Kshetrayya: A figment of imagination?

Note:
This article is a rejoinder to the views questioning Kshetrayya’s existence in an article by Dr.Swarnamalya Ganesh that appeared in the NewsMinute.

For those who listen Karnataka music, Kshetrayya needs no introduction as he is one amongst the few who has composed compositions brimming with srungara rasa. He can be very well placed in the line of few Azvar-s like Tirumangai Azvar or  Andal and Jayadeva. It is commonly believed that he hails from the place called Muvva and he was a devotee of Lord Krishna enshrined there. He takes the role of a nayika and his compositions are intimate love dialogues between him and his Lord. Kshetrayya’s compositions are well known for his free and lucid style with an absorbing music.

I happened to read an article by Swarnamalya Ganesh on Kshetrayya and his creations, pada-s with the mudra ‘muvvagopala’. She claims the compositions were actually composed by courtesans and they were appropriated to give a ‘male voice’ to those erotic lyrics. This article by Swarnamalya also quotes another article by Harshita Mruthinti Kamath who even claims Kshetrayya was a figment and was created by the literary community. These two articles shake the belief that Kshetrayya can be no more called as a vaggeyakara as the compositions bearing the mudra ‘muvvagopala’ are in reality, the voice of courtesans.  Though it is imperative to attribute the compositions to the composer who conceived it, we need to first analyze the quality of the research that has taken place to call Kshetrayya as a figment. The readers are requested to read the article by Harshita and Swarnamalya before proceeding further.  This article will be analyzing the arguments placed by them and an analysis will be provided from the angle of a music researcher.

This article can be divided into two parts – first part deals with the theory that Kshetrayya is not a historical figure but a later construct and the second one with the authorship of the pada-s of Kshetrayya.

Let us see the various literary evidences that mention about Kshetrayya. Before going to this, it is to be admitted that the details of this poet available from the literary sources are very scant. The first evidence that we get comes from Manda Lakshminarayana, a 17th or 18th century poet who wrote the text ‘Sarasvati Trilinga Sabdaanusaasanam’ also called as ‘Andhra Kaumudi’, a text on Telugu grammar. He remarks Kshetrayya as ‘iti muvvagopala bhaktena ksetra kavinaa uktatvaacca’, meaning ‘as said by the poet Ksetra, a devotee of Muvvagopala’. What can be understood from this is that the kavi ‘Ksetra’ was popular for using the mudra ‘muvvagopala’, being a bhaktha of the Lord Muvvagopala. This (text) occurs as a continuation of a verse praising Ragunatha Nayaka in the reference mentioned. 1

Supplicants come on their own

to a patron who knows how to give.

Who invited them?

Don’t bees visit the lotus pond

on their own,

king Raghunatha?

Harshita raises following queries:

               ‘insertion of this line and attributed author is interesting for three reasons: first, the line is written in prose, which does not match the lyrical poetic style of the padam genre. [sic] Second, the line is dedicated to Raghunātha Nāyaka (r. 1612–34), who is the predecessor of Vijayarāghāva Nāyaka (r. 1634–73), the latter of whom is the king commonly thought to have patronised Kṣētrayya as per the mēruva padam. [sic] Finally, the poet is identified as Kṣētra, not Kṣētrayya or Kṣētrajña, a Sanskritised version of the poet’s name’. [sic]

Let us see one by one in detail.

Style of the text

Harshita starts by saying the text does not confirm with the style padam-s, the genre for which Kshetrayya is known for. When we don’t even know the proper life history of Kshetrayya, his exact number of compositions and the location where he exactly hailed from, is this not a hasty conclusion that he could have composed only padam-s and this text is out of place? Why should we not think he has composed a text on Raghunatha Nayaka or some other theme where this line features in?

