The Life of Kshetrajna - By DVG

Note: This is an English translation of DVG’s article of the same title published in the Deepavali Special issue of Prajamata dated 1963.

Kshetrajna was a poet, a musical poet, a musical poet who wrote verses on love. Episodic beauty, musical beauty, and emotional beauty – all these three elements have been unified in his compositions. His renown has crossed the borders of his native Telugu and has spread widely. The people of the Tamil country often describe the trio of Carnatic classical music—Tyagraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Sastri as hailing from their land. It is my opinion that Kshetrajna was no less accomplished than the three. In one aspect, he is in fact more special than them: devotion to the Bhagavan is the chief facet that underscores the trio. Kshetrajna is notable for Rakti (intense attachment) and the Rasa of love. The question arises: can Rakti be equal to Bhakti? If space permits, we may weigh this question later. It is my personal opinion that Rakti is also a step in Bhakti, that it is also a form of Sadhana. But when we examine it purely from the musical standpoint, Kshetrajna is on the same high pedestal as the trio. In fact, he precedes them.

As far as Kshetrajna’s life is concerned, there is no dependable primary evidence. We don’t even know his real name. However, everyone accepts the fact that there was indeed a person by that moniker. Likewise, we have two other incontrovertible facts: 1. He hailed from Andhra 2. He flourished in the seventeenth century.

Now we can consider a few other facets.

Place

Kshetrajna’s birthplace was a village named Muvva in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. The village of Kuchipudi located about two miles from that place is famous for its eponymous dance form. The Bhagavata art form that takes place there is still famous. It appears that the entire region was renowned both for Vidvans and Rasikas for many centuries. In this manner, the entire atmosphere was conducive for Kshetrajna’s musical and poetic creations.

The cynosure of this connoisseurly environment was the Gopalakrishna Temple of the Muvva village. It is indeed the great fortune of the world of Rasikas that the temple was dedicated to the epitome of love, Gopalakrishna instead of Vinayaka or Virabhadra or Maruti or Maramma. The heroines who speak in Kshetrajna’s poems declare that they Muvva Gopala is their hero. Thus, the fount of Kshetrajna’s inspiration is the sanctum sanctorum of Muvva Gopala.
The temple of Muvva Gopala still exists. It appears that the temple structure has become weak. If it is reinforced and renovated—sans the mischief of “modern” decoration – if it can be restored to its former glory, it will be a great service rendered to the legions of devotees of music, literature, and historians.

Period

In the composition, veukato naacukonna via rāyue, attributed to him, it appears that Kshetrajna was honoured by Tirumala Nayaka of Madurai, Raghunatha Nayaka and Vijayaraghava Nayaka of Tanjore. The era of these two Nayakas of Tanjore can be placed between 1623-33 and 1633-73 respectively. Thus, Kshetrajna was later than Purandara Dasa (1550-64) and earlier than Tyagaraja (1759-1847).

It also appears that Kshetrajna was a Brahmana by birth. We have no information about his parents or relatives. We also don’t know whether he was married or had children. It is said that there a few families in the Muvva region that trace their lineage to Kshetrajna. In the aforementioned composition, veukato naacukonna, set to the Kambhoji Ragam, there appears the following line:

eḍumūḍu talarānuṃci | iṃdunna kāṇācaṭa |
gūḍukuni mā muvva | gopāluḍau vibhuḍu ||  

The meaning derived from this is as follows: Muvva Gopalakrishna was hidden inside Kshetrajna for ten or twenty-one generations (i.e., births). It is also perhaps a suggestion that devotion towards Gopalakrishna and musical felicity had come to him as a gift of generations.

One story narrates that Kshetrajna’s parents had named him as Varadayya. Some poems of Kshetrajna are dedicated to Varadaraja Swami of Kanchipuram. Other poems drop the word “Kanchi” and simply retain “Varada,” the name of the Bhagavan commonly used. For example, our Dasa saints and poets sing,

varadā, nī poreyeṃdu|
kareyalākṣaṇa baṃdu porede ||

However, this does not establish that the names of these Dasas were “Varada.” Similarly, it does not appear that Kshetrajna’s original name was Varada. However, it also does not prove the opposite. For our purposes, we can address him as Kshetrajna, Kshetrayya and Kshetriya.

Name

The word “Kshetrajna” is not a name commonly in vogue among people who name their children. We do not come across this name in either Andhra Pradesh or elsewhere. It is indeed a unique name. According to one historical account, the man who was known as Varadayya by birth became a great Bhakta, visited hundreds of Tirtha-Kshetras and was always a resident of some Kshetra, and eventually became known as Kshetrayya, Kshetrajna and variants thereof.

When we examine the circumstances and the emotional backdrop in which the musical-poetical compositions that we today attribute to Kshetrajna were composed, it becomes clear that the name “Kshetrajna” given to their author is every bit appropriate.

The subject of the thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita deals with Kshetra and Kshetrajna.

idaṁ śharīraṁ kaunteya kṣhetram ity abhidhīyate |

etad yo vetti taṁ prāhuḥ kṣhetra-jña iti tad-vidaḥ ||

(O Arjuna), this body is termed as kṣhetra (the field of activities), and the one who knows this body is called kṣhetrajña (the knower of the field) by the sages who discern the truth about both.

In common parlance, the term “Kshetra” denotes an agricultural field – a farm. The human body is truly the field of Samsara (family life or worldly life). Its nature comprises various body parts, sense organs, and the mind, and the mischiefs and tumults emanating therefrom. The other concomitant elements include passion, attachment, jealousy, enmity. All these various states of the Jiva (life) and their consequences are the Kshetramsa or components of the Kshetra. The person who clearly and profoundly understands the interconnections between the physical body and jiva is known as a Kshetrajna.

Our poet is one such Kshetrajna – the omniscient person who grasped the inexplicable transactions of the heart.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

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.

Translator(s)

About:

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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