Caturanana Pandita I – A Courtier-General & a Pontiff

Prologue:

Our country in the past has sired a great number of men whose valour, glory, contribution and many a times their very existence has been long forgotten, unwept and unsung. One such personality is Caturanana Pandita who is the subject matter of this blog post. He was a monk or the head of a monastic institution and  more precisely a ‘mahAvratin’ – (observer of a great vow) a member of a holy order of monks belonging to the kALAmukha sect of Saivas.  Historical records reveal that there was a succession of Caturanana Panditas between 950 CE-1175 CE, all of them being the head of the monastery at Tiruvottriyur (near Chennai) . The  subject matter of this post is Caturanana Pandita I who in fact set up the monastery at Tiruvottriyur and became its first titular head or Pontiff circa 957 CE. His history is an enigma and only through the works of a handful of epigraphists & historians, are we able to connect the dots and get to know this personality. This blog has been structured to look at the life sketch this Caturanana Pandita, the details as to the kALAmukha tradition of Saivas (which is virtually extinct today) to which he belonged to and we would end it of course with a homage by way of a composition.

An inscription attesting to this great personality was made 1077 years ago or to be exact, 14th of January 943 CE, in a temple in remote Tamilnadu.

kALAmukhas – A brief primer on an old Saivite tradition:

Sadly, as of today, no religious material or text in full pertaining to the practice of Kalamukhas have survived to reach us to provide us with first hand evidence as to their beliefs & practices. Lakulisa is the 28th avatara of Siva as mentioned in the Lingapurana. It is said that Lakulisa had four shishyas – Kusika, Garga, Maitreya and Kaurushya. From each of these four shishyas originated , Pasupata, Kapalika, Kalamukha and Saiva. According to the Vamana Purana, it is said that Kalamukhas were founded by Apastamba and his shishya Kratheshvara. The Kalamukhas based on inscriptional evidence seem to be orthodox brahmanas studying Veda and Sastra and thus different from Kapalikas.

The Kalamukhas were often clubbed together with the Kapalikas in terms of a negative portrayal by Ramanujacharya and Yamunacharya. Similar to the Kapalikas, some of the characters found in literary works such as “mAlatimAdhavA”, has cast even the kALAmukAs too in bad light. Notwithstanding the same it can be said the Kalamukhas were primarily reclusive students of Vedas and sastras – nyayavaisheshika in particular and were worshippers of Lord Shiva, who undertook ascetic vows thereby getting the designation of mahavratins.  They had their own matAs or monasteries and also enjoyed the patronage of the wealthy and the Royals. Their name derives from their practive of smearing their foreheads (sometimes the face) with a dark bhasma.

What commands our attention next is the form of Lord Shiva that these Saivas propitiated. While the fearsome Lord Bhairava was the presiding deity of the kApAlikAs, the Kalamukhas worshipped Lord Lakulisa. Lakulisa is represented as a naked yogi, carrying a japamala, a laguda or a club and a kapala or human skull. Befitting his yogic stance, he is also represented as urdhva-retah (ithyphallic). However there is an interesting form of Lakulisa , interpreted by some to be a form of Lord Dakshinamurti called as Gaulisa.  In this context I invite the attention of the discerning reader to the existence of a shrine in Tiruvottriyur , near Chennai in the temple complex of Lord Adipureesvara, wherein this form is enshrined. See Foot Note 1.

With this quick introduction to kaLAmukhas , we will quickly go back in time when the Medieval Cholas to the late 9th Century were entrenching themselves as a significant power in Southern Tamilnadu with their capital first at Uraiyur and later at Tanjore. Readers may remember that we encountered this piece of history in a previous blog post dealing with the quest for the long-lost Goddess Nishumbasudani of Tanjore.

Medieval Cholas – Circa 930 AD

King Vijayalaya Chola’s (the founder of the lineage of the medieval Cholas) son Aditya I who was the Chola ruler with his capital at Tanjore, at this point in time was buffeted by the Pallavas of Kanci and the Rashtrakutas of Deccan from the North and by the Pandyas and Cheras from the west and without significant military clout was unable to expand the boundaries of the Kingdom. It would be nearly 70 years later that the Cholas would reach their zenith under Emperor Raja Raja Chola ( closer to 1000 AD) and his son Rajendra Chola in establishing complete suzerainty of peninsular India. Nevertheless, it would be Aditya I’ son & grandsons who would lay the foundation for the medieval Cholas at this point in time. Aditya I’s eldest son was Parantaka I. In order to build relationships and neutralize enemies, as was the custom & practice of those times, Aditya I reached out to the Chera King (of mAkOttai as is referred in epigraphs) and had his son Parantaka I married to the Kerala Princess Kokkilan Atikal. Their son was the famous Prince Rajaditya a.k.a Kodandarama. ( see featured image , header to this blog post). This Prince was the scion of that lineage having both the Chola and Chera blood flowing in his veins, reflecting a great royal alliance of those times.