The verse on Raghunatha Nayaka

As mentioned earlier, we do not know the exact time period of Kshetrayya. From his various compositions and the internal evidences therein, it can be understood he lived during the period of Vijayaragahava Nayaka and patronized by him. We also understand he was patronized by two other kings, Tirumala Nayaka of Madurai and Padsha of Golconda from his meruva padam. In the meruva padam, which we will be seeing it soon, he refers to Tirumala Nayaka of Madura, followed by Vijayaraghava Nayaka and the Padsha of Golconda. If we place them in the timeline, Tirumala Nayaka is anterior to Vijayaraghava Nayaka, the former reigned Madurai from 1623-1629 and the latter ruled Tanjavur from 1633-1673. This implies Kshetrayya should have lived in the early part of 17th century. What is interesting here is the reign of Tirumala Nayaka coincides with that of Raghunatha Nayaka (1613-1631). Hence the possibility that Kshetrayya could have visited the court of Raghunatha Nayaka and patronized by him cannot be denied. We wish to remind the readers that not all the padam-s of Kshetrayya are extant. Subbarama Dikshitar has mentioned, he had 700 padam-s of Kshetrayya; only around 200 or 300 are in circulation now. So, the number of padam-s handed over to the next generation is always in decline and one of these lost padam-s might have a reference to Raghunatha Nayaka! This link was strangely missed by Harshita!

Name of the kavi

The text that we quoted read as ‘kshetra’ and not as Kshetrayya or Kshetragna. Harshita raises a query ‘were the poet Kshetra and Kshetrayya are same’?  It is distressing to see such an argument from a scholar who has worked on Telugu literature. The word ‘ayya’ is used as a form of respect and is usually added as a suffix to a person’s name. In this case, Kshetra has become Kshetrayya as a token of respect. Do we have to believe her inability to make this out is a happenstance?

The next reference is from Raghava Chary in his book written in the year 1806.1

Cashatreya, a modern Poet of first note, who composed innumerable Padasmarked with the name of Moova Gopala (Kristna) [sic] – his style is elegant and musical; his language is easy and clear, and his meaning is comprehensive

Though Cashatreya is a variant, we can again see his name is being associated with the deity Muvvagopala. What we wish to reiterate is Kshetrayya was always treated synonymously with his deity Muvvagopala throughout the literary history. But his life history was not mentioned in any of the mentioned references. The first information about his personal life comes from Subbarama Dikshitar in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini.2 He was the first one to mention about his initiation into Gopala mantram and he was from Muvvapuri. Dikshitar also mention various incidents happened in the life of Kshetrayya and perhaps he was the first to call him as Kshetragna.  We have two other evidences that say about Kshetrayya before the publication of the book by Vissa Appa Rao in 1950s and these two were missed by Harshita. The first one is the book Gayaka Siddhanjanam by Taccur Brothers published in the year 1905.3 Their mention is very brief and they say he was a composer of 1000 love songs and lived in a place by name Muvva. The second one is more important as it is from a believer of different faith, Abraham Panditar.4 He has mentioned Kshetiriya has composed 1000 padam-s, mainly reflecting the srungara rasa with the mudra muvvagopala. Further down the line, we find an elaborate story on Kshetrayya’s personal life by Vissa Appa Rao and Rajanikanta Rao. We do not want to dwell into that as they are the author’s interpretation of the available evidences and might lack historical authenticity. From the discussion above, we can understand there existed a poet by name Kshetra/Kshetrayya/Cashatreya/Kshetriya during the reign of Tirumala Nayaka and Raghunatha Nayaka, who could have reached the zenith of his career during the reign of Vijayaraghava Nayaka. He was known for his srungara padam-s, though the exact number is not known. He was always associated with the mudra ‘muvvagopala’ due to his intimate attachment with the Lord Gopala of Muvva. Various places contest to get identified with the Muvva of Kshetrayya and we do want to venture into it, as it will make us to deviate from the topic.

Meruva padam

Almost every other who has given a detailed description about the padam-s of Kshetrayya mention this padam ‘vedukato’ in the raga Devagandhari, also called as meruva padam.

When Tirumala, the king of Madhura, lavished me with gifts

and ordered me to sit before him in his assembly,

he asked: ‘Give me the best of your poems’.

I responded, ‘Here’s 2,000 poems. Pick your favorite’.

Seated on a stage, the king was immensely overjoyed.

He’s the best of customers who plays with joy.

I saw Vijayarāghava in Tañjāvuri in a resplendent garden,

seated under a cool canopy.

When I talked to him, composing 1,000 songs,

he showered me with gifts.

He’s the best of customers who plays with joy.

When the strong Pāduśā of Gōlakoṇḍa gave gifts to me

he conversed with Tulasimūrti that day.

Muvva Gōpāla sang 1,500 songs in 40 days, all through me.

