Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Body's Soul & Earth Is Heaven

R. M. Challa is a man of many parts. He is a scholar of the Vedas, various oriental and occidental languages including English, German, Persian, Sanskrit and Telugu, a literary and music critic, essayist and poet. "Let's tune in R. M. Challa", his literary column in the Indian Express in the sixties through the eighties used to be a piece of masterly erudition and educative to readers on diverse subjects from literature to philosophy and linguistics to phonetics. The column ran for about a quarter of a century, which is a first in Indo-Anglican journalism. “Body’s Soul & Earth’s Heaven”, is his review of Pandit Narayana Das’ “Rubaiyat” of Omar Khaiyam.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Over time a number of biographies of Pandit Narayana Das were published. They are, in chronological order, Naa Eruka his autobiography in Telugu, Life of Narayana Das (1956) in English by Vasanta Rao Bramhaji Rao, Narayana Dasa Jeevita Charitra (1959) in Telugu by Maruvada Venkata Chayanulu, Sri Narayana Dasa Jeevitacharitramu (1967) a biography in the form of a Yakshaganamu in Telugu by Peddinti Suryanarayana Deekshita Das, Purnapurushudu (1979) in Telugu by Yamijala Padmanabhaswamy, Monarch of Rhythm
(1980) in English by G. Srirama Murthy and Narayana Darsanamu (1983) a Ph. D. thesis in Telugu by Gundavarapu Lakshmi Narayana. 

Naa Eruka was an incomplete story abandoned by Narayana Das. A characteristic feature - or quirk - of Narayana Das’ psyche was his compulsive urge to excel in everything he did. He began writing what would have been the first autobiography in Telugu and sent the initial chapters, narrating his life story from birth to the age of about thirty, to the printers. There was a delay at the printers due to pressure of work and in the meantime another famous writer’s autobiography came out. Narayana Das called off the project because of his obsessive desire to be ‘second to none’. Thus was lost to the public not only an opportunity to read the great man’s life story told in his own words with remarkable candour, but also his perspective of his literary output and the literary and cultural zeitgeist of his time.

Pandit Narayana Das’ grandson, Upadhyayula Suryanarayana Rao, had a mind to edit, update and extrapolate the autobiography-biography to its natural culmination. He could have done justice to the great man’s literary odyssey for two reasons: firstly owing to his proximity, he was able to observe the genius at work. Secondly, an essayist, playwright and journalist known for his biting satire, Suryanarayana Rao, (Upadhyayula or USu for readers) was a writer of no mean talent. A chip of the old block, he too had introduced to Telugu journalism and letters certain innovative genres. His 'Nakamlo Gurazada Jadalu' was a tongue-in-cheek imaginary interview with the ‘Mahakavi’ in which he satirized the politicization of literature. The 'interview' was a first of its kind and many writers adapted this genre since. His adaptation of Tagore’s ‘Kabuliwallah’ as a shadow-play was a first in Telugu theatre. His play 'Viyanagara Vibhavam' was broadcast on All India Radio in its 'For the Universities' programme. He translated Somerset Maugham's 'Penelope' into Telugu as 'Pankajakshi'. However, Suryanarayana Rao could not fulfill his cherished desire to pay a literary tribute to his "great" grandfather owing to his untimely death at an early age.

Some of the biographers focused on trivia in the life of Narayana Das and to use a cliché, played to the gallery. Their motives can not be faulted however, the most important being to make the books eminently readable. Admittedly it is an arduous task to condense the life work of a litterateur whom Sir C. R. Reddy described as a University, into a book. In order to do justice to the multifaceted genius, the raconteur must be well versed in literature and languages, music and dance and the scriptures - and of course possess great felicity of expression.

The connoisseur would rather be interested in understanding what impelled Narayana Das to polish his understanding of Persian at the age of sixty in order to be able to translate Omar Khaiyam; what in the first place prompted him to conclude that Edward Fitzgerald’s translations of the Persian poet were not literal; what made a scholar and poet of considerable erudition in Sanskrit to eschew all vestiges of the classical language and write in what he called Atcha-Telugu; what well-springs of artistic urges drove him to perform unprecedented, monumental feats in literature and music.

Was self-actualisation the prime motive of his accomplishments rather than the ‘glories of this world’ as his favourite poet-philosopher Omar Khaiyam put it? Was this the reason why he was indifferent to - or even discouraged - efforts to nominate him for the Nobel Prize for literature? Did he constantly strive to excel standards he set for himself; setting, excelling, upgrading and excelling them in a continuous process, oblivious of and without recourse to the environment?

