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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Versatile genius Adibhatla Narayana Das

Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das (31 August 1864 – 2 January 1945) was a poet, musician, dancer, linguist and philosopher of Andhra Pradesh. He was born in Ajjada village, near Bobbili, presently in Balijipeta mandal of Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh. His parents are Venkata Chayanulu (father) Lakshmi Narasamamba (mother) and he was originally named Suryanarayana. 

Parents could not send him to school in the childhood due to poverty but Narayana Das had a great memory and was able to grasp the things very fast. When he was just five-year-old Narayana Das used to recite poems from Bhagavatam. Once his mother took him to a pilgrim place and Narayana Das asked her to buy the Bhagavatam book that he saw in a book shop. Seeing this the book shop owner said he was too young to read and understand Bhagavatam. Narayana Das reacted to it by reciting the poems from Bhagavatam flawlessly. The shop owner was so impressed he not only gifted the Bhagavatam book to the little Narayana Das but also give some prize money. 

After receiving his early schooling in Ajjada Narayana Das shifted to Srikakulam and later to Viziangaram. His formal education came to an end with Matriculation.

In 1883, Kuppuswamy Naidu Bhagavatar from South visited Vizianagaram and gave Harikatha performance and Das was present in the audience. It was a rendition of ‘Dhruvacharitra’. Inspired by the art form, not very much known until then in Andhra Pradesh, and realising its potential, Das decided that he would become a ‘Haridas’.

His in-depth grasp of several languages and poetic nuances, besides command over the idiom of Carnatic classical music, came in handy and his resonant voice was another asset for him. Liberally endowed with all these prerequisites for an ace Bhagavatar, within no time he came out with his variant of Harikatha taking Andhra by storm. His maiden performance took place on the premises of Venugopala Swamy Matam in Vizianagaram. Thus, Suryanarayana transformed into Narayana Das, a name that he had taken as a mark of his staunch devotion towards Lord Sri Rama. He gave harikatha performance in Rajamundry which catapulted him to national platform that gained the attention of Mysore Maharaja. In the court of Mysore Maharaja, he stole the heart of the king as well as the scholars with his expertise in playing Veena and received felicitations. The Maharajah presented him with a veena as he was pleased not only with his music, but also with his speedy and faultless English translation of his story and description while performing Harikatha. Narayana Das declined the offers to be made court musician by the Maharajah of Mysore and later by the Maharajah of Vizianagaram and instead preferred to lead an independent life in the service of God.

He was the first principal of the Maharajah’s Government College of Music and Dance (Vijayarama Gana Pathasala) established by the Maharajah of Vizianagaram in 1919. However, he made it clear to the Maharajah of Vizianagaram that the college is a temple and he was just a servant of the God Rama but not the head of the institution. This is a classic example of servant leadership exhibited by Narayana Das a century ago, what we see in the recent management books. There used to be a Hindustani musician by name Mohabbat Khan in the court of Maharajah of Vizianagaram. Narayana Das learnt the nuances of Hindustani music from him and introduced a unique style of classical music tradition in the Music College which is blend of both Hindustani and Carnatic styles. This style of music came to be known as Vizianagaram style of classical music that is being followed even today. 

Legendary violinist Dwaram Venkata Swamy Naidu was music lecturer during the tenure of Narayana Das and he succeeded him as the next principal of the music college.  

Das was undoubtedly a supreme master of rhythm, which is an integrated art comprising of dance, song and music, the three together constituting his Sankeerthanam. His veena playing was original and unique. Known as ‘Laya Brahma’, he gave quite a number of both Veena and Harikathas performances. 

Narayana Das was known for a very rare and unique Harikatha performance called ‘Panchamukhi” in which he used to give dance movements with his two hands, two legs and head, each to suit one tala (rhythm), collectively for five talas. Five musicians used to accompany him at that time with different instruments for his Panchamukhi Harikatha performance. No wonder, he was honoured with the title “Sangeeta Sahitya Swara Brahma “. Once he gave his harikatha performance with the theme Lord Sri Krishna’s birth in Calcutta in Sanskrit followed by detailed commentary and explanation in Hindi. With the fusion of poetry, music and dance he created his own brand of Harikatha. 