He’s the best of customers who plays with joy1

This is the common padam used to date the period of Kshetrayya and Harshita again places a few queries. She argues there is no reference to Kshetrayya and this is not in the style of other padam-s with the mudra ‘muvvagopala’. Let us look in to these issues now.

Period of Kshetrayya

Every composer, at least in one of his composition gives an internal evidence about himself. It might be some important event that happened in their life or about his parents or about his place of origin. In this padam, we find the names of three rulers – Tirumala Nayaka, Raghunatha Nayaka and Padsha of Golconda and how the author of this composition was honored by every one of them. At the end of the padam, all the glory to the composer were attributed to the deity Muvvagopala. We have seen in all the earlier evidences, including the one by Abraham Panditar, that Kshterayya has made an indelible mark in the mind of people with two pointers – one by composing predominantly srungara padam-s and the second one by associating himself with the deity Muvvagopala. None of the grantakara-s seen above has mentioned him to use ‘svanama’ mudra (his name as a mudra). Hence it is much clear that Kshetrayya was the composer of this padam. Understanding vageeyakara-s (not poets) is important when we try to date the period of a composer and this lack of understanding, perhaps made Harshita to raise this query.

Style of the padam

Harshita mentions this padam differs from the rest of the padam-s with the mudra ‘muvvagopala’ which typically involve a female lover speaking to a friend or lover. A careful examination of few other padam-s could have avoided this confusion. Let us cite two examples:

I offer you worship in ever so many ways,

O ! Lord unite her with me !!

For having supplicated you to such an extent

O ! Lord fulfill my desire !!5

                                   – Inni vidhamula (Mukhari)

When I am unable to bear the onslaught of Cupid,

are you angry, Muvvagopala that I aspire for your love ?5

                                   – Sripati sutu (Anandabhairavi)

Both the examples cited are his personal communications with his Muvvagopala and nowhere an emissary or a pining lover is involved. As we have mentioned, every composer furnishes his creations with internal evidence and the meruvu padam is one such example similar to the two padam-s cited here.

Article with no convincing evidence

We have cited various lacunae on the way by which the research by Harshita was carried out. Let us look into one more issue of that sort. A research article is supposed to have a hypothesis affixed with plausible evidences. Strangely here in this article, we find a conclusion but with no acceptable explanations! Nowhere in this article, was she able to prove Kshretrayya never existed! She is also of the opinion that the padam-s with the mudra ‘muvvagopala’ were composed by courtesans or nattuvanar-s. Again no evidence for this too can be seen in her article and we will elaborate this in the next section.

Kshetrayya is not a figment

We have placed coherent counter arguments for the erroneous statement made by Harshita on Kshetrayya, without giving any solid evidence.  Anyone who goes through the available evidences (provided here or elsewhere) can easily make out that Kshetrayya is indeed a historical figure, who has composed with the mudra ‘muvvagopala’. It is accepted that the details about his life history are very scanty in the written literature. Many of our oral histories exist as oral traditions, fragments due to repeated invasions and ravages of time. So unless we have a clear evidence of absence we cannot conclude that the absence of written evidence or history should say that Kshetrayya doesn’t exist.

Who is to be credited?

We will now concentrate on the next segment, on the authorship of the padam-s with the mudra ‘muvvagopala’. The seeds of this query was planted by Harshita and was nourished by Swarnamalya in her recent article. Harshita states:

‘I raise the possibility that vēśyas composed these Nāyaka-period padams’ [sic]

and Swarnamalya continues as:

‘she does not however delve into the possible names of poetesses and courtesans, which I endeavor to do’ [sic]’

Before seeing these arguments in detail, let us understand that Devadasi-s were custodians of the padam-s of Kshetrayya (along with other musical forms that deal with srungara like javali-s) and they consider as a perquisite with great pride. Many of these compositions were known only to them and even now, we might get some unpublished compositions from their descendants. In other words, it can be said Devadasis were mainly responsible for the propagation of Kshetrayya padam-s. The authors Harshita and Swarnamalya believe the works of these courtesans were appropriated and given a male voice to make these erotic songs more palatable. On analyzing the articles mentioned, we get the following questions:

  1. When did this appropriation take place?
  2. What are the evidences to say courtesans were the composers of these padam-s and why did every other courtesan use the mudra muvvagopala?
  3. Why were the works of courtesans alone appropriated?
  4. Do we have a history of males writing about women-specific expression?

