, after I came in touch with the spiritual masters, there was a change in my thinking process. I was told not to bother (about films) and the supreme power that controls the world would take care of it. My guru advised that I should concentrate only on my transformation.

So you have given up the idea of films?

See, films will not change the world. People will appreciate it for a moment and then forget it. How many people have changed after seeing Dani Harishchandra? Or how many women became sati after watching films on Sita?

You had acted with so many actresses of the yesteryears — Banaja Mohanty, Malavika Ray, Tripura Mishra (wife), Mahasweta Ray, Aparajita Mohanty and Rameswari. Who, according to you, was the best?

Why are you asking me this? What is your intention? All of them were best in their own right. The film industry might have undergone a phenomenal change over the years but I should not comment since I am no more a part of it. But I wish them all good luck.

Tell us, who was the best actor of your time?

You are again going back to the same thing. All the actors were good. I worked with Prashant Nanda, Bijoy Mohanty, Uttam Mohanty and others. They were all hardworking and brilliant. I enjoyed working with them. Please don’t ask these questions anymore.

Do you have any regrets in life?

(Pauses) I just want to experience the transformation in my life. People have accepted me as a sanyasi. I am treading the spiritual path and wish to help people connect with the ideals of my spiritual masters.

Why have you come to Bhubaneswar?

I am here for a three-day convention from April 6 to 8 on mind management. Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati will address it and I am here to ensure that everything is conducted smoothly. After this, I will return to the Rikhia Peeth, Deoghar, Jharkhand.

Do you see any change in the city?

A phenomenal change has taken place in Bhubaneswar over the last 18 years. So much that I feel like a stranger here. There has been much progress in materialistic terms but a corresponding progress is needed in spiritual awakening.