Was "Jagajjyothi", which many consider his magnum opus - really a record of his musings which he wrote to express and propagate his worldview of religion and message about good human conduct (sat-pravartana), a project, curtailed by his abandoned autobiography?

Wouldn't the connoisseur be rather interested in answers to these questions than be told that the boy Narayana Das was caught smoking a cigar in the loft and chased by his father with a crop.

The following are important for connoisseurs of Narayana Das-ana in that they portray his literary and musical accomplishments in great wealth of detail.

Narayana Dasa Jeevita Charita (1956). The author of this biography, Maruvada Venkata Chayanulu was a nephew of Narayana Das. Being of the family he had a grandstand view of the artistic genius from close quarters. He therefore endeavoured to largely focus on this aspect rather than making the biography a catalogue of events.

Harikathapitamaha Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Dasa Satajayantutsava Sanchika (1967), a souvenir published by the Samskruthi Samithi, Chirala to commemorate the great man’s birth centenary. This is a compilation of articles on Narayana Das by his contemporaries, disciples and other literary and music luminaries.

Adibhatla Narayana Dasa Saraswata Neerajanamu (1975) published by the Rachayithala Sahakara Sangham, Guntur. Edited by S. V. Joga Rao, Professor and Head of the Department of Telugu, Andhra University, it is a compendium of articles critiquing the various aspects of Narayana Das’ literary and musical works.

Purnapurushudu (1979) by Yamijala Padmanabhaswamy lucidly tells Narayana Das’ life story in prose tinged with poetry; interesting stories behind his literary produce, peppering it with events that help delineate his personality and sketches of his social intercourse with the literary and musical elite of his time.

Narayana Darsanamu (1983). This is Gundavarapu Lakshminarayana’s thesis on the literary output of Narayana Das, for which the Andhra University awarded him a Ph. D. degree. Although it contains a brief life-sketch, it is in fact an excellent critique of his literature in Sanskrit, Telugu and musical works.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Monument Of Scholarship

The following is the review of Pandit Narayana Das’ “Rubaiyat” of Omar Khaiayam, by ‘The Hyderabad Bulletin’ published as an editorial in its issue of January 16, 1937. The newspaper obviously felt that the work merited a review in the form of an editorial. 

A Monument Of Scholarship

Pandit Narayana Das' Statue on 
Visakhapatnam Beach
We have pleasure in acknowledging a copy of the “Rubaiyat” of Omar Khaiyam, translated into Sanskrit and Telugu by Pandit A. Narayana Das, retired Principal of Sri Vijayarama Gana Pathasala, Vizianagaram, and a careful perusal of the book fills us with admiration at the astounding scholarship of the learned Pandit.

There are, of course dozens of translations of the immortal “Rubaiyat”, the most popular and probably the best known being that of Edward Fitzgerald. Pandit Narayana Das, who frankly expresses the opinion that Fitzgerald’s work is not a literal translation, has gone back to the original Persian in order that the letter and the spirit of Omar Khaiyam may not be missed.

In these degenerate days when scholarship has fallen on evil times, it is incredible to learn that a Hindu, with Telugu as his mother tongue, should have been so filled with admiration for a Persian poet that, after he had passed his sixtieth year, he took the trouble to master so alien a language, and translate the masterpiece not only into Telugu but into another classical language, Sanskrit.

We find in the book that while Fitzgerald’s translation is rendered into Sanskrit and into Telugu of the Kandam metre, the hardest perhaps in the Telugu prosody, Omar Khaiyam’s original text is again translated into Giti and the Bhujangi metres.

We are certainly unaware of any recent instance in India where so much learning has been brought to bear on what is no less certainly a labour of love, for it is evident that there are few persons familiar with the Sanskrit language who are anxious to have a rendering of the Persian original.

Pandit Narayandas’s erudition is enhanced by the fact that even in using his own mother tongue, he has selected what is called Atchha-Telugu, a language that only a handful can understand. The work therefore is not intended for the masses, and the learned author expects no profits out of his scholarship.

But literature transcends the limitation of language, age and country, and it is most gratifying that a Telugu writer of the twentieth century should have paid the most splendid tribute to a Persian Poet of the twelfth century. He has added a most copious glossary at the end of the book to facilitate an appreciation of the original, its translation by Fitzgerald, and the author’s own translation into Sanskrit and Telugu.