When did this appropriation take place?

Though the scholars keep reiterating the works of courtesans have been appropriated, they never came with a hypothetical period during which this could have occurred. Absence of this information even in a full length research article, like that of Harshita is glaring. Now, let us dissect the possibilities of this appropriation.

From the above discussion, it becomes clear Kshetrayya lived during the period of Nayaka dynasty. Let’s imagine that was the period these padam-s could have been written by the courtesans. Also, we can understand from the discussion of the scholars that, the sanitization of the art of South Indian dance and the implementation of Anti-nautch Act, in association with the colonial mentality is mainly responsible for repugnance towards the erotic works. So, the appropriation could have taken place by the second half of 19th century and/or the first half of 20th century. This raises two pertinent questions – we have a reference to the kavi Kshetrayya and his association with the deity Muvvagopala by Manda Lakshminarayana Kavi, written during 17/18th century. How can this be accounted? Going by this evidence, if at all, the padam-s were appropriated, it could have happened before the period of Lakshminarayana Kavi, which could be before 17th or 18th century. If that is the case, what was the need to appropriate when there was not a generalized aversion to srungara rasa? We could not even find a discussion in these lines in the article mentioned, leave alone an explanation.

What are the evidences to say courtesans were the composers of these padam-s and why did every other courtesan use the mudra ‘muvvagopala’?

As mentioned elsewhere, when a researcher places a hypothesis, he/she is expected to affix it with evidences. What evidences do we have to say these ‘muvvagopala’ padam-s were composed by courtesans? Harshita’s article does not have any explanation and Swarnamalya mentions:

‘Nayaka period repertoires, there was one Nava padamulu [sic]. Nava to mean new, contemporary padams by a variety of composers, were performed in the court every day [sic]. Several of the “now attributed to Kshetryya” padams debuted there, through the courtesan voice and never in that of a Kshetrayya’s [sic]’.     

The details of the manuscript, paper or palm leaf preferably with the catalogue number, padam-s featured therein, the name of the composers therein, whether the names are found in association with padam-s or in a separate folio, any evidences of that manuscript being copied earlier etc., are to be furnished to be more subjective.  Though it is an article in an online magazine, it is intriguing that, not even a name of a single composer purported to have composed these padam-s has been mentioned. Even if the argument is made that some of these expressions are typically female, there is plenty of reference in literature including Kamasutra of Vatsyayana where males articulate from the female standpoint. Many Sangam era poets were male who wrote from the viewpoints of female. So this is nothing new within the larger cultural framework.

Now comes a yet another a germane question – what is the reason for so many courtesans to compose the padam-s with the mudra ‘muvvagopala’? Mudras are insignia of a composer making us to identify the author of a given composition. Mudras can be of various types – svanama (his own name), poshaka (patron’s name), sthala (place with which he is associated) and so on. A single vaggeyakara can use multiple mudra and conversely multiple vaggeyakara-s can use the same mudra. Subbarama Dikshitar says ‘cevvandilinga’, ‘vijayaraghava’ were some of the mudras used by Kshetrayya other than his favourite ‘muvvagopala’. Virabhadrayya, Ramaswamy Dikshitar all come under this category. The mudras like ‘gopala’, ‘venkatesa’ were all favored by many composers. The mudra ‘gopaladasa’ was used by Veena Kuppaier and his son Tiruvottriyur Tyagayyar. The mudra ‘gopalasodari’ was used by one anonymous composers, who works exist only in the manuscripts, seen by this author. Similarly ‘venkatesa’ was used by the composers like Annamacharya, Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbaier etc. What can be seen here is, the mudra-s like gopala’ or ‘venkatesa’ were all more generic, refer to the composer himself (or could be their favourite deity), but the mudra ‘muvvgopala’ is not a generic one. It specifically refers to the Gopala in Muvva. So, it could have been used only the composers associated with the sthala Muvva. In that case, what was the connection between the courtesans who has written these padam-s and the Gopala of Muvva. Muvva (irrespective of the contestants) is certainly not in close proximity to Tanjavur is to be noted and it is to be related with the claim that courtesans of Nayaka era composed these padam-s.  Also we have seen, no granthakara has remarked about this mudra being used by someone else.

