Prof. S K Ramachandra Rao - Concern for the Society and Versatility

Concern for the Society

Even a bird’s eye view of Ramachandra Rao’s literary contribution reveals that his mind always traversed the path of the highest peaks of scholarship. Yet he never thought twice before involving himself in activities that would be potentially helpful to the society at large. In middle age, he wrote several introductory works on various subjects. In the Bhārata-bhāratī series of the Rashtrotthana Parishat, he wrote booklets in Kannada on Tyāgarāja, Rāghavendra-svāmigaḻu, K Venkatappa, Dīpaṅkara, and Bodhi-dharma; for IBH under the series on Kannaḍa Nāḍu Mattu Kannaḍigara Paramparè, he wrote works titled Purandara-dāsaru, Kanaka-dāsaru, Śrī-madhvācāryaru, Bhadrabāhu-svāmī, Gommaṭeśvara, and Maharṣi Daivarātaru. In the same series, he has written introductory works with the titles Bhāratada Devālayagaḻu[1], Āyurveda, Āḻvārara Nuḍimuttugaḻu, and has also authored introductory booklets on Bèṅgaḻūrina Karaga[2], Cuñcanakaṭṭè, Sāligrāma, and Hanasogè[3].

One can guess the amount of concern he had for the society – he wanted his talent and scholarship to be of use to everyone.

Ramachandra Rao was also involved in the translations of the works of Dr. S Radhakrishnan and the History of Dharmaśāstra authored by P V Kane. The translations are testimony to the enthusiasm he possessed in the propagation of noble thoughts and writings.


Expertise in Different Forms of Art

Neither in the past nor today are there scholars who can write with authority on classical music, painting, sculpture, architecture, and āgama-śāstras. There has, probably been no other person who has worked extensively in these areas. It is a well-known fact that Ramachandra Rao was a veena player, a painter, and a sculptor himself. He had developed great insights in all of these fields. He has created so many paintings and sculptures that they can easily fill a large exhibition. Even in the early days of his Kannada writings, he wrote a work Namma Saṅgīta mattu Vāggeyakāraru[4]. In the later years, he wrote the books Mūrti-śilpa: Nèlè-hinnèlè[5], Bhāratada Devālaya, Saṅgīta: Itihāsa-Paramparè, Sampradāya: Śilpakalè-Citrakalè, Gaṇapatiya-rūpagaḻu[6], and many other memorable works. As mentioned earlier, his English works Āgama-kośa and Pratimā-kośa, which he wrote in the 1990s have become milestones in Indian literature.  In fact, a sizeable portion of his writings, relates to various forms of art.

In 1975, he wrote a huge work Mūrti-śilpa: Nèlè-hinnèlè [7]for the Publications Division of the Bangalore University; it ran to 350 pages of crown ¼ size. He worked as the editor-in-chief for the series Karnāṭakada Kalègalu[8] in 1980, which was published through the Kannada Sahitya Parishat and the two-hundred-page-long Preface that he wrote for the first of these volumes – these are the most credible writings on the subject. For students who take up study in the field, these can serve as very useful sources of reference.

The booklet Bharatamuniya Nāṭyaśāstra is an introductory work, which can guide aspirants.

He has explained the symbology behind the design of a temple as follows –

“When the daivī-caitanya (Divine Radiance) moves upwards and starts flowing, it takes the form of the mūla-bera-vigraha[9] and the shape of the garbha-gṛha. When it flows downwards, it comes through the kaḻaśa and spreads out through the body of the vimāna. Below the garbha-gṛha it is in the nascent and the sleeping state, like in the womb; when it manifests in the garbha-gṛha, it heads towards activity; in the śikhara, it rises above and beyond the material world; at the tip of the kaḻaśa it unites with the viśva-caitanya (universal brilliance and divinity).

“The metaphor of the tree with its roots up in the sky and the branches spread out below denotes the following: the roots of the world are in the Brahma-vastu in the unmanifest form. Here, man is the being, the nature’s creation – he gets caught in the net of ignorance, attachment, desire and activities. His roots are high above the physical body, in the sahasrāra-cakra. He goes beyond this foundation and spreads his activities around the world just like the branches appear in the skies. His duty is to recognize and realise his roots; he will need to have that as his foundational peg, for his being. The achievement of the puruṣārtha is to grow beyond and transcend” (From the Kannada Original: ‘Bhāratada Devālaya: Nèlè-hinnèlè’)

Ramachandra Rao has authored booklets containing the biographical accounts of artists with extraordinary achievements in the field of music and arts. ‘K. Venkatappa’, ‘Saṅgītaratna Mysore T. Chowdayya’, ‘Puruṣa-sarasvatī Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma’, ‘Saṅgīta-sāṃrājñī M.S. Subbulakshmi’ – these works are touching and provide an elevating read.

He draws our attention to one particular aspect, which many others might not have observed. He says, “Arts, literature, nāṭaka, vāstu-śilpa, entertainment, sports, folk forms – all of them can be traced to the āgamic tradition. It is this tradition which has given the fragrance of unity, integrity and coherence – it has been the inspiration for several siddhas, scholars and sādhus.” (From the Kannada Original: Bhāratīya Saṃskṛtiya Tirulu)


Insights into the Dāsa-sāhitya

The works on dāsa-sāhitya, i.e., compositions of the Dāsasof Karnataka, edited and compiled by Ramachandra Rao, are a contribution like never before to this unique feature of Karnataka. His works ‘Purandara-dāsaru’ and ‘Kanaka-dāsaru’ had come out as early as the 1970s and were aimed at introducing these stalwarts to the youngsters. In 1987, his high-quality research article titled Vijayanagarada īcina dāsa-sāhitya got published. One of the special features of this writing is that it contains details about the scholars, artistes and laymen who worked for the dāsa-sāhitya in the mid-decades of the twentieth century.

Purandara Sāhitya Darśana’ – a series of books running to four volumes was published in the 1980s under the guidance of Ramachandra Rao who worked as its Chief Editor. The series has caught the minds and hearts of the people of Karnakata. The four volumes talk about four different themes –

  1. Jīvana-darśana (Values and insights into everyday life)
  2. Adhyātma-darśana (Insights into Philosophy)
  3. Samāja-darśana (Understanding of the Society)
  4. Kīrtana-darśana (Overview of the compositions)

There is no other edition or work that provides insights into the works of Purandara-dāsa in such a systematic, attractive and engaging manner. The volumes also provide useful footnotes.

Th introductory section to the first volume authored by Ramachandra Rao runs to fifty-five pages. He talks about the life and relevance of Purandara-dāsa, the nature of his works, their history and also discusses several aspects that have been hitherto little understood. His work is devoid of excessive adulation and unwarranted contempt for the compositions. He has examined the works of Purandara-dāsa through the heart of a conscious connoisseur.

The following words of Ramachandra Rao about the significance of the dāsa-sāhitya are memorable:

“Here, it is important to note that the hari-dāsas took to writing in the Kannada language. Bhāgavatas and paurāṇikas would first recite the Sanskrit originals and then provide explanations in the Kannada language. Scholars always have participated in vākyārthas and have employed only the Sanskrit language for explanations too. They had the feeling that Kannada does not go well with their tradition. Though the foremost of the hari-dāsas were scholars of Sanskrit, they profusely wrote in the Kannada language to make it more accessible to the Kannada populace.

It is the fortune of the Kannada language that the ideals of these seniors found fruit. Kannada language saw the abundant growth of hari-dāsa-sāhitya. Thanks to Purandara-dāsa’s golden touch, Kannada’s life got a great boost – it grew with a lot more rigour in later years. It is the hari-dāsas who made available the concepts of the Vedānta, the essence of the śāstras and the teachings of the ācāryas in simple Kannada to the common man. They strove hard to make the high ideals reach the lowest rungs of the society.

“The hari-dāsa-sāhitya, which our ancestors from Karnataka helped evolve and the huge number of literary works that have resulted from these efforts have added immense strength and attractive charm to our land. This gives us much and satisfaction.” (From the Kannada Original: Vijayanagarada īcina dāsa-sāhitya)


To be continued...

The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original which has appeared in the Dīptaśṛṅgagalu, authored by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Thanks to Sri Hari Ravikumar for his edits. Full form of the article is a part of 'A Tapestry of Pen Portraits' published by Prekshaa Pratishtana in December 2020.

[1] On Indian Temples.

[2] An annual folk festival of Bangalore, connected with the worship of Śakti

[3] Cuñcanakaṭṭè, Sāligrāma, and Hanasogè are small villages that are pilgrimage centres on the banks of the reiver Kaveri

[4] Our (Indian) Music and Composers

[5] On classical Indian sculpture

[6] Different forms and facets of Gaṇeśa - Gaṇapati

[7] Iconography: its base and background

[8] Art forms of Karnataka

[9] Image of the main deity established in the garbha-gṛha;




Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of stalwarts like D. V. Gundappa, Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, V Sitaramaiah, and others. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and served as the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs for many years.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh

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इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


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