In inviting the attention of H.E.H. the Nizam’s Government to the Pandit’s work, we trust that, in consonance with their liberal support of classical scholarship; they will extend their patronage to the Pandit, and thus bring about a sympathetic understanding and interpretation between the two classical languages.
The Hyderabad Bulletin.

(Emphasis added)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Narayana Das headed music college founded as tribute to him


By the second decade of the twentieth century, Pandit Narayana Das' name and fame were established from Calcutta to Kanya Kumari, and prominent newspapers of the day like The Hindu, The Mail, Andhra Patrika et al were singing paeans to his literary and musical accomplishments.  Maharajah Vijayarama Gajapathi of Vizianagaram realised with a feeling of guilt that a citizen of his kingdom went unrecognised in his birthplace. In order to make amends for the oversight, the Maharajah set out to establish a college for music studies as a tribute to the great man and requested Pandit Narayana Das to head the institution.

Initially Narayana Das refused the offer on two counts - one he was already fifty five, an age at which people normally retired and two, he did not wish to serve under a mortal. It was for the same reason that he declined earlier a request of the Maharajah of Mysore, to be the court musician. The Maharajah of Vizianagaram however persisted and offered the principal-ship of the music college, and assured Pandit Narayana Das that he could serve as long as he wished and would continue to receive the salary as pension even after his retirement. Pandit Narayana Das finally agreed to head the institution, with the proviso that it be treated as the temple of Lord Rama and he His servant.

After the death of Maharajah Alakanarayana Gajapathi, the Vizianagaram Samasthanam had a succession battle during the pendency of which it was under the ‘court of wards’ administration. The British administration oblivious of the colossal stature of the artiste or the history of his ‘appointment’ decided to retire him without pension. Pandit Narayana Das gracefully bowed out without a murmur. Two years later he casually recounted this to his friend Mr. Bardswell, who was then a member of the board of revenue, who intervened with the British administration and had the Pandit’s pension restored.




Friday, May 28, 2010

"Pandit Narayana Das, 'You are a University'!"

"Mr. Narayana Das, I am merely a vice-chancellor but you are a university!"

Sir C. R. Reddy, Eminent Litterateur and first Vice Chancellor,
Andhra University

"…an exquisite poet, a versatile genius conversant with English, a profound scholar in Telugu and Sanskrit and an accomplished musician of the most enchanting type. While this pride of Vizianagaram was unfolding the story with his inimitable skill, the audience was beside itself with joy. Not only was he applauded time and again, but at the close, there was a spontaneous outburst from every one present exclaiming that it was a rare and excellent treat. Of the gifted expounder, it may well be and truly said that he is entitled to be spoken of in glowing terms by the best of Pundits, by the most skilful songsters, by the most ardent lovers of music and by the most reputed of elocutionists. The rhythmic cadences of his harmonious voice, the melodious intonations of his musical flight and the snatches of vivid and picturesque representations of nature, conjured up his lively and constructive faculty of imagination and his powerful command of language appealed to the listeners’ spiritual sensibilities.”                           

The Hindu, June 30, 1894

“…a careful perusal of the book fills us with admiration at the astounding scholarship of the learned Pandit.

“…Pandit Narayana Das, who frankly expresses the opinion that Fitzgerald’s work is not a literal translation, has gone back to the original Persian in order that the letter and the spirit of Omar Khaiyam may not be missed.

We are certainly unaware of any recent instance in India where so much learning has been brought to bear on what is no less certainly a labour of love, for it is evident that there are few persons familiar with the Sanskrit language who are anxious to have a rendering of the Persian original.

“Pandit Narayandas’s erudition is enhanced by the fact that even in using his own mother tongue, he has selected what is called Atchha-Telugu, a language that only a handful can understand. The work therefore is not intended for the masses, and the learned author expects no profits out of his scholarship.”

-The Hyderabad Bulletin January 16, 1937

"Narayana Das was like a gold standard that balanced literature and music"
Sri Sri

“Besides his mastery of music, what appealed to me most was his brilliant exposition of ideas expressed by great masters of poetry like Shakespeare. His translations of English and Persian poetry were based on a born poet’s instinctive understanding of the ideas of a fellow poet. The whole performance was indeed a feast of reason and flow of soul.”

Mahadeva Iyer, ICS, in Swarajya, February 2, 1933.

