Today, it is well-nigh impossible to know where Kshetrajna underwent his education or the name of his Guru. Likewise, we do not know any details of his profession or how he earned his living. From the aforementioned example of veḍukato naḍacukonna, it is clear that he had earned royal patronage. However, that munificence came to him after he had become famous. In which case, how did live his life till then?
The following is my guesswork. In that era, it was not difficult to earn a living as it is now. It was an era of contentment. Agriculture was widespread and bounteous. If rains and harvests occurred on time, the whole country would remain prosperous. More importantly, scholars and learned people could easily earn money because the common people were endowed with a natural respect and admiration towards them. Additionally, the society of that period was imbued with an attitude of living a contented life amidst frugality. On the whole, that era was neither a period of extravagance nor extreme adventure but one of contentment. It was one of mental poise.
Perhaps Kshetrajna had inherited some land from his forefathers. He had also perhaps supplemented his income as a musician and through teaching. When we examine the nature and themes of his poetry, it appears that he lived a comfortable life. We find no hint of hardship and hunger in any of his works. Nor do they speak about the vicissitudes of the world of wealth and riches. The hardships he faced lay in the realm of love.
It also appears that he had studied really well. His linguistic style reflects a tenor of authority. Although his phraseology is familiar and easy, his Sanskritized Telugu usage is the usage of a scholar speaking to the layman. He did not exhibit his scholarship. However, he was not devoid of scholarship. He has used it in a manner which appeals to the world: simply and economically. In that era—before the European civilization had set foot among us—it was common in the Brahmana community to have a healthy degree of scholarship in its ranks. Thus, there is no doubt in saying that Kshetrajna had deep scholarship in poetry, drama, aesthetics, and prosody.
But we have no source of information that can tell us where and under whose tutelage he learnt music. A story goes that a Yogi initiated him into the Gopala-mantra and as a result of chanting it with devotion, Kshetrajna got poetic inspiration. In the realm of poetry, there is a high pedestal for inner inspiration; in fact, we can all accept that this is indeed the highest pedestal. That inspiration comes on its own as a boon of the Bhagavan or as a fruit of the accumulated virtues of past births. We can also accept the view that there is no guarantee that poetic inspiration will occur despite hard efforts, sweat, and rigorous reading of texts. But then, is inspiration alone enough? Shouldn’t there be mental and intellectual training and preparation for inspiration to fructify? Study of poetry, education in the Sastras and worldly experience—these are the preparations that a poet needs.
We clearly notice all three elements in Kshetrajna’s works. They also reveal that along with music, Kshetrajna had thoroughly mastered dance and drama. But when did this education happen? And how? This is the characteristic fate of our past poets. In the poems and plays of Kalidasa, we get substantial instances relating to music, dance, and drama. But who was Kalidasa’s literary Guru? Who was his Guru in music? Which Guru taught him dance? Kshetrajna’s story is similar.
It appears that Kshetrajna did not write any work apart from Padams, a poetic form. No work of Kavya, drama, prabandha (histories in literary form), or Sastra attributed to him has been found. Sri B. Gopala Reddy has cited a verse in the Kanda metre attributed to him. The story goes that Kshetrajna once went to Thanjavur to the court of Raghunatha Nayaka (1632-33) seeking patronage. The king said: “Who asked you to come here?” This was Kshetrajna’s reply:
tamu tāme vasturarthulu |
kramameragina dātakaḍaku rammannārā ||
kamalaṃbulunna coṭiki |
bhramaraṃbulu yacyuteṃdra raghunāthanṛpā ||
Seekers come on their own to the patrons who have the ability to discern merit. Does one need to explicitly invite bees to seek lotuses?
Kshetrajna’s work of composing Padams must have begun much earlier than this incident. This is his very first poem.
śrīpatisutu bāriki ne |
nopaleka ninu veḍite |
kopālā muvvagopālā ||
Owing to the heat of Manmatha which made me
Unable to be happy, I prayed to You, and
You are angry, O muvvagopālā? (i.e., Krishna)
At the end of every line in this Padam, we find words such as kopālā, sallāpālā, kaḻāpālā, nā pāla, etc., which rhyme with Gopālā. This shows a beautiful word-harmony and enhances the situation in which the poem is set. Because this poem starts with Sri, there is every reason to believe that it was his very first composition. But there is no other evidence to prove it.
The general consensus is that Kshetrajna composed a few thousand poems. In the aforementioned poem, veḍukato naḍacukonna viṭa rāyuḍe, we have these lines:
1. When the great king of Madurai, Tirumalendra showered patronage and sat before [me] and asked me to compose Padams, the number of Padams composed are 2000.
2. When King Vijayaraghava of Thanjavur was celebrating his victory, the Padams composed and sung were 1000, which were suitably rewarded.
3. When the Golconda Padshah organized a competition with the singer Tulasimurti, the number of Padams that Muvvagopālā composed in forty days for his listening pleasure was 1700.
This brings the total number of Padams to 4700.
Indeed, Tulasimurti was not the only singer against whom Kshetrajna competed and won. The Vidvans in Vijayaraghava’s court regularly mocked Kshetrajna’s poetry in such unflattering terms before the king himself: “erā, rārā, porā, rammannave, pommannave,” (hey, come on, go away, ask him to come, ask him to go)— isn’t this the substance of Kshetrajna’s poetry?
To be continued