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Sunday, January 08, 2012

The versatile genius

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

The following article on Pandit Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das appeared in The Hans India of January 8, 2012. The original may be seen here: The versatile genius
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Sri Narayana Dasu
Sir Cattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy, eminent litterateur, educationist and founder Vice Chancellor of Andhra University described Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das (1864-1945) as a ‘university’. Sir Ramalinga Reddy was not exaggerating, for Narayana Dasu was a linguist with proficiency in as many as eight languages, poet, philosopher, writer, composer, dancer, actor and the creator of the unique art form, Hari Katha. 

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

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

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

Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam (1932): Narayana Das felt that Edward Fitzgerald’s English renderings of Omar Khaiyam’s Rubaiyat were not literal and did not do justice to the spirit of the Persian poet’s philosophy. In order to demonstrate his thesis, Narayana Das translated both the original Persian and the English renderings into Sanskrit and Atcha-Telugu. “Hyderabad Bulletin*, a prominent newspaper of the time felt the book merited a review - Here are some excerpts from the editorial entitled, “A Monument of Scholarship”: “[...] a careful perusal of the book fills us with admiration at the astounding scholarship of the learned Pandit […] In these degenerate days when scholarship has fallen on evil times, it is incredible to learn that a Hindu, with Telugu as his mother tongue, should have been so filled with admiration for a Persian poet that, after he had passed his sixtieth year, he took the trouble to master so alien a language, and translate the masterpiece not only into Telugu but into another classical language, Sanskrit.

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

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

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

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

Pandit Narayana Das’ literary and musical accomplishments left him peerless in his time. The literary and musical elite of his time joined to honour him with the title of “Sangitha Sahitya Sarvabhauma.” The musical maestros of his time honoured him with titles like “Laya Brahma” and “Panchamukhi Parameswara” for his ability to sing to five talas, beat with two arms, two feet and head. Five musicians used to keep time with him when he performed “Panchamukhi.” The versatile genius breathed his last on January 2, 1945. 
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*To read the editorial review of Pandit Narayana Das' Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiayam by Hyderabad Bulletin please click here: A MONUMENT OF SCHOLARSHIP

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