R Narasimhacharya (Part 2)

Friendship and Affection

There were tens of such stories in Narasimhacharya’s bag of humor. He would often say, “The important people of the present day are enemies of the goddess of learning – Śāradā-vairis!” He said this after seeing prominent members of society not paying attention to the music and instead talking amongst themselves during a concert.

When I would visit Narasimhacharya’s house by around three in the afternoon, I would not be aware of the time till it became dark in the room. He described the courage of the Rashtrakuta kings, he praised the aesthetics of the Hoysalas, he talked about the democracy of the Ganga kings, he told stories of Sanskrit scholars, anecdotes of musicians, and unlimited cāṭu verses[1]. I remember one of them.

In the olden days, dance teachers used to say, “Thā thaiya thom.” Nowadays, we hear: “Tātayya tātayya.”[2] We have been reduced to such weakness. This is a summary of one poem.

There was another poem on the śirastedār (court officer) –

 

mukhasthadāro bhagavān prajeśaḥ

uraḥsthadāro bhagavān rameśaḥ |

pārśvasthadāro bhagavānumeśaḥ

śirasthadāro’yamadṛṣṭapūrvaḥ ||

 

One whose mouth is the abode of his wife, is Prajeśa (Brahmā)

One whose chest is the abode of his wife, is Rameśa (Viṣṇu)

One whose (left-half) own body is the abode of his wife, is Umeśa (Śiva)

One whose head is the abode of his wife!?, Never been seen/heard before!

Another,

cāmarīvāmarībhāṣā kvacideva vanāntare |

rājate pāmarībhāṣā sūkarīva gṛhe gṛhe ||

 

Like the rare animal Cāmarīmṛga (Yak), the language of the immortals is banished to the forest, while the other local languages (lit. uncivilised) like pigs reign everywhere.   

I raised an objection when I heard this poem. Can you ridicule the local idiom and the language used by the common man? In response, he said, “You should not consider this as ridicule. The purport of this poem is to bring out the bad state of the Sanskrit language. If Sanskrit is erased, how will other languages survive?”

During such conversations, sometimes there would be a discussion on Archaeological Survey Reports. He used to get many letters of appreciation regarding the reports from many countries. He showed those letters to his friends. We were proud that we had a gem of a scholar among us who was praised by foreign scholars.

Narasimhacharya was simple by nature, large-hearted, and righteous. He was one of the founders of the Ubhaya Vedānta Pravartana Sabhā at Melkote. Not only was he the secretary for a long time, he also used to visit Melkote every year during the time of the sabhā and stay there [for a few days] and himself conduct the activities of the sabhā with interest.[3] In the month of Mārgaśīrṣa[4], he faithfully organized the rendering of the (pārāyaṇa) of Āṇḍāl Devī’s Tiruppāvai stotra at the Gopālakṛṣṇa temple in Malleshwaram. He used to happily attend all programs of the Karṇāṭaka Saṅgha of Central College. When he received the Rao Bahadur title, the Parishad organized a meeting and presented him with a citation of honour that showed the respect, gratitude, and pride of the Kannada people towards R Narasimhacharya.

Freedom from Ostentation

R Narasimhacharya’s scholarship was multifaceted. His presidential speech at the Sarvadharma Sammeḻana (conference of various faiths) in Dharmasthala is an example for his large-heartedness. When someone commented on his Nīti-mañjarī as ‘Kabbiṇada kaḍale’ (hard nut to crack; literally ‘an iron groundnut’) Togere Nanjunda Shastry said, “How can a scholar of his calibre write in a simpler manner than this? This is already highly simplified!” Even though his scholarship was great, Narasimhacharya did not appear to carry its weight. His conversation style was colloquial. An example of this is Nagegaḍalu (literally “Sea of Laughter”). His other articles and his lectures were similar. He talked in a way that everyone felt was simple and natural. He did not speak like an orator but instead he lectured in a manner of talking to a familiar friend – slowly and with a happy face. He did not have any trace of pomp.