Alternatively, why the courtesans in the court of Vijayaraghava Nayaka should write padam-s, wherein the hero is Muvvagopala and included in the daily court routine? The period of Vijayaraghava Nayaka saw the outburst of competent courtesans, not necessarily only in the field of music. They could have very well composed padam-s in praise of him to include it into their repertoire and performed daily in his court.  This is an intriguing question and the scholars are compelled to give a suitable explanation, if their hypothesis is to be accepted.

Why were the works of courtesans alone appropriated?

Throughout the article(s), we can see a statement being reiterated multiple times in a different form – ‘works of the courtesans have been appropriated’, though with no evidence. But, both of them didn’t even try to look into the question ‘why their works have been appropriated’? We have a strong rationale behind this question which will be explained now. Swarnamalya observes:

             ‘For example, in the court of Raghunatha Nayaka were Ramabhadramba, Madhuravani, Krishnatvari and others.[sic] During the reign of Vijayaraghava Nayaka thrived Pasupuleti Rangajamma who wrote prolifically in eight languages alongside Krishnajamma, Candrarekha, Rupavati, Lokanayaki, Bhagyarati and others. [sic] Many of them composed padams which portrayed relationships; emotional, physical and social between the female lover and her deity / King / customer’. [sic]

This clearly shows there were many ‘female’ poets who wrote padam-s. Pasupaleti Rangajamma has even written an opera by name “Usha parinayamu”. This undoubtedly a love story and she was given freedom and voice of expression to compose a dance-drama like this is to be noted.  Women penning srungara pada-s were not uncommon in our culture. Andal, one among the twelve Azvar and her works ‘Nachiyar Tirumozhi’ and ‘Tiruppavai’, serve as a good example. In the medieval era we had the poets mentioned above and even in the colonial era, we do see women composing works based on srungara rasa. Muddupalani and her work Radhika Santwanamu can be cited an example for this. What we understand is, not necessarily, a male voice is required to express srungara. More importantly, none of the works mentioned above articulate in a male voice and none of these works were appropriated to another poet. Contrarily, we have lot of evidences wherein a male has written with a female voice. Those who are familiar with Vaishnavite literature cannot forget Parankusanayaki and Parakalanayaki and their pining for divine unison. The names might be deceiving for others; Nammazvar and Tirumangaiazvar has composed srungara poems in the voice of a female. In the medieval history, we have Jayadeva and in the latter period the works of Ganam Sinayya cannot be left untouched. His padam ‘siva diksha’ clearly explains our point. So, we only have a history of a male being voicing through a female and not the reverse and all these works are extant till now and every orthodox family, men or women are much aware of these poems (by Azvar and Jayadeva).

Having understood the history properly, we have two logical questions:

  1. When the works of Andal and Muddupalani has come to us without being appropriated to a male, why the works of courtesans alone were appropriated? They are much in line with the above mentioned woks, wherein a lady longs to get united with her divine lover.
  2. Their hypothesis looks much more ironic after reading the following statement by Swarnamalya:

      ‘let us not forget that Ramabhadramba, Rangajamma, Madhuravani and later Muddupalani and Nagaratnammal fall in the long line of audacious female figures from literary history, who wrote of the sensual pleasures and female sexual desires in an unabashed manner’.[sic] 

She has mentioned the female poets from the medieval and later era till Nagarathnammal, who lived till the middle half of the last century. So, even in the last century, we have evidences that females were bold enough to express their views, be it sensual or non-sensual. Then why should appropriation take place? The arrival of modern Classical dance is the reason for appropriation cannot hold water for the reason that it was developed to its present form, only from the second or third decade of the last century and we have a reference to Kshetrayya from 17th/18th onwards. The first book on Kshetrayya padam-s was published in the year 1862! Also if someone detest these lyrics in the dance community, they would have concealed, as happened to the work Radhika Santwanamu of Muddupalani.

Do we have a history of males writing about women-specific expression?

We do have a long cultural history in literature. That would be beyond the scope of this article, though a few examples has been cited elsewhere in this article.

Not all are the creations of Kshetrayya

Having rebutted the arguments of these two scholars on the authorship of the padam-s with the mudra ‘muvvagopala’, let us also make a record that not all the extant compositions with the said mudras were his creations. This is particularly in response to a query by Harshita on the padam ‘cerugu maasiyunnanu’ in the raga Begada.