“…He was frequently to be met with in those days of an evening along the main road with half a dozen disciples in his company with his arms thrown over his walking stick laid across the back of his neck behind his capacious shoulders, all absorbed in a peripatetic lesson in music and a difficult dance step. At a certain point in his low-toned discourse he would go into a spin and, as he pirouetted like a teenage girl, his voice would go mounting up and execute a spellbinding Raga that transfixed the passers by in a tableau of exceeding self-transcendence.

…His skill in ‘Tala’ or rhythm was unrivalled and he was the only man in his own day who could execute the‘Shanmukha’ or sextuple ‘Tala’ with his hands and his arms against the sides and his right foot beating five orders of sounds to synchronise with a prescribed tag sung in Sanskrit.”

Ronanki Appala Swamy, Literary Critic.

To the soulfully alive anvartha Servitor of God

Thine was the Life of poesy
Thine was the Light of beauty
Thine was the Love of divine art …

"'Poets nascitur, non fit.' Horace’s dictum finds ample evidence in the life and work of Narayana Das.

"A legendary figure in his own lifetime, the father of Harikatha, the only scholar who translated Sanskrit poems into Telugu without using a Sanskrit word, the only musician who wrote treatises on Rig Veda and Advaita Vedanta, the only minstrel who sang with equal grace classical Hindustani as well as Karnataka music, the only linguist who equally well understood two classical languages (Sanskrit and Persian), the only poet who wrote with equal ease in both Sanskrit and Telugu, Narayana Das was the one and only Andhra in the last hundred years to whom that indiscriminately employed and hackneyed phrase "Versatile genius" can be justifiably applied.

"He sang as it pleased him and it was Music; he wrote as he liked, and it was Literature, he acted his “stories of God” (Harikathas) on the stage and it was Dance-drama; he spoke as it naturally came to him, and it was Wit; he composed his lines spontaneously and orally, without paper or preparation, on the spur of the moment and at the very instant, and it was Poetry; and he led his earthly existence as his instincts guided him, and it was Everlasting Life."

R.M.Challa, Columnist and Literary Critic

"Sangeetha Sahitya Sarvabhouma", "Laya Brahma", "Panchamukhi Parameswara", Pandit Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das (1864-1945), was poet, musician, dancer, linguist, litterateur and philosopher. He had mastery over several Indian and classical languages like Telugu, Sanskrit, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, English, Arabic and Persian.

Pandit Adibhatla Narayana Das used to prefix his name with “Ajjada” (a tiny village in the Vizianagaram district of Andhra Pradesh) as he wished to share his name and fame with his birthplace.

He has written over a fifty books in Telugu, Sanskrit and Atcha-Telugu (Desyandhramu or Telugu unmixed of Sanskrit). His works included original story-poems (Kavyas and Prabndhas), Harikathas, prose works, treatises in Vedic studies and philosophy, musical works and children’s literature.

His literary and musical accomplishments left him peerless in his time. The literary and musical elite of his time joined to honour him with the title of “Sangitha Sahitya Sarvabhauma”. The musical maestros of his time honoured him with titles like “Laya Brahma” and “Panchamukhi Parameswara” for his ability to sing to five different Talas (or rhythmic cycles), beat with two arms, two shoulders and head. Five different musicians used to keep time with him when he performed “Panchamukhi”.

Fusing the sister realms of poetry, music and dance he created a new art form which he called the Hari KathaHari Katha has a divine mythological core with poetry and music as the medium. Dance & histrionics form the visual expression. The exponent of Hari Kadha should be able to compose and recite poems extempore (Aasukavitvam) the objective being to entertain and educate both the layman and the erudite scholar. Hence he came to be known as the “Hari-Katha-Pitamaha”. Having invented the vehicle, Pandit Narayana Das wrote twenty-one Hari Kadhas, seventeen in Telugu, three in Sanskrit and one in Atcha-Telugu.  

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Doyen Of Harikatha, Adibhatla

We reproduce below an article that appeared in the Indian Express of November 2, 1982 and some correspondence that followed its publication. The writer is Pandit Narayana Das' great-grandson.

Friday, March 19, 2010

అజ్జాడలో నారాయణ దాసు గారి విగ్రహ ఆవిష్కరణ

అజ్జాడలో నారాయణ దాసు గారి విగ్రహ ఆవిష్కరణ

ఈనాడు విజయనగరం మార్చ్ ౧౯, 2010