Kshetrajna's Prowess over Language and Music

In response, Kshetrajna composed a new Padam in the Kambhoji Ragam and left the last foot of the verse incomplete. He showed it to the king and said, “My Lord! I have only done this much. Now I will depart for Rameshwaram for pilgrimage and I’ll return soon. Till then, any music Vidvan in your court is free to complete the unfinished line.” Then Kshetrajna left for his pilgrimage. The Padam set to the Triputa Talam runs as follows:

vadaraka popove | vāḍela vaccini |

vaddu rāvaḍdanave ||

bhāmaro śakunamu | laḍagiti muvva go-
pāluḍu  vaccunanucu ||      


When the Vidvans read this, they exclaimed, “ha! This is nothing!” and began to work on the solution. Their fingers refused to move. They fretted. The work didn’t progress. They thought hard. No use. The incomplete line remained incomplete. Meanwhile, Kshetrajna returned after finishing his pilgrimage. The king assembled his court and recounted what had happened. Kshetrajna said, “well and good,” and completed the line. Now we shall consider the summary of the completed Padam:

Go without complaint—why will he come |
Ask him not to come || Pallavi ||
That was a different Yuga, this is a different birth |
He is some stranger and I am someone else || Anupallavi ||

Oh Damsel! I heard the augury, that Muvva Go- |
Pala will arrive ||
Desiring their lords and joining them, I saw the beauties |
And wailed and wept ||
Rama! Rama! Can I, with this face, see His Face|
Once again? Isn’t what has already happened enough? ||

These words are uttered by the hero’s (i.e., in literature) wife. The hero is a fraud, meaning he has cheated on her. She is uttering the aforementioned words out of the anxiety of separation, out of jealousy and anger. In this manner, Kshetrajna triumphed over his rivals in the court of Vijayaraghava.

We have been unable to find all his compositions. As far as my knowledge goes, the bulk of Kshetrajna’s compositions have been compiled by Dr. Gidugu Venkata Sitapati under the auspices of the Peethapuram Princely State. The corpus of Padams have been classified as under:

Padams themed with svīya nāyikā (i.e., the hero’s wife): 162

Padams themed with parakīya nāyikā (i.e., the hero’s paramour): 110

Padams themed with other nāyikās: 109

Other Padams (closely resembling Kshetrajna’s style): 25

Total: 406

Every Padam in this compilation has the signature, Muvva Gopala.

Of these 406 Padams, only twenty or thirty Padams are now in vogue among the current crop of musicians. At the most, the number goes up to fifty. The rest continue to remain as texts. Perhaps only one or two rare musicians put in the effort to sing a few of these.

The dull tradition of offering obeisance to quantity instead of merit has somehow crept into our people. Purandaradasa sang a lakh Devaranamas (devotional songs). Tallapaaka Annamacharya sang two lakhs. Tyagaraja sang twenty-four thousand. For whose joy is this celebration of mere numbers? Indeed, how many people today even sing a fraction of the Kirtanas and Kritis that are available in printed form? We don’t have enough numbers in the audience who have the patience and time to listen to them. I’m saying these words from the perspective of art and aesthetics. Bhakti falls in a separate realm. Viewed from the artistic perspective, about a hundred works of a musical composer are sufficient to estimate his worth. Even if we select just forty out of the four hundred Padams of Kshetrajna, they are enough to clearly show that in the realm of poetry, he was endowed with great talent.

Kshetrajna’s sentence construction and style show us the absolute mastery he had over language. The liberties he takes is entirely apt for the situation. Intimacy, seriousness, humour…the Padams reflecting these emotions come to him effortlessly. It does not appear that he had to work hard for selecting the most appropriate word. For example, a hero has left the scene in anger. However, he wants the love of his damsel. He initiates a negotiation in order to win her over. When she learns of this, she tells her close friend (Sakhi):

rammanave sumukhāna |
rāyabhāramulele ||  

Tell him to become pleasant.
What is the need for an embassy for it?

In the word “sumukha,” there is a suggestion that she is a Queen endowed with the pride of self-respect. In the word, “rāyabhāra,” there is a suggestion of mockery that he has transformed a lover’s quarrel into a political war. This is what makes the verse truly lovely.

Just as how Kshetrajna was an authority in language, he was also an authority in music. Overall, he has used about fifty Ragams. A majority of them are Rakti Ragams. Rakti denotes intense love. Both Rakti and Ragam signify joy. But in common parlance, the term Rakti signifies human love as different from devotion to the divine (Bhakti). It is also used in the special sense of Shrungara Rakti. The category of Ghana-Ragams is different from Rakti Ragams. Kshetrajna has majorly used the following Ragams in his Padams:

Kambhoji: 42

Bhairavi: 29

Mukhari: 26

Kalyani: 26

Saveri: 18

Todi: 16

Yadukulakambhoji: 15

Anandabhairavi: 13

Bilahari, Sankarabharanam, Ghantarava, Ahiri: 10 each

In some Ragams he has composed just one Padam. It must not be deduced that merely because the number of Padams in a Ragam is less, the quality of the Kriti or the appeal of the Ragam is less.

Once while discussing about various aspects of Ragams with Vidvan Sri Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sarma, I embarked on the adventure of remarking that the Kedara Ragam was elevating and pure and that it was suitable for expressing Shrungara. In reply, he sang rammanave sumukhāna and sealed my mouth shut. That was the first time I heard this Padam.

It is true that the Ragams listed above are primarily Rakti Ragams. However, that does not mean that (by merely singing these Ragams) Rasa will automatically emanate. The command of the singer over the Ragam, his mental makeup, his felicity of emotion, the quality and tenor of his voice—unless all of these are optimally mixed, the full charm and beauty of a Padam will not emerge.

To be continued



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

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