Reminiscences of Olden Days
Sarma’s narration of the life and actions of the yesteryear scholars was fascinating. This was one such incident he shared from his memory.
A renowned grammarian from North India once visited the court of H. H. Krishnaraja Wodeyar III. His challenge to the court was that he would be able to defeat anyone in debate.
During those days, there were no renowned grammarians in the court of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III. There was a scholar in the field of tarka (logic). He informed the king, “Nothing to worry, I will be able to manage him!”
“How can that happen? His expertise is in the field of grammar and yours is in the field of logic!”
The logician explained, “That’s very easy! We shall invite him for the debate. I will ask him to lay down his pūrva-pakṣa. He will definitely use some theory in the subject. While doing so, he will have to necessarily use the term ‘avacchedakatva’ (i.e. delimiting). I will then catch him, by posing the question, ‘Avacchedakatvaṃ kiṃ nāma?’ (‘What is the definition of interpretation?’ or ‘What is meant by delimiting?’) In this manner, the subject will be dragged into my area of expertise. Then onwards I will be able to dominate the debate.”
* * *
There was a scholar by name ‘Jhañjhāmārutam’ Gopālācārya. No doubt he was an erudite scholar but his egoistic mannerisms were not less