Prince Rajaditya was a young and brave warrior and as Crown Prince he went on to become the Commandant of the garrison of Chola forces at the northern borders of the Kingdom being thirumunaipAdi nAdu quartered at the place today known as Tirunavalur or Tirunamanallur. This region of modern-day Tamil Nadu is called Tondaimandalam and the valiant Crown Prince was anointed as the Viceroy of this northern bulwark of the Chola Kingdom. And most likely his entire retinue including probably his mother Queen Kokilan as well perhaps moved to this place to be with him. Or at the least the Queen must have visited this place frequently to be with her son. For, this Tirunavalur is also known to epigraphists as “Rajadityapuram” and the Siva temple there is recorded as having been endowed by Prince Rajaditya’s mother, the aforesaid Queen Kokkilan, of the Chera Royal House. Earlier when this Kerala Princess moved to her matrimonial home at Tanjore and into the Royal Chola household, a retinue of noblemen, warriors and also retainers too moved along with her from the Chera land accompanying her to Tanjore. And likely one amongst those, was a young Chera warrior by name Vellan Kumaran or to be precise Vallabhan Kumaran (corrupted to Vellan Kumaran) who was perhaps a son of one of those who moved in with the Chera Princess. And this young warrior went on to become a retainer, an aide-de-camp and thereafter a close, intimate friend and confidante of Crown Prince Rajaditya. The Chola records dating back to those times indicate that this Vellan Kumaran hailed from a place called Puttur on the banks of the Nandi river and he was a man of eminence hailing from Kerala (malainAdu)and he was a loyal and unswerving commander of the Prince (Rajaditya). The records further record that this warrior despite being a migrant to the Chola land had a meteoric rise in the Chola military ranks rising to the level of dandanAyakA or a Commander (perumpadai nAyakar in Tamil) and also was perhaps a vassal or perhaps an anointed chieftain of a Chola fiefdom as well. Chola records dating to this period hold that Vellan Kumaran was a ‘mUlabhritya’ of Prince Rajaditya and Dr V Raghavan records the following inscription from thsoe times, which attests to the foregoing:

Epigraphist S R Balasubramanian deduces the date of this inscription, found at the temple of Lord Siva at Tirumundeesvaram or Tirumudiyur or Mouligramam or Gramam ( as it is called today),  to 14th January AD 943, 1077 years ago ! ( see Foot note 2)

Dr Raghavan goes on to deduce that Vallabhan Kumaran alias Vellan Kumaran was not merely a warrior but he also exhibited scholarly and spiritual attainments and thus was ‘supratishthita-dhi’ or to use the vocabulary of Gita, a stitha-prajna .

And thus in short, Vellan Kumaran was a close companion and an indispensable member of Crown Prince Rajaditya’s Royal entourage ever since Prince Rajaditya assumed command of the Tirumunaipadi garrison, circa 930 AD leading up to the Battle of Takkolam (in 949 AD). During this period as Dr V Raghavan notes, a number of epigraphical evidences underlines Vellan Kumaran ‘s munificence and also the special relationship he shared with Prince Rajaditya.

In a while we will see that this epic Battle of Takkolam would prove a proverbial turning point not just for the Royal House of Medieval Cholas but also for Vellan Kumaran personally.

The Battle of Takkolam & Vellan Kumaran’s remorse

This is a contemporary depiction of the Battle of Takkolam (949 CE) as it is shown on a pillar of a temple built by Butuga II (939-960 CE) of the Western Ganga dynasty (a Rashtrakuta empire vassal) as a fitting finale to his victory over the Cholas of Tanjore at the Takkolam battle. The reliefs on the circular pillars of the Nandi Mandapa depict the defeat of Chola commander Rajaditya by Butuga Il who fought for the Rashtrakutas. Location: Arakeshwara temple (also spelt Arakeshvara or Arakesvara) in Hole Alur, Chamarajanagar district, Karnataka state, India.

Ever since Crown Prince Rajaditya was anointed as the commander of the northern Chola outpost at thirumunaipAdi nAdu, things began boiling on those frontiers. The Rashtrakuta King Krishna III ( referred to as Kannaradeva in inscriptions) , an adversary of the Cholas , during those times, decided to take on the Cholas led by the valiant Crown Prince Rajaditya and the battle was fought in Takkolam, a town today in North Arcot/Vellore District in Tamilnadu in the year 949 AD. According to Prof Nilakanta Sastri, the Rashtrakutas allied with the Banas and Vaidumbas along with the Western Ganga clan of Kings and went into the battle against the Cholas. Crown Prince Rajaditya died in this battle leading the Chola forces.

According to historical records, Butuga II of the Western Ganga clan who was fighting the Cholas alongside the Rashtrakutas, killed Prince Rajaditya, seated on an elephant, by deceit. Chola records of the period bemoan the death of the young & valiant Chola Prince & heir apparent eulogizing him as ‘AnaimEl tunjiya tEvar’ (the Prince who gave up his life, atop an elephant).  The Leyden Copper Plates tracing the Chola history recounts the event in its narrative as under:

“ The heroic Rajaditya, the ornament of the Solar race, having shaken in battle the unshakeable Krishna Raja with his forces by means of his sharp arrows flying in all directions, was himself pierced in his heart while seated on the back of  a large elephant, by the sharp arrows of the enemy and thus won the praise of the three worlds even as he ascended to the heaven of heroes in a tall vimana.”

While it definitely plunged the Royal House and the entire Chola Kingdom into grief, for Vellan Kumaran the Prince’s unfortunate and sudden demise would have been emotionally catastrophic, for he was the Prince’s vayasya – a constant companion and friend. It is known that for some unknown reason, Vellan Kumaran had not been by the side of the Crown Prince that fateful afternoon at the battlefield at Takkolam and most probably it added a further element emotional & mental trauma of not being there to defend his bosom friend and master.

Left to survive alone, without his much beloved Crown Prince, master and a bosom friend, this great warrior Vellan Kumaran went through pangs of guilt. The trauma that he underwent is captured by the following Sanskrit inscription which also captures the atonement that this great warrior resorted to, so as to assuage and rid himself of his feelings of guilt.

”bālye vidyāsamastās svayam adhigatavān bāhuśālī viśālībhūtoras sthāpitaśrīr bhuvanahitarataś coladeśaṃ sametya |

rājādityasya rājñaḥ prakaṭataragurusnehasamāntabhāvaṃ yaḥ prāpto’sannidhānāt sahamaraṇasukhaṃ saṃyuge tena nāptataḥ ||

Epigraphia Indica 27 (1947–48), no. 47: v. 2. Page 292-

Translation:

That strong armed one, having acquired as a child all the sciences of the world, and with Śrī fixed on his broad chest, and devoted to the welfare of the world ( i.e Vellan Kumaran) , entered the lands of the Chola, and achieved the position of a vassal of king Rājāditya on account of his great and very transparent affection, but did not obtain, owing to his absence, the happiness of dying with him together on the battlefield.

While we have no access to the feelings of Rājāditya and can only guess that Veḷḷaṉ Kumāraṉ’s remembrance and words such as Sneha points to a very close intimacy that is now sadly lost to us.  This is however attested by scholars who have studied this part of history.

Vellan Kumaran becomes Caturanana, the mahavratin :

Left to fend for himself emotionally and inwardly consumed by his pangs of guilt, history tells us this warrior left for Kashi seeking to cleanse his so-called sin that he himself deemed to have incurred (albeit for no fault of his). Dr V Raghavan in his commentary on the aforesaid inscription in Epigraphia Indica, mentions that Vellan Kumaran came to be inspired by one Niranjana Guru of Tiruvottriyur (Adigrama or Adipuri as it was known in ancient times) and whereupon sometime between 952 AD- 957AD, he perhaps first lived as a recluse in a cave at Tiruvottriyur which was perhaps the same cave which was inhabited decades prior by the said Niranjana Guru (Niranjana -guha). He then took upon the vow to cleanse his conscience, became a mahavratin and thereafter came to be known as Caturanana Pandita. Dr V Raghavan makes very interesting observations and deductions as to this transformation of Vellan Kumaran, a warrior into a monk Caturanana who then established a monastery (matha) at Tiruvottriyur.

In sum, Caturanana Pandita I was Vellan Kumaran is his pUrvAsrama and a warrior, between 930 AD – 945 or 949 AD (the year of the battle of Takkolam) and as the monk and as a Pontiff with the name of Caturanana Pandita between 949 or 950 till 959 AD where upon all records about his existence as available to us, fall silent. It is known that he was succeeded by a lineage of Pontiffs who all took the same titular appellation of Caturanana Pandita all the way till 1173 AD again where after, no mention of any Caturanana Panditas or of the matha at Tiruvottriyur survives for our benefit. According to Dr Raghavan there is no trace of this matha or its remnants anywhere in Tiruvottriyur today. It has to be mentioned that it was at the instance of one of the subsequent Caturanana Panditas that the vimAnam / temple tower for Lord Adhipurisvara of the Tiruvottriyur temple was built by the Chola Kings later in the 11th century.

In the context of Vellan Kumaran’s absence from Prince Rajaditya’s side in the Takkolam Battle theories abound and the take of historians on the same is given in Foot note 3.

MUSICAL HOMAGE TO THE GREAT SOUL

As attested to by Dr V Raghavan nothing survives to us from that age of roughly 1000 odd years back from today. Neither is there any trace of the matha/monastery at Tiruvottriyur or that of any immediate vestiges or artifacts attesting to the existence of the first Caturanana Pandita nee Vallabhan or Vellan Kumaran, save for the inscriptions that have come to us from those times. The temple complex at Tiruvottriyur being the shrine of Lord Adhipurisvara and the shrine of Lord Dakshinamurti or Gaulisa, the presiding deity of the kALAmukhas, therein are the only mute witnesses who can testify to this historical character and his existence. As we know Tiruvottriyur is one of the seven viTanka ksetras, being an abode of Lord Tyagaraja, the sOmAskanda form of Lord Shiva. And as a musical homage to that great soul Caturanana Pandita I, presented here is a composition on Lord Tyagaraja at Tiruvottriyur by Tiruvottriyur Tyagier, son of the great composer Veena Kuppayyar.

Both Dr V Raghavan and Dr Daud Ali in their works espouse a much higher and different level of friendship / affinity / closeness / intimacy that Vellan Kumaran and Prince Rajaditya shared. It is inferable that the protagonists must have shared this affinity mutually. For us today the closest emotion or bhava one can get to, in terms of the yearning they must have shared for each other can at best only be equated to the emotion of Virahotkantitha Nayika (विरहोत्कंठित नायिका – One distressed by separation), a highly aesthetic emotion being one amongst the so-called bouquet of eight, in the world of dance & music. And it certainly would have been an equivalent emotion, one of separation that Vellan Kumaran would have suffered post 949 AD along with his feelings of guilt and remorse.

In line with this bhAva, I seek to present a composition which in fact depicts a love lorn nAyikA, dispatching her friend with a message to her nAyakA, Lord Tyagaraja at Tiruvottriyur, asking him not to tarry and be in communion with her. And one can certainly place the song in perspective, as Vellan Kumaran in his metamorphosis as the mahAvratin Caturanana Pandita would have transformed that yearning or emotion, by directing that to Lord Tyagaraja, the Lord of Tiruvottriyur, the very place where he spent the rest of his life.

This composition ‘sAmi nI rammanavE sArasAkshirO’ is a sprightly pada varna in the raga Kedaram, set in rupaka tala rendered by Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subramanian. The varna as one can notice has sahitya for its cittasvara and ettugada svara sections which are rendered fully by the Vidvan.

CONCLUSION:

History is littered with many such undiscovered personalities and great men who made a lasting contribution during their life time. In the instant case from amongst several warriors Vellan Kumaran, a person who wasn’t a member of the Chola Royal House, is singled out in the Chola inscriptions of those times. And it must have been doubtless for some great contribution and importance, to the Kingdom. Again, given that he was a man of letters as well, it’s a tragedy that we know next to nothing about his contribution in his second life as Caturanana Pandita , except that the matha / monastery that he founded survived for more than 200 years after his demise and with his successors commanding the greatest of respect from successive Chola Kings, which is no mean feat. And so, His Holiness Caturanana Pandita I, a preceptor and founder of the great and now lost kALAmukha matha at Tiruvottriyur must have truly been a great man of those times. May glory be to him!

References:

  1. David N Lorenzen (1972) – “The Kapalikas and Kalamukhas”- Published by Thomson Press (India) Ltd – pp 73-140
  2. Dr V Raghavan (1947-1948) – Item No 47: “Tiruvorriyur Inscription of Caturanana Pandita”- Epigraphia Indica Vol XXVII- Printed & Published by the Govt of India; pp 292-303
  3. K V Subramanya Aiyar (1923)- ‘Travancore Archaeological Series Vol III – page 202
  4. K A Nilakanta Sastri (1955) – The Colas (English)– University of Madras- pp 128-139
  5. Dr Daud Ali (2017)- “The Death of a Friend: Companionship, Loyalty and Affiliation in Chola South India” – Studies in History Volume: 33 issue: 1, page(s):36-60 – Published by Jawaharlal Nehru University & Sage Publications
  6. Rajeswari Ghose (1996)- “The Lord of Arur, The Tyagaraja Cult in Tamil Nadu-A Study in conflict and Accommodation” published by Motilal Banarsidass – pp 148-181
  7. S R Balasubramanian (1971) – “Early Chola Temples”- published by Orient Longman Ltd – pp 299-309
  8. S R Balasubramanian (1975) – “Middle Chola Temples”- published by Thomson Press India Ltd – pp 299-309
FOOT NOTE 1:

The Gaulisa icon, being a variant of Lord Dakshinamurti, worshipped by kALAmukhAs, as enshrined in the temple complex at Tiruvottriyur has a yogic posture, four-armed, lower right arm in cin-mudra pose, the lower left hand is held parallel to the ground and close to the torso with the palm open upwards, the upper right hand holds a trident and the upper left hand holds a bowl. This unique icon has bewildered iconographers and historians as it is an odd and a not encountered elsewhere, form of Lord Shiva. The article tilted “Kalamukhas and an Interesting Dakshinamurti Image” – available in the URL below is an excellent commentary on this icon by Dr R Nagaswamy which can be read profitably – http://tamilartsacademy.com/articles/article04.xml

FOOT NOTE 2:

Archaeologist & Epigraphist S R Balasubramaniyan in his work opines that Tirumundeesvaram or Tirumudiyur or Mouligramam or Gramam (as it is called today) was perhaps the place which was the garrison town of the Cholas which was commanded by Prince Rajaditya. He even ventures to state that the name Tirumudiyur came to be assigned to this place as perhaps the anointment of Prince Rajaditya as the Crown Prince and heir apparent took place here and its from here that Prince Rajaditya perhaps held Court as the region’s Viceroy. The inscription records a number of grants made by Vellan Kumaran to this temple of Lord Sivalokanathasvami, situated on the south banks of the Pennai river, near Tirukkoyilur.

http://know-your-heritage.blogspot.com/search/label/Sivalokanathar%20Temple

In so far as the nativity of Vellan Kumaran is concerned , on a similar vein the Travancore Archaeological Series records that the village of Puttur situated in the banks of the Nandi River (as described in the Chola inscription) in Kerala, refers to the village of the same name located near Tirparappu, in Kanyakumari District, the river now being known as Nandiaaru.

http://tourmet.com/thirunandhikarai-cave-temple/

FOOT NOTE 3:

Historians like Prof Fleet,  based on Rashtrakuta inscriptions have hypothesized that Vellan Kumaran was a spy of the Rashtrakuta King Krishna and had a hand in the treacherous killing of Prince Rajaditya and which is why he wasn’t fighting beside him in the Battle of Takkolam. Both Prof Nilakanta Sastri and Dr V Raghavan with authority and proper reading of the Chola and Rashtrakuta inscriptions, cogently, authoritatively and conclusively negate Prof Fleet’s hypothesis as untrue. Dr V Raghavan goes on to say that such a conclusion is a baseless conjecture. Nevertheless, he also points out there is no inscription referring to Vellan Kumaran during the period of 943 AD and 957 AD & given that the Battle of Takkolam being dateable to the year 949 AD, the question that begs for an answer is where was this Commander Vellan Kumaran between AD 943-949?  Though historians like Prof Fleet probably looked at that as an evidence of Vellan Kumaran being a spy of the Rashtrakutas and having weaned him away, Krishna III found it easier to eliminate Prince Rajaditya, one is left grappling with a very tricky question. One wonders whether Prince Rajaditya directed Vellan Kumaran to be with his father Parantaka I, in case the war with the Rashtrakutas turned against the Cholas and Krishna III landed up outside the Tanjore Fort? And is that why Vellan Kumaran did not fight alongside Prince Rajaditya at Takkolam? This line of argument is a hypothesis and there is no shred of direct or collateral evidence to back this up. Be that as it may, the Tiruvottriyur inscription of 957 AD which captures the grief and the act of atonement of Vallabhan/Vellan Kumaran still leaves this question tantalizingly open for us.

It has to be pointed out that Prince Rajaditya was a also a great benefactor for modern Tamil Nadu as he was the one built the Veeranarayana Eri (Lake) or Veeranam Lake, which supplies water to Chennai and irrigates several acres of land by storing up the floods/surplus Cauvery waters, which would go waste when discharged directly to the sea, via Kollidam, in order to prevent floods in Tanjore delta areas. Legend has it that when Prince Rajaditya had mobilized his army to take on the Rashrakutas, he had to idle his troops till such time the weather/season and time was in his favour. In the interregnum he proceeded to deploy the troops productively by conceptualizing the Veeranarayana Eri (Lake) or Veeranam Lake and had it constructed by them to store the surplus waters and also prevent flooding of downstream Tanjore delta areas! Such was his foresight that till date the lake remains the largest man-made lake in this part of the world and an irrigational infrastructural marvel of the Cholas.

https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/a-chola-gift-to-chennai/article7089318.ece

“Svarakalanidhi” Narayanasvami Iyer – A titan from an age bygone

Prologue:

The world of Carnatic music has sired many a great musician in the past. We do have oral as well as recorded accounts of many of such great personalities. One amongst them, featured in this blog post is Tiruvisanallur “Pallavi” Narayanasvami Iyer a giant from another era. My introduction to his name was through an oral account to the effect that the legendary Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer learnt Muthusvami Dikshita’s kriti “Sri Ramam Ravikulabdhi somam” in Narayanagaula from Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer. My attempt to know more about this personality, fructified finally when I got hold of a brief biography of this great musician, published by the Madras Music Academy in one of its early Journals, written by his son Vidvan T N Radhakrishna Iyer (see reference section below).

From this account, it is seen that Narayanasvami Iyer lived for about 60 years of age somewhere during the time period between 1860-1930. He has been known as “Narayanasvami Anna” or “Tiruvisanallur Narayanasvami Iyer” or “Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer”.

Biography in brief:

One Narayana Avadhani, a polyglot who had mastered the Yajur and Samaveda had two sons Krishna Bhagavathar (elder) and Sundara Bhagavathar (younger) who were both one of the prime disciples of Saint Tyagaraja and were the votaries of the Umayalpuram school of the Tyagaraja sishya parampara.

Narayanasvami Iyer was the son of this Sundara Bhagavathar and trained under him. Apart from father, he also trained under Tiruvisainallur Subramanya Iyer, a disciple of Krishna Bagavathar, his uncle. Even at a very early age, Narayanasvami Iyer achieved very good proficiency in music. An early break for him came when his father took him to Kumbakonam to introduce him to Munsiff Venkacchi Iyer a wealthy patron of those days. Fortuitously for him, the great vidvans of those times Bikshandar Koil Subbarama Iyer and Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer (1844-1893) too were at Kumbakonam to meet Munsiff Venkacchi Iyer as well. Young Narayanasvami Iyer at Venckacchi Iyer’s bidding performed in front of them and was greatly appreciated. In fact, so impressed were the assembled cognoscenti that he was asked to sing along with Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer in a concert scheduled for the following day. And needless to add Narayanasvami Iyer acquitted himself creditably by singing with elan earning recognition as well as gifts from his patron. Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer was apparently very much impressed with Narayanasvami Iyer’s svara singing acumen.

There was no looking back thereafter for the young Narayanasvami Iyer. He was adept in every department of performing music and specifically in pallavi exposition and extempore svara singing. So much so that in recognition of his prowess, as we will see, the epithets “Pallavi” and “Svarakalanidhi” came to be prefixed to his name and he came to be addressed with them by one and all, with awe during his life time.

His vidvat blossomed forth as a vaggeyakara as well and he composed exquisite cittasvara sections to very many Tyagaraja compositions. Apart from vocal music, Narayanasvami Iyer also played the Gottuvadyam as well.

With his fame reaching far and wide, Panditurai Tevar, the Zamindar of Pazhavanattam and the maternal uncle of Bhaskara Setupati of the Royal House of the Sethupatis of Ramanathapuram ,and one of the great patrons of those days, sought Narayansvami Iyer’s services to provide advanced training to the then young and upcoming musician Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar ( 1860-1919) in pallavi and svara singing. Consequently Narayanasvami Iyer moved to be at Ramanathapuram to teach the young Poochi for some time.

When the great Maharaja of Mysore Nalvadi Krishnarajendra Wadiyar IV ascended the throne in 1902 , Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer was one of the musicians invited to perform in the coronation celebrations and he did so magnificently earning the respect of the assemblage of the great vidvans of those days, which included Veena Subbanna, Veena Seshanna, Namakkal Narasimha Iyengar, Umayalpuram Svaminatha Iyer and others. Veena Subbanna being the dean of the musicians of the Mysore Royal Durbar, at the end of Narayanasvami Iyer’s recital, on behalf of the Durbar and the assemblage, conferred on him the title of “Svarakalanidhi” and reminisced that Narayanasvami Iyer’s svara singing reminded him of Mysore Sadashiva Rao’s (of Tyagaraja sishya parampara) singing.

Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar (1866-1943), the legendary harikatha exponent in his memoirs recalls with rapturous delight a concert of Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer, which was arranged on the occasion of the legendary Flute Sarabha Sastri’s ‘seemantham” held to herald the arrival of Sastri’s first child. In that concert Narayanasvami Iyer was accompanied by the veteran Thirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer (Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer’s maternal uncle) on the violin and Pazhani Krishna Iyer on the ghatam. Narayanasvami Iyer rendered the pallavi “hrudaya kamala vasa hare krishna” in the raga Sankarabharanam set to adi tala. According to Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Iyer, Narayanasvami Iyer sang kalpana svaras for the pallavi, crafted so beautifully as if they were ettugada svaras of a varna! And Bagaavathar adds that in that concert the two accompanists were “Nara-Narayana” in their performance.

Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Iyer also records that Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer was the stock accompanist of Narayanasvami Iyer for the later’s concerts Narayanasvami Iyer taught many sishyas as well, which included Thiruppazhanam Panchapakesa Sastri (1868-1924) – see Epilogue below- Nallur Visvanatha Iyer, Thirukkarugavur Fiddle Narayanasvami Iyer, Paravakkarai Narayanasvami Iyer, Fiddle Seetharama Iyer, Coimbatore Thayi and others.  There are references to the effect that the famed Violin vidvan Kumbakonam Rajamanikkam Pillai too trained under him.

Narayanasvami Iyer was on a very intimate acquaintance with the legendary flute vidvan Kumbakonam “Venugana” Sarabha Sastri (1872-1904), a junior contemporary. The two apparently performed together in concert very many times. The same is recorded both by Narayansvami Iyer’s son and by Sulamangalam Vaidyanatha Bagavathar. The Bagavathar in his memoir records one such recital, which he himself had organized at his house for a “Radha Kalyana Utsava” wherein Narayanasvami Iyer had rendered a brilliant svara kalpana for a Begada main composition on that day.

In the context of Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer having composed cittasvaras for compositions, Sri T S Parthasarathi in his article in the JMA advances the proposition that according to the senior vidvans of the late 19th and early 20th century, Tyagaraja did not compose cittasvaras for his compositions and they were composed much later by his sishyas in his parampara. Sri Parthasarathy cites with authority that:

  1. The cittasvara section ( GRSN SRPN SRNRS ….) for “mamava satatam” in Jaganmohini was composed by Walajapet Krishnasvami Bagavathar
  2. Cittasvaras are found added by Veena Kuppier for “Endu daginado”, “Jesinadella”, “Tappi Bratiki” (all in Todi), “Kanna talli” (Saveri) and “Sundari nee” (Kalyani)

Added to the above as also seen in earlier blogs, that we can authoritatively state that:

  1. The popular cittasvara to the Malavi kriti “Nenaruchi naanu” was composed by Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer.
  2. Cittasvaras were composed by Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bagavathar as found recorded in his notebooks.

Sri T S Parathasarathy records that Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer composed cittasvaras for kritis such as “tsalagalla” in Arabhi, though it is not stated whether the popular one rendered today beginning “S,SDP-PPMM GRRS” is that of Narayanasvami Iyer’s.

Musical Creation of Narayanasvami Iyer: Narayanasvami Iyer who was held in awe both by the lay and the cognoscenti of those days, is said to have lived for about 60 years. His ishta devata was Lord Rajagopala of Mannargudi, who has been musically venerated by Patchimiriyam Adiyappa (“Viribhoni” -ata tala varna in raga Bhairavi) and Muthusvami Dikshita (“Sri Rajagopala” in Saveri and “Sri Vidya Rajagopala” in Jaganmohanam). Every year Narayanasvami Iyer apparently undertook a pilgrimage to Mannargudi to have the darshan of Lord Rajagopala and one year he composed a varna in raga Durbar, set in adi tala, which has been published in the JMA along with his biography as written by his son. The varna is not seen published in any other publication nor is it rendered on the concert platform. The notation of the varna in Tamil as recorded in the JMA is provided herein below along with the translation in English.

English Translation of the Varna
(mandhara stayi notes are in lower case; madhya stayi notes in upper case and ; tara stayi notes in upper case italics)

Observations on the varna:

The varna having being published by his son thus attests to the high fidelity of the notation available to us through the aforesaid JMA article. The following observations merit our attention:

  1. Firstly, that strikes one is the way in which the arohana and avarohana krama of the raga Durbar is provided as recorded by Narayanasvami Iyer in his notebook.  The vakra sancaras accommodated in the progression/krama along with the reference to PG is to be reckoned.
  2. The composition features these vakara sancaras to the tee.
  3. The sahitya, akin to “Viribhoni” and “Sri Rajagopala” hails the ksetra as “Dakshina dvaraka”.
  4. The carana portion is exquisitely structured with the jiva svara patterns of Durbar.
  5. Interestingly the notation itself provides 2 variations/sangathis for the carana sahitya section beginning “nIrajAkshi”
  6.  The third cittasvara passage as per the old convention is modelled as sarva laghu.

It has to be pointed out here that apart from the ubiquitous “Chalamela” of Tiruvottriyur Tyagayyar which is the only varna in this raga which is heard often, the others known to us are of Subbarama Dikshitar (“intamodi” ata tala tana varna) and Patnam Subramanya Iyer ( “Dari teliyaka” – khanda ata tala).

Did Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer give Gramophone Recordings?

Michael Kinnear in his book “The Gramaphone Company’s First Indian Recordings -1899-1908” catalogues 10 Inches H Suffix Series of Gramaphone Records wherein an artiste tagged as “Tiruvisanallur Narayanasami Iyer” dating to 1907 has recorded a bunch of compositions, in what seems to be a full-blown concert. There is another Narayanaswami Iyer ( of Pudukkotai) whose music has been recorded and he is a violinist which helps in avoiding the confusion.

The web page below hosts a clipping for one such piece tagged to “Tiruvisanallur Narayanasami Iyer”

https://www.muziekweb.nl/en/Link/KJX3705/Indian-talking-machine-78-rpm-record-and-gramophone-collecting-on-the-sub-continent?TrackID=KJX3705-0021

(hit the URL and browse down to entry 21 which is Tiruvasanallur Narayanasami Iyer – Sanskrit Song Part -1)

One is not sure as to the identity of the person, but yet here is something for us to chew upon.

Conclusion:

While at least something is known about these great vidvans of the past, it is unfortunate that their musical works such as varnas, kritis and cittasvaras have been lost and forgotten. In an earlier blog post on Mazhavarayanendal Subbarama Bhagavathar it was pointed out that though the Music Academy was entrusted with his notebooks recording in writing, Bagavathar’s musical creations, yet the same remains lost and untraced. In the instant case of Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer, his son Vidvan Radhakrishna Iyer while writing the piece in the JMA, does indicate his wish to publish his father’s works as available with him, but yet nothing seems to have seen the light of the day. The musical note books of Tiruppamburam Natarajasundaram Pillai, recording the kritis of Muthusvami Dikshita as taught to him Satanur Pancanada Iyer and also Pancanada Iyer’s own note books documenting his own compositions have suffered a similar fate. It is sad that with the passage of time, the probability of recovering any of these just recedes exponentially. In the case of Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer the only creation of his available with us is this Durbar varna.

From a familial perspective, it is not known how Pallavi Narayanasvami Iyer acquired the link to Tiruvisainallur while his father hailed from Umayalpuram. All that is known is that Narayanasvami Iyer had two sons one of whom was Vidvan T N Radhakrishna Iyer. It would be worthwhile to know if there are any surviving descendants in the lineage of Narayanasvami Iyer and if they still have those notebooks recording not just the creations of Narayanasvami Iyer but also of Saint Tyagaraja as Narayanasvami Iyer was the 2nd generation disciple in his sishya parampara/lineage.

As always one hopes that our vidvans would take up forgotten compositions like this Durbar varna, burnish them up and render them, in the days to come so that the memory of these great souls would live on along with our music.

References:

  1. “Svarakalanidhi Narayanasvami Iyer” – Article in Tamil – Author Sangita Vidvan T N Radhakrishna Iyer – Journal of the Music Academy Madras (JMA) Vol II No 4 (Year 1931) pp 223-226 – Edited by Sri T V Subba Rao
  2. “Tiruvisainallur Narayanasvami Iyer” – Part XVI on page 100 – “Cameos” – A collection of writings by Soolamangalam Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar – Portion translated by Ms Padma Narayanan – Published by Sunadham (2005)
  3. “Svara decorations in Carnatic Music” – Article in English – Author T S Parthasarathy – Journal of the Music Academy Madras (JMA) Vol LVIII 1987 pp 154-159– Edited by Sri T S Parthasarathy
  4. “The Gramaphone Company’s First Indian Recordings -1899-1908” -By Michael Kinnear (1994) Sangam Book – pp 157-158

Epilogue:

While I work to have the recording of the aforesaid Durbar varna done and uploaded here, I seek to conclude this blog post with a musical tribute to this great musician. It is recorded that Narayanasvami Iyer in the tradition of Tyagaraja was also a rama baktha. So a composition eulogizing Lord Rama and that too composed by his own disciple would be a worthy tribute to him.

Tiruppazhanam Panchapakesa Sastri, a disciple of Svarakalanidhi Naryanasvami Iyer, as mentioned earlier, was a legendary Harikatha performer of the 20th century. His most famous composition which lives on even today is “sApashyat kausalya”, set in the raga Jonpuri and which runs as under:

sApashyat kausalyA viSNum sApashyat kausalyA (sApashyat) 
prasava sadana gatha mEnam pUSpAyudha shata kOTi samAnam viSNum (sApashyat) 
jaladhara shyAmaLa gAtram pankEruhadaLa sannibha nEtram viSNum (sApashyat) 
kaustubha shobhita kaNTam rAkA candra nibham vaikuNTham  viSNum  (sApashyat)

This composition preceded by a sloka such as “Shringaram kshitinandinim” or “Neelabja deha” in a raga malika format tailing into Jonpuri, was de-rigueur in Sangita Kalanidhi Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer’s concerts. I conclude this blog post with a rendering of this composition from one of his innumerable concerts.

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