Muniswamy Achar was one of the frontrunners among a group of connoisseurs at Mulabagilu. He was popularly called Gattanagari Muniswamy. He was a goldsmith. One of his ancestors by name Ghattanna might have probably gained popularity for his athleticism.
Muniswamy loved music and literature; good-humored and generous, he was known to be competent in gold and silver smithy works. Yet I have never got an opportunity to see him at work. It’s true that there was always a workbench in front of him. However, much of his time was devoted to group meetings. All the work was being done by two of his nephews whom he had fostered. Muniswamy was guiding them in their work and supervising them. People had great faith in him.
Muniswamy’s shop was, in itself, a place of recreational gathering for the connoisseurial group in the village. Beginning everyday at around half past seven or eight in the morning the gathering went on till eleven or half past eleven; and from two or half past two in the afternoon until nightfall. Vaidikas, scholars, teachers, musicians, unemployed persons, and those who were in for leisurely talk were all part of the gathering.
The previous day’s events of the town such as a musical concert, a Harikathe (storytelling based on a mythological theme), a temple festival, or altercations in the agrahara (land gifted by royal family to a community), stories about random street fights, politics within families, and a few pleasantries, in addition to philosophical discussions and critiques on religion and religious conversions – all these were up for discussion. Muniswamy wasn’t a man of much words. He usually summarised in a sentence or two after others wound up their talk and infused laughter in everyone.
Once a debate had ensued with a Christian pastor about annals form the lives of Jesus and Krishna. It was pure wrangling that they frequently recollected humorously. These conversations usually took place in Telugu.
Muniswamy was an extremely knowledgeable person. He had earned the reputation for playing the mridanga (a percussion instrument of Indian origin). He was, however, more passionate about the tabla (another percussion instrument). Whenever he played the tabla, he tied a turban in an oblique manner, like a person from North India usually does. Sitting beside him was his student Seetharamaiah who accompanied him on a set of cymbals (for Naṭṭuvāṅga). No sooner than Muniswamy signaled, Seetharamaiah would begin reciting the rhythmic syllables (Sollu kattu) like this:
Tha Tha Kita Kita Thakita Kita Kita |
Thadinginathom! Thalanguthom ||
If at all he erred in his recital, Muniswamy’s right hand would slap Seetharamaiah’s back.
Muniswamy was pious. Apart from his visits to the Someshwara Temple every Monday, he also made arrangements for abhiṣeka (ritual bath to the deity) and dīpārādhane (lighting of oil lamps) regularly. This is a song that was born out of such devotion. I remember it to be set in raga Shankarabharana:
bhaṃ bhaṃ śambho mahādeva||
śambho śambho mahādeva||
bhoṃ bhoṃ śambho mahādeva...
I asked him what he meant by “Bhaṃ bhaṃ” in this song. Muniswamy said “Fool! Is it not the sound that emanates from a conch?” Bhṛṅgi and other attendants of Śiva blow the conch at the time of worshipping him. Its sound is equivalent of praṇava (omkāra). Praṇava is also name of Maheśvara or Śiva. It is omkāra or the cosmic sound. And for reminiscing that sound,
Bhaṃ bhaṃ śambho mahādeva ||
Normally, there are two meanings contained within the words (lyrics) of a songs: 1. literal meaning and 2. figurative meaning or implied meaning. Between the two, a musician primarily requires its literal meaning or the quality of syllables. The sound of the syllables must suit the music. He’s fine even if its implied meaning is quite ordinary. Bhaṃ, Bhaṃ, Śambho, Jambhāri, Lambodara, Ambikeśa, Lambakeśi, Bimbādhara, etc. Either from alliterations or through similarity in pronunciation, these words must bring melody. It should first be soothing to our ears; its appeal to the mind is only secondary.
Another song of Muniswamy goes like this :
nāvāru leru nīnu vinā
Muniswamy had composed many such songs. He spent his life affably, joyously and by laughing with everone.
He belonged to ‘jyothinagara’ community. His family was a highly distinguished one in our village. As I remember, they were five or six brothers. The eldest among them was Venkatrayappa Shetty. He was well respected in the village. One of his younger brothers was Annaya and Jayanna was another. Rangaswamappa was one of the siblings, who later became a disciple of Tulasi Ramadasa.
Tulasi Ramadasa was extremely famous during those times. People used to gather in thousands for his bhajans and Harikathā. I’ve heard that Tulasi Ramadasa was one of the prime sponsors for building of the Shree Rama temple at Tulasithota in Bangalore. There is a temple, a bhajana mandira (prayer hall), and a large convention hall named after Tulasi Ramadasa in the Cantonment area of Bangalore. The convention hall is in public service now. It is still functional and accessible to the public.
I had seen Tulasi Ramadasa during my childhood. He visited our village often. My father took me along whenever he visited Tulasi Ramadasa in his dwelling . He would hand me a mixture of dry coconut and sugar in a bowl along with some bananas. I vividly remember gobbling it up. “Food warrior” (ತಿಂಡಿಕಿ ಶೂರು) was the only description that my aunt had for me. I would fall asleep when I sat down listening to Harikathā. But I never forget the gathering of thousands of people. The Harikathā used to go on till midnight or one in the morning. It was also an opportunity for the violin and mridanga maestros of the village to showcase their proficiency.
It appears Ramaswamapa became a dāsa owing to the influence of Tulasi Ramadasa. He was a man with a livelihood; he did not turn to be a recluse because of poverty. He was strikingly handsome too. It is my belief that his devotion had taken shape deep within his heart.
Upon his return from a trip to Tirupathi he had published a small collection of devotional songs. The first among them was:
rāmadāsa sadguru madguru śrī ||
He would magnificently render it in raga Behag. Another one was :
Devotion that originated this way, then gradually turned into Harikathā and eventually Ramaswamappa remained a dāsa till the end is what I have heard.
This is the fifth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 2) – Kalopasakaru. Thanks to Kiran Prasad for his thorough review of the translation. Edited by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar.