Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I Don’t Know Anything About Ragas!

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.

‘I Don’t Know Anything About Ragas’!

Suryanarayana had his initial Samskrit education from his father and Vedic studies from Peraiah an elderly, irascible tutor. In those days, the teaching of Vedas was as per the gurukula system in which the pupils had to do a lot of errands around the guru’s ashram. This gave young Suryanarayana an opportunity to roam the hills surrounding their village, singing like a lark; swimming in the streams and wandering in the woods that abound in the area; soaking in the beauties of nature and frame them in the mind’s eye of a future artiste.

However small pox intervened to put an end to his stay in the gurukula – and in effect his formal education in Samskrit and Vedic studies - at the age of nine.

In the meantime his melodious voice and the minstrel that was taking shape within him were noticed not only by his parents but also by Vasa Kamaiah a noted veena vidwan from Bobbili who offered to take him under his wing as a disciple and teach him classical music. However, for the boy this meant relocating to Bobbili which his poor family could not afford. Kamaiah offered to put him up at his own home and offer free food one day a week. He was to look for six other households that would offer a ‘varabhojanam’. Under the varabhojanam practice prevalent at the time, a household offers free food to a poor scholar one day a week (varam), so that if the scholar could find seven households he could pursue his studies without hindrance.

One day he was passing by the fort crooning a tag oblivious to his surroundings and two people following him. One of them, Tumarada Venkaiah a music vidwan, stopped him to enquire of his antecedents and asked him whether he knew what raga he was singing. On being replied that he did not, Venkaiah complimented him on his melodious rendering of ‘subhapantuvarali’ and prophesied that the boy would grow into a great musician. The boy nonchalantly replied that the vidwan’s praise was ‘all right’, but could he arrange a varabhojanam? The vidwan happily agreed to offer a varam. In spite of such munificence, try as he might, the boy could not find the necessary seven households in Bobbili and after a month of privations he returned home.

This in effect put an end to his formal education in music - lasting all of a month!

At the tender age of nine Narayana Das was able to sing in a complex raga like Subhapantuvarali even though he was oblivious to it as he had no formal training in music. This was perhaps the reason why the famous poet Chellapilla Venkata Sastry described him as Pumbhäva Saraswati - a male incarnation of the Goddess of learning! (We will see in another snippet the anecdote relating to Chellapilla Venkata Sastry’s description of Narayana Das as Pumbhäva Saraswati.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reciting Bhagavatam At The Age Of Five

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.


When he was five years old, just after he had had his ‘upanayanam’ Suryanarayana [later to become Narayana Das] accompanied his mother Narasamma, to visit the Siva shrine at Gumpa, situated at the confluence of Nagavali and Jhanjhavati, on a Mahasivaratri day. On their way back, at Parvatipuram, Narasamma sought to buy a copy of Bammera Potana’s Bhagavatam. The book stall owner Rangayya dismissed her, as in those days although women were well-versed in the scriptures, only a few were literate. Narasamma proposed that the boy would read the book and she would explain the meaning. To the surprise of everyone who gathered by then, the boy recited some famous verses from the book in a melodious voice and Narasamma explained their meaning in an enchanting voice. Pleased with the performance, Rangaiah gifted the book after having it leather-bound. This was the first trophy of a multitude that Suryanarayana collected in his life as an artiste, one which he preserved as a cherishing memorabile.    

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Daśa Viḍha Rāga Navati Kusuma Mañjari

Daśa Viḍha Rāga Navati Kusuma Mañjari is a musical work in which Pandit Adibhatla Narayana Das exhibited his monumental skill in literary craftsmanship and musical composition.  It is a rāga mālika comprising ninety ragas in ten categories and nine rāgas in each category. The ten categories are: (1) Sarva-sampurna ragas (2) Shadava-oudava ragas (3) Oudava-shadava ragas (4) Sampurna-oudava ragas (5) Oudava-sampurna ragas (6) Suddha-shadava ragas (7) Sampurna-shadava ragas (8) Shadava-sampurna ragas (9) Suddha-oudava ragas & (10) Vakra ragas. As the ninety ragas are woven as flowers in a garland, it is named dasavidha raga navati kusuma manjari.

