The year beginning August 31 this year is Adibhatla Narayana Das’ sesquicentennial as he was born on August 31, 1864. Over the next few weeks we will present you interesting snippets (excerpts from a new biography) from the life of the great man. The biography is planned to be released during the sesquicentennial.
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THE WANDERING MINSTREL’S MAIDEN VOYAGE
Buoyed by the success of his debut at Vizianagaram Narayana Das set out on a tour of the country, his first stop being the Samsthanam* of Urlam, which was well known for its patronage of arts, culture and Samskrit studies**. Here he delivered his second Hari Katha performance in the court of Zamindarini Kandukuri Mahalakshmamma. Impressed by his ability of asukavitvam (literally, composing poetry extempore), the courtier-pundits wanted to know whether he could perform Asta-avadhanam, to which he answered in the positive. Delighted as much by Narayana Das’ asta-avadhanam arranged next day as she was by his Hari Katha and asukavitvam earlier, the Zamindarini offered him a ‘varshikam’.
After Urlam, he performed Hari Kathas at many places in the region. H. R. Bardswell, the sub-collector of Srikakulam district was so impressed by his performance at Narasannapeta that he became his fan and life-long friend. At Berhampore, Kuppuswami Naidu, the inspiration behind his creation of Hari Katha was among the audience. Very much impressed by the performance, he wanted to know who the guru who taught Narayana Das was. Narayana Das informed him that while there was no guru, he himself was the inspiration.
Also at Berhampore Narayana Das added Jaynthi Kamesam Pantulu, an advocate, educationist and poet to his multiplying horde of fans and life-long friends. Narayana Das was so overwhelmed by the love and affection that Kamesam Pantulu showered on him that he dedicated his autobiography Naa Eruka to him when he died.
It was at Chatrapuram that an interesting episode prompted him to compose his second Hari Katha. Till then, he was performing his first composition, Dhruvacharitra. His performance was so impressive that a member of the elite audience wondered whether the young man really did write the Hari Katha. When Narayana Das affirmed that it was indeed he that wrote it, he was challenged to write Ambarisha Charitramu and perform it. He was given a week to do so. Narayana Das accepted the challenge but wrote it overnight – not in one week that was given to him – and performed it the next morning.
During the trip, Narayana Das performed at Lokanadham villege Sangeetha-ashta-avadhanam - of which mention has been made earlier - introducing musical elements into ashta-avadhanam.
By the time he returned to Vizianagaram, the transformation of Suryanarayana into Narayana Das was complete. He just turned twenty. As he entered his twenty first year he married Narasamma, the daughter of Vadlamani Annappa.
* A Samsthanam is smaller than a kingdom, the equivalent of a principality, also sometimes referred to as a Zamindari.
** The ‘Urlam Examination’ in Samskrit studies was known for its methodology and rigour and had a standing similar to that of a degree obtained in Kashi.
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