New Delhi (AsiaNews) – When he was 17, he began reading the Sermon on the Mount and heard a voice tell him, "I am the same whom you are seeking from your very childhood." For 20 years, these words followed him until his conversion to Christianity in 1976. A member of the Brahmin caste, Pandit Dharam Prakash Sharma is also the son of two of India's foremost independence heroes, and grew up under the protective wing of the Mahatma Gandhi. His story is a journey of faith that led him to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who is both the "light" that triumphs over "darkness", and the one who frees us from "sins".
"One evening in 1954 as a teenager student, when I was in my hostel room, studying from my English text book (which was my subject), I came across a lesson heading: 'Sermon on the Mount'. I read out the whole text in one breath! Oh! It was the same that inspired the life and work of Gandhiji during the freedom movement of India. It was a memorable moment for me, while reading this great sermon, I heard repeatedly a divine voice from all around me saying, “I am the same whom you are seeking from your very childhood." Suddenly, his heart felt at peace.
He said he read the Sermon several times, like a prayer on his lips with the feeling of a presence around him. “God can You answer me? Are you there?”
Pandit Dharam Prakash Sharma (pictured with the correspondent of AsiaNews) was born on 23 December 1937 in Fatehpur Prison, in Uttar Pradesh. He is the only son of one of the leading Hindu religious leaders of the holy city of Pushkar (Rajasthan), a place of never-ending pilgrimage.
His father, Pandit Sohan Lal Sharma, and his mother, Gyaneshwary Devi, played an important role in the independence struggle and were sent to prison for this reason several times.
When he was five, he was taken to Pavanar Ashram in Wardha, near Nagpur, and grew up under the loving and watchful guidance of Mahatma Gandhi.
He went on to have a brilliant career first as a film star, then a prominent business executive and finally as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house in India's parliament, between 1969 and 1973. In 1977, he left politics after becoming a Christian, despite pressures by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to stay. Later when Indira Gandhi was jailed, she turned to Dharma, and asked him to pray God for her salvation.
The journey that led Pandit Dharam Prakash Sharma to his conversion bears witness to a long search that began in his childhood and ended when he was an adult.
He remembers that after reading the Sermon on the Mount, he turned to his English professor for advice, but the latter was not able to help him. He sought out an Italian-born priest, who asked him to convert and be baptised before he could answer him, but Dharam was not ready to embrace Christianity because he associated that religion with British colonialists, who caused so much pain and suffering to his family.
"I hate the thought of becoming a Christian," he said at one point as his search for answers concerning his encounter with Jesus grew more intense.
His conversion occurred many years later, in 1976, when he was on a special mission to Gujarat. Here he met Bakht Singh, an evangelical Christian well-known in South Asia, and spent eight days with him to study the Bible and the Holy Scriptures. On 16 May 1976, he was baptised, and thus completed his journey towards God and grace.
The process of conversion spanned many years of his marriage. He married a Christian. This in turn led his parents to follow his example. Ten days before his death, Dharma's father, Sohan, told him, "My son, for ten years I have watched your life change and [saw] the resulting peace. You are on the true path and have found the way. Your Lord is my Lord too.”
When he is asked how to reach Moksha, the point of total spiritual realisation, which, according to Hinduism, releases people from the cycle of death and rebirth, he says, "When all was dark, I saw a silver lining in the sky . . . the Almighty took the form of man in Jesus Christ . . . to break the chain of sin and triumph over death."