Scholarship in Vacana Sāhitya

During 1912-13, Sriman Murugha Rajendra Swamy’s entourage had arrived in Tottadappa’s Choultry. In his presence, a lecture of R Narasimhacharya had been arranged. The subject was: Vīra-śaiva Vāṅmaya (literature of the Vīra-śaivas[5]). It was a large gathering with a beautiful pandal. Narasimhacharya lectured on the greatness of the vacanas of the Śiva-śaraṇas. He gave examples of unpublished vacanas of Śiva-śaraṇas for the first time. He spoke about his experiences and his efforts in collecting this –visits to tens of Śaiva-maṭhas, meetings with the heads of maṭhas, convincing them, and collecting manuscripts. Then he recounted the names of each of the Śiva-śaraṇas, gave a few introductory details, and presented the vacanas. With one reference to one Śiva-śaraṇas, he said, “Here is one formidable person, with powerful writing.” Our curiosity increased. He continued, “Listen to his words: malāmūtrā…”[6]

When he started like this, some of us felt like laughing out loud. Seeing this, Narasimhacharya said, “Listen some more. It will pierce the heart,” and explained the rest of the vacana. That poem summarized the aversion to bodily pleasures and initiated one to devotion and renunciation.

In sum, that lecture was greatly appreciated. He propounded a serious subject in an elegant way. Thinking about it now, I feel this was the first inspiration for the current studies happening about the history and the influence of Veera Shaiva literature.

Mastery over many languages.

Narasimhacharya belonged to a class of great scholars not only in Kannada, Sanskrit, and English but also in Tamil. He had worked greatly in the area of Telugu literature. Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu are sister languages; they have the same root. Therefore, he was one of those who advocated learning of Tamil and Telugu for better learning of Kannada. He was also familiar with Tulu and Malayalam languages.

Just because he had immense linguistic scholarship, one need not think that his writings were an exhibition of his scholarship. Those who have read the story of Nagegaḍalu will not think like that. It is in simple, colloquial language. It is a story of Gamparodeyaru(head of idiots). It is also called as the story of Paramanandaiah's disciples[7]. Is extreme scholarship necessary for this? In Narasimhacharya, as complete and profound was his scholarship, aucitya-parijñāna (all-round awareness of what is appropriate) was just as natural. In everyday life, and conversation with friends, he was a simple and easy-going. Based on the situation, Sanskrit examples would keep coming from him. But they did not appear to be difficult. It did not feel artificial. They came naturally and effortlessly. This is the essence of the conversations of cultured people.

R Narasimhacharya was friendly. He had a lot of respect for his younger brother, Alwar Iyengar. Usually they would be together. Another of his friend was a Mathematics Professor, N T Narayana Iyengar. They both participated in the activities of the Ubhaya Vedānta Pravartana Sabhā. Yet another good friend was Cha. Vasudeviah. Narasimhacharya and Vasudevaiah used to come together for meetings and celebrations.

This is the second part of the two-part English translation of Seventh essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 3) – Sahityopasakaru. Edited by G S Raghavendra and Hari Ravikumar.

Footnotes

[1] cāṭu. pleasing words of flattery, used to please their beloved, employed sometimes in court poetry to please the kings.

[2] Mahaprāna/aspirated letters generally indicate vigor/energy, which seems missing here due to pronouncing them as Alpaprāna/unaspirated letters.

[3] Established in 1902.

[4] Also called Agrahāyaṇa, 9th month in the lunar Calendar. It is a tradition to recite Tiruppāvai during this month.

[5] Lit. “that which is said”. Genre of writing in Kannada which flourished in 11th-12th century C.E. The Śiva-śaraṇas wrote them in simple Kannada mostly bereft of metre expressing their experience of realizing the Almighty.

[6] Lit. urine, stool; used in this context to highlight how our body is transient and full of impurities and initiate one towards renunciation.

[7] Made into three movies, Paramanandayya Sishyulu (Telugu 1950), Paramanandayya Sishyula Katha (Telugu 1966), Guru Shishyaru (Kannada 1981).

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)

Rashmi Canchi
About:

Rashmi Canchi works as an engineering technical writer at a leading product company in Bangalore. She has a master's in Microelectronics and Microsystems from Germany. Her interests include science and philosophy. In her free time she loves to travel and to cook.