It’s true, I have my period,

but don’t let that stop you.

No rules apply to another man’s wife.

I beg you to come close,

but you seem to be hesitating.

All those codes were written

by men who don’t know how to love.

When I come at you, wanting you,

why do you back off?6

It is very clear that it is much different from the other padam-s of Ksheatrayya. There are hints to social practices that were prevalent among Devadasis in this padam and is quite unnatural. The readers are referred to another article, where in this author has tried to classify the composers based on their composition. A set of composers act like social commentators – they record the events happening around them. Purandaradasa, Samartha Ramadasa and Tyagaraja Svamigal belongs to this category. But, excluding this (perhaps we might have some other padam-s too), we do not find such a social commentary in his other extant padam-s. As ably put by Pillai, Kshetrayya, being a man is always sublime even in expressing srungara.7 A careful analysis of his padam-s will not equip us to ignore this fact. So, this may have been a later construct and the author of these padam-s has used Kshetrayya and his lord Muvvagopala as an armour to make the author’s view more authentic and sounder. Let us place few instances to support this.

Soneji refers to a javali by Neti Subbaraya Sastri ‘ceragu maseyemi’ in the raga Kalyani.

It’s that time of the month, what can I do?

          I can’t even come close to you!6

Even a glance reveals an extraordinary similarity between the two lyrics. If we do not know that the composer of this Kalyani javali is Subbaraya Sastri, it can be very well mistook as a composition of Kshetrayya. Subbarama Deekshithar warns about the tempering that have taken place to the sahitya of Kshetrayya padam-s. Fortunately, the Kalyani javali has naupuri, purportedly to be a mudra.

Lord of Naupuri with a gentle-heart,

Don’t have these worries in your heart,6

This mudra further raises our suspicion on the mentioned Kshetrayya padam in the ragam Begada. This ‘naupuri’ could have been replaced as ‘muvvapuri’! We do not argue this has taken place in this padam. What we try to reprise is the mudra of a composer can be mutilated or rather modified to make it to appear like a construction of another famous composer for better acceptance by the public. It is in the light of Soneji’s research, we need to further analyze this issue. He claims this javali is not published and the ‘kalavantulu’ whom he had interviewed sang it from her memory. Hence the full piece was fragmented and has been pieced together by her.6 These kind of unpublished kriti-s, especially in an oral tradition many times have a problem with the sahitya and are much prone to interpolations.

We wish to cite an example for this too. ‘Parakela nannu’ is a famous kriti of Syama Sastri in the raga Kedaragaula. Whether or not sung in the concerts, it always takes a prominent place in His Jayanthi celebrations or any tribute concerts to him. But the sad truth is that it was not a creation of Sastri at all ! It was actually composed by a musician by name Kakinada Krishna Iyer, who himself has mentioned this kriti in a book published by him.8 His mudra ‘krishna’ occurs in the line ‘smaraadhinudanu sri krishnanutha’ has been tampered as ‘smaraadhinudanu sri syama krishnanutha’ to escalate the image of this kriti and misattributed it to Syama sastri! When the fate of a kriti of relatively a recent construct has been changed, we can imagine the changes that could have happened to the work of Kshetrayya which was composed some 400 years back. The savant Subbarama Dikshitar and his wise words does not fail to hit our mind! Alternatively his mudra in its full form could have been used by others as happened with the case of Tyagaraja svamigal or Muthuswamy Dikshitar.

What we wish to say is that these ‘out of the way’ kritis could have been composed by some unknown authors and attributed to Kshetrayya to sell their product. It is up to us to distinguish the works of Kshetrayya from these spurious padam-s.

Conclusion

Anyone can undertake a research and give a hypothesis. A methodical research demands truthful evidences suffixed with a plausible explanation. Free thoughts of any author based on loose evidences is to be condemned and cannot be accepted as a research.

We have provided evidences to prove the existence of Kshetrayya and his association with his Lord of Muvva by composing padam-s with the mudra ‘muvvagopala’. They are his personal interactions and it is better to be viewed as an expression of craving to get united with the Ever- pervading Parabrahmam.

As Swarnamlaya has stated:

   ‘Are we prepared to hear these padams in its original, female, liberated tone, sans the undercover of discipline, rationality, utilitarian value and knowledge of divinity?’ [sic]

It is up to an individual to view these srungara padam-s in a female, liberated tone or in a disciplined tone to get united with the Parabrahmam, not considering the gender at all. But it is definitely not an academically rigorous act to make broad claims or strawman arguments, appropriating Kshetrayya’s works and attributing them to courtesans with no clear evidence and trying to create an impression, liberality lies only with viewing these padam-s at a mundane level.

Also, it is essential to distinguish the padam-s of Kshetrayya from other composers (even name of some of the composers might be an arcane).But a deep knowledge in Telugu language along with an unbiased mindset and disinterest in thrusting one’s idea is a pre-requisite to do this analysis.

The very main essence that Kshetrayya is a figment and his compositions are actually that of courtesans will definitely trouble the Devadasis, leave alone us. It is their Kshetrayya through whom they have visualized Muvvagopala. It is their Kshetrayya who had taught them the nuances of abhinaya through his immortal padam-s. They would be eternally witnessing this discussion and be much happy that we have understood who He is.

Acknowledgement

I thank my friend Smt Vidya Jayaraman for helping me in preparing this article.

References

  1. Harshita Mruthinti Kamath. Kshetrayya: The making of a Telugu post. The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 56(3):253-282, 2019. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0019464619852264
  2. Subbarāma Dīkṣitulu. Saṅgīta Sampradāya Pradarṣini. Vidyā Vilāsini Press, Eṭṭayapuraṃ Samasthānaṃ, 1904.      
  3. Taccur Śingarācāryulu, Cinna Śankarācāryulu. Gayaka Siddhanjanam. Kalā Ratnākara, Mudrākśara Śālā, Cennapuri, 1905
  4. Abraham Panditar. Karunamruta Sagaram. Part 1. Tanjai Karunanidhi Vaidyasalai, 1917.
  5. Rajanikanta Rao, B. Makers of Indian Literature: Kshetrayya, New Delhi, 1981.
  6. Soneji, D. Unfinished Gestures: Devadāsīs, Memory, and Modernity in South India, Chicago, 2012.
  7. Manu S Pillai. https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-woman-who-had-no-reason-for-shame/article24057695.ece.
  8. C S Krishna Iyer. Prathama Siksha Prakaranam.   https://www.dropbox.com/s/ss6wf9myaqylx1u/BkTm-prathamaSikshAprakaraNam-incomplete-0222.pdf?dl=0  

5 thoughts on “Kshetrayya: A figment of imagination?

  1. Dr. Rajanikatnta Rao also mentioned in his book Muvvagopala Padavali that one of the earliest references to “Ksetrajna” is from 1700 by Manda Lakshminarasimha kavi in his book Andhra Kaumudi.

  2. Veturi Anandamurthy

    A highly readable, well argued, balanced and wonderful rejoinder going on the right path much against the undesirable onslaught on historical facts. I admire and support the view points presented by this writer Dr. Aravind TR

  3. Aravindh Ranganathan

    Thanks a lot sir. It is indeed a great compliment from a researcher like you.

  4. Very interesting analysis. I’m curious, though, about two aspects: has anyone ever done a linguistic analysis of the poems to judge aesthetic unity among the padams attributed to him; and does it really matter? In the sense that similar arguments exist about Shakespeare – he didn’t write the plays, some committee, or some nobleman, did, Ben Johnson did, etc. It’s one of those conspiracy theories that’s worked up without much evidence to further an agenda – in this case the one that says ‘devadasis were hard done by’ in line with a certain fashionable Western academic post modern relativism. No amount of logical argument can defend against these kinds of claims, so isn’t it better to just keep on enjoying the work and calling the author Kshetrayya? I’m genuinely curious about your opinion on this.

  5. Aravindh Ranganathan

    Before analyzing the linguistic aspects, we should first be able to collect as much padams as possible. Many scholars like Vissa Appa Rao have initiated this effort which is to be continued by contemporary scholars. To my knowledge, no one has done an literary analysis and identified the style of Kshetrayya.
    If our intention is to just satisfy our sensory pleasure, it is not even required to be aware of the name of the composer. We will be satisfied and enjoy with the content,let the composer be A or B. Contrarily, if we need to understand the social canvas of the past or relate with the intent of the composer, it is a must to identify him and possibly try to date him.
    Lastly, credit must only reach the deserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*