He won the admiration of Rabindranath Tagore with his rendering of Hindusthani Bhairavi. Tagore sought the curriculum of the Vizianagaram Music College to be introduced in Santhiniketan. ‘Nightingale of India’ Sarojini Naidu was full of appreciation of Narayana Das when he performed his Harikatha during the All India Congress Mahasabha in Kakinada in 1923.  

Having formulated the art of Harikatha, he penned 20 Harikathas, 17 in Telugu and three in Sanskrit apart from one in pure Telugu (known as Accha Tenugu). Shri Adibhatla Narayana Das was a linguist with proficiency in as many as eight languages (Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, Bengali, English, Hindi, Arabic, Persian as well as Urdu and Greek), poet, philosopher, composer, dancer and the creator of the unique art form Harikatha.

Among his literary feats, mention must be made of Ashtavadhanam performances where people used to come in large numbers and buy tickets to watch such performances. Avadhānaṃ is a literary performance popular from the very ancient days in Bharat. Avadhānaṃ originated as a Sanskrit literary process and is revived in modern times by poets in Telugu primarily. The Avadhani (the scholar who performs the Avadhanam) showcases, through entertainment, of superior mastery of cognitive capabilities – of observation, memory, multitasking, task switching, retrieval, reasoning and creativity in multiple modes of intelligence – literature, poetry, music, mathematical calculations, puzzle solving etc. Narayana Das gave a new dimension to this unique art of Avadhanam by adding challenging tasks related to music apart from using multiple languages like Greek, English etc while performing the Avadhanam. 

He wrote a comparative treatise on the works of Kalidas and Shakespeare; the only writer-composer who translated into Telugu and set to music more than 300 Rig Vedic hymns and the only writer-composer who composed a geeta-malika comprising 90 Carnatic ragas and wrote a book titled “Dasa Vidha Raaga Navati Kusuma Manjari” in both Telugu and Sanskrit languages. As a writer-composer who composed music in all the 72 Carnatic ragas he was next only to Sanit Thyagaraja.

He felt that Edward Fitzgerald’s English translations did not do justice to the Persian poet Omar Khayyam’s poetry. In order to demonstrate his point of view he translated both the original quatrains of Omar Khaiyam and Edward Fitzgerald’s English translation into two languages – Sanskrit and Atcha Telugu in different metres. The work titled The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1932) was acclaimed as a rare literary feat by the scholars and critics of his time.

In another voluminous display of scholarship, he compared the works of the Sanskrit dramatist Kalidas with those of Shakespeare. Titled Nava Rasa Tarangini (1922) the book annotates passages consisting of the nine rasas or moods from the dramas of both the dramatists by translating them into Telugu.

His magnum opus was his two-volume philosophical work entitled Jagad Jyothi, in which he recorded his musings on various Indian philosophies, even accommodating atheist viewpoints. ‘Naa Eruka’, his autobiography provides a fascinating insight into his complex personality. Among his Sanskrit writings “Harikathamrutam”, “Tarakam” and two shatakas (book with 100 poems)” Ramachandra Shatakam” and “Kashi Shatakam” are very prominent. 

Narayana Das passed away on January 2, 1945, on the same thithi of ‘Pushya Bahula Panchami’, the day on which Saint Thyagaraja Swamy also reached heavenly abode.

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Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Dr. B.N.V. Parthasarathi
Ex- Senior Banker, Financial and Management Consultant and Visiting faculty at premier B Schools and Universities. Areas of Specialization & Teaching interests - Banking, Finance, Entrepreneurship, Economics, Global Business & Behavioural Sciences. Qualification- M.Com., M.B.A., A.I.I.B.F., PhD. Experience- 25 years of banking and 16 years of teaching, research and consulting. 200 plus national and international publications on various topics like- banking, global trade, economy, public finance, public policy and spirituality. One book in English “In Search of Eternal Truth”, two books in Telugu and 38 short stories 50 articles and 2 novels published in Telugu. Email id: [email protected]

1 COMMENT

  1. Want to have a cursory glance at the copy of the renowned ‘Rubaiyat’ presented by the respected Sri Malladi Ramakrishna Shastry garu?

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