The rāga mālika is a prayer to goddess Kanyakumari and is in two parts, the first half in Samskrit and the second in Telugu. The names of the ragas are used as a part of the prayer in each line of the first part. Thus the composer dictated the ragas in which each line should be sung. The same ragas are repeated in the inverse order in the second half. The rāga mālika can be sung in all tālās evolving from the five jātis of eka-tāla.

Another important feature of this raga malika is this: while a vocalist sings it, and five musicians keep time each with a different eka-tāla, by the time the raga-malika is completely sung all the eka-tālas could be concluded and not in between.

If a musician can accomplish singing the rāga mālika to five different tālās it would be a great achievement. Pandit Narayana Das used to perform such a feat which he called Panchamukhi, after the five facets of Paramasiva. The five facets of Paramasiva are Sadyojatha, Vamadeva, Eesana, Tatpurusha and Aghora. The performance of Panchamukhi earned Pandit Narayana Das the title of Panchamuki-Parameswara. The five talas he used to perform were trisragati with the right hand; chaturasragati with the left hand; khanda with the right shoulder; misra with the left shoulder and sankeerna with the head. He also performed Shanmukhi also known as Laghusekharam in musical theory. The performance of five and six talas earned him the title, Layabrahma.

Mahamahopadhyaya’, ‘SangeethasekharaNookala Chinasatyanarayana has this to say of the Sangeetha Prabandham: A student of this prabandham who begins his musical education with the first line becomes a vidwan by the time he accomplishes singing the 180th line or aavartham. If a music vidwan practises this Prabandham daily, there would be nothing beyond his capability with regard to performance of music or tala.” 

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Translation of Khayyam's works released" - The Hindu

The report which appeared in The Hindu, Vijayawada on May 6, 2012
The report which appeared in Eenadu, Vijayawada on May 6, 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Adibhatla's Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam published by Sahitya Akademi

The Kendriya Sahitya Akademi recently re-published Pandit Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das' Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam, first published in 1932, under its 'Rare Books Series' programme. The book was released at a function organised by the Sahitya Akademi and Vijayawada Book Festival Society at Vijayawada on May 5, 2012. (See the English and Telugu invitations below.) The event was prominently reported by The Hindu, The Hans India and Eenadu among other newspapers. For details of  Pandit Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana DasRubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam see these reviewsA Monument Of Scholarship and Body's Soul & Earth Is Heaven

Seen in the picture are from left to right: R. C. Mahesh, Regional Secretary, Sahitya Akademi; Upadhyayula Narayana Das, great-grandson of Pandit Narayana Das; Jayasri Mohanraj, translator and Professor, English & Foreign Languages Universtiy, Hyderbadad; Turlapati Kutumba Rao, writer and journalist, P. Satyavathi, writer and U. A. Narasimha Murthy, literary critic and writer.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Versatile Genius

If intimacy with Islamic scholars stimulated him to learn Arabic and Persian, kinship with Hindustani classical singers made him cultivate their style. The cultivation of the Hindustani style added a rare and unique hybrid timbre to his music not usually found in the rendering of Carnatic singers and won him many accolades including those from the Maharajah of Mysore and Rabindranath Tagore. This is because it was unusual for Carnatic singers to be able to sing Hindustani and vice versa. The hybrid style he developed left an indelible stamp on the progress of Carnatic music. It was adopted by later musicians including some of the greats of Carnatic music, marking it as the sui generis of Vizianagaram music. Eventually when Narayana Das became the first principal of Sri Vijayarama Gana Pathasala (the first music college in South India) it became part of the curriculum. The Maharajah of Vizianagaram established the Music College in 1919 to honour the Pandit and enable enthusiasts to learn music from him. The college produced many great musicians. Pandit Narayana Das inducted violin maestro Dwaram Venkata Swamy Naidu as a lecturer in the college. Dwaram succeeded Pandit Narayana Das as principal after the latter relinquished office in 1936.”

The following article on Pandit Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das appeared in The Hans India of January 8, 2012. The original may be seen here: The versatile genius

Sir Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy, eminent litterateur, educationist and founder Vice Chancellor of Andhra University described Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das (1864-1945) as a ‘
university’. Sir Ramalinga Reddy was not exaggerating, for Narayana Dasu was a linguist with proficiency in as many as eight languages, poet, philosopher, writer, composer, dancer, actor and the creator of the unique art form, Hari Katha. 

It is well nigh impossible to find a parallel for him in the history of Indian literature. Adibhatla Narayana Das was the only scholar who had mastery over four classical languages (Sanskrit, Telugu, Arabic and Persian) and translated from Persian and English into Sanskrit and Telugu; the only litterateur who wrote a comparative treatise on the works of Kalidas and Shakespeare; the only writer-composer who translated into Telugu and set to music Rig-Vedic hymns and the only writer-composer who composed a geeta-malika comprising 90 Carnatic ragas. As a writer-composer who composed music in all the 72 Carnatic ragas, he was next only to Thyagaraja. 

His literary output was voluminous. He wrote over 50 books in Telugu, Sanskrit and Atcha-Telugu (Desyandhramu or Telugu unmixed of Sanskrit). His works included original story-poems (Kavyas and Prabandhas), Harikathas, prose works, musical works, dramas, translations, treatises in philosophy and Vedic studies and children’s literature. For want of space, only a few of his works are introduced here:

Navarasatarangini (1922): A study that compares, contrasts and critiques the treatment of the nine rasas or moods in the plays of Shakespeare and Kalidas. A voluminous work, with a lengthy preface, it vetted the entire of body of dramatic literature of the two writers.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam (1932): Narayana Das felt that Edward Fitzgerald’s English renderings of Omar Khaiyam’s Rubaiyat were not literal and did not do justice to the spirit of the Persian poet’s philosophy. In order to demonstrate his thesis, Narayana Das translated both the original Persian and the English renderings into Sanskrit and Atcha-Telugu. “Hyderabad Bulletin*, a prominent newspaper of the time felt the book merited a review - Here are some excerpts from the editorial entitled, “A Monument of Scholarship”: “[...] a careful perusal of the book fills us with admiration at the astounding scholarship of the learned Pandit […] 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.

Jagajjyothi (1942-43): It was his magnum opus in which he analysed, discussed and critiqued ancient Vedic lore and tried to apply his theories to everyday life. It contains the quintessence of Narayana Das’ philosophy and outlook towards life. In this he was at once heretical and traditional, rational and religious. He distilled all that is good in all Indian philosophies and brought about a synthesis and propounded a new philosophy of humanism. 

Dasavidharaganavati Kusumamanjari(1938): An outstanding musical work of unparalleled erudition, it is a Devi stotram comprising 90 Carnatic ragas. The first half is in Sanskrit and  the second half in Telugu. 

Vizianagarm of the late nineteenth century was a haven of literary and artistic talent and was - to borrow a phrase from renaissance literature - in a state of intellectual ferment. Narayana Das’ innate artistry blossomed and flourished. Narayana Das used  to absorb knowledge the way sponge absorbs water. If intimacy with Islamic scholars stimulated him to learn Arabic and Persian, kinship with Hindustani classical singers made him cultivate their style.

The cultivation of the Hindustani style added a rare and unique hybrid timbre to his music not usually found in the rendering of  Carnatic singers and won him many accolades including those from the Maharajah of Mysore and Rabindranath Tagore. This is because it was unusual for Carnatic singers to be able to sing Hindustani and vice versa. The hybrid style he developed left an indelible stamp on the progress of Carnatic music. It was adopted by later musicians, including some of the greats of Carnatic music. Eventually when Narayana Das became the first principal of Sri Vijayarama Gana Pathasala (the first music college in South India) it became part of the curriculum. The Maharajah of Vizianagaram established the Music College in 1919 to honour the Pandit and enable enthusiasts to learn music from him. The college produced many great musicians. Pandit Narayana Das inducted violin maestro Dwaram Venkata  Swamy Naidu as a lecturer in the college. Dwaram succeeded Pandit Narayana Das as principal after the latter relinquished office in 1936.

Pandit Narayana Das’ 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 talas, beat with two arms, two feet and head. Five musicians used to keep time with him when he performed “Panchamukhi.” The versatile genius breathed his last on January 2, 1945. 
*To read the editorial review of Pandit Narayana Das' Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiayam by Hyderabad Bulletin please see: A MONUMENT OF SCHOLARSHIP