“There is a dire need for the rejuvenation of connoisseurship. The number of connoisseurs in the society must increase. The tastes and opinions of people need to be more cultured.” Rāḻḻapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma had expressed this concern during his presidential speech at the Āndhra Nāṭaka Kalāpariṣat at Nellore in 1938. To this day, after the passage of so many decades, his opinion is relevant, perhaps even more so.
In one of his lectures (on All India Radio), Sarma had said, “Our conduct, actions, manner of speech, and the emotions we feel – all of these have to be regulated through the perspective of art. Life in its entirety should be aligned to rhythm and thus become resplendent. This is the true mark of a cultured society and the worship of Devī Sarasvatī.” This objective was clearly manifest in his personal life.
Rāḻḻapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma (23rd January 1893 – 11th March 1979) had rich experience and great authority. A fine amalgam of holistic vision and a philosophical outlook of life had ripened the man in him. His vast knowledge of literature in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Telugu, Kannada, English, and several other languages; his expertise in the theory and practical aspects of classical music; and more than all that, the essential qualities of a true connoisseur, i.e. the sense of aucitya (appropriateness, propriety) and the grasp of the subtleties of emotion – on this strong foundation lay Sarma’s fame.
Sweetness of Personality
Sarma’s physical features, pleasant facial expressions, sweet behaviour, and a dignified look that stemmed from his confidence, could attract anyone.
The great scholar Salva Krishnamurti had described Sarma in this manner – “A pleasant face that resembles a blossoming flower, a body filled with sweetness and lustre, an orator who was faithful to truth, assertive yet magnanimous, endowed with sharp intelligence – the convergence of these traits was Rāḻḻapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma.”
V Sitaramaiah (V Si.) once recounted an incident. Sarma’s physical appearance was so resplendent that once O C Ganguly, the editor of the reputed art magazine Rupam and a great figure in the area of art and literature, happened to see Sarma during one of his occasional visits to the library of Mysore University. He was so overwhelmed by the man that he requested him to “Kindly wait for a minute,” rushed to his car, took his camera, and then took a photograph of Sarma.
Sarma’s actions were as candid as his speech. P T Narasimhachar (Pu. Ti. Na.) had described him thus – “Typically, the only piece of Western clothing worn by Sarma was his shirt. He exhibited his śikhā and his nāma in all their glory… Although Sarma never closed his mind to Western learning and culture, he ensured that it never affected his speech, thinking or actions… Nowadays Indians have lost confidence in their roots.”
In the Company of Connoisseurs
During the decade of 1950, V Si. used to make a special arrangement, which was as follows – inviting a group of art connoisseurs to his house once or twice every year. Sarma was the centre of attraction in such gatherings. Moṭagānahaḻḻi Subrahmanya Shastry, H Yoganarasimham, and K V Raghavachar were among the others in attendance. Free flowing conversations, partaking of coffee or tea and meals were the only agenda.
I was fortunate to meet Sarma time and again when he settled in Bangalore after his retirement in 1962. I visited him once a month or once every two months. If I visited him at three or three-thirty in the afternoon, our conversations would go on till seven in the evening. During most of these visits, my dear friends Bharatanāṭyācārya V S Kaushik and Magadi Gopalakannan, then Assistant Editor of Prajāvāṇi, used to accompany me.
During one such visit, my scholar-friend Dr. T V Venkatachala Sastry had also accompanied me. Through the course of our conversation, incidentally, Sarma made a keen analysis of laya, chandas, and aṃśa-gaṇa compositions. Dr. Sastry remarked, “Although his analysis was carried out in the course of a casual chat, it appeared as though an eminent professor was giving a classroom lecture after thorough preparation.”
Sarma visited D V Gundappa (DVG) once every two or three months. Since I used to be with DVG most of the times, I was fortunate to witness and enjoy the intellect and insightful flashes of Sarma.
Sarma was a teacher for most part of his life. His published works were also significant; he researched and edited several works. He was also a popular orator. Keeping all these achievements aside, anyone who met him even once could not help but admit his distinctive personality. His knowledge of art, mastery over theoretical aspects, and his ability to elucidate were inalienable elements of his life; it never appeared to be a result of mere external learning.
Simplicity, tranquillity, and devotion to spirituality were qualities that defined Sarma’s attractive personality. His innocence was akin to that of a child. Emotional distress, obstinacy in attitude, and argumentativeness found no place in him. His love of harmony can be gleaned from his opinion that when there is decisiveness, it need not be coupled with an uproar. Even an emotionally distressed person would find peace within half an hour of conversation with him.
The manner of influencing a mind; the usage of carefully-selected, appropriate words; and the modesty in exhibiting his prowess to make a different viewpoint – these bestowed a special charm on Sarma’s writing and speech.
When Sarma narrated even ordinary facts, they appeared extraordinary due to his melodious voice and his emotional connect with people. An insipid sentence such as, “We all sat together and ate lunch,” would appear like poetry when it came out of his mouth. It is impossible to describe the magic in his words.
During the 1960s, at DVG’s behest, Sarma once performed vācana of the Rāmāyaṇa in the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA). It was a surreal experience. His style of rendering the verses was simple and direct. Nowhere did he exhibit his scholarship. The dignified manner in which he sang suggested that when the original text itself is so emotive and connects well with the connoisseur, our indulgence in the transmission should be minimal. After singing about seven or eight verses in different rāgas, he would summarize them in a few lines and continue reading from the original text – thereby not deviating much from the original flow. It was as though the connoisseurs shared their experiences and enjoyed the art.
To be continued...
This English adaptation has been prepared from the following sources –
1. Ramaswamy, S R. Dīvaṭigègaḻu. Bangalore: Sahitya Sindhu Prakashana, 2012. pp. 122–55 (‘Rāḻḻapalli Anantakṛṣṇaśarmā’)
2. S R Ramaswamy’s Kannada lecture titled ‘Kannaḍa Tèlugu Bhāṣā Bèḻavaṇigègè Di. Rāḻḻapalli Anantakṛṣṇaśarmaru Sallisida Sevè’ on 11th July 2010 (Pāṇyam Rāmaśeṣaśāstrī 75 Endowment Lecture) at the Maisūru Mulakanāḍu Sabhā, Mysore.
Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review and for his help in the translation of all the verses that appear in this series.
Edited by Hari Ravikumar.
 jayati naya-sarūpaḥ puṣpa-hāsānurūpo
kṛtir-api vyavahartā satya-vādī ca vāgmī
 Sarma joined as a Telugu Paṇḍita, a grade lower than Lecturer, and retired as a Telugu Paṇḍita. Needless to say, his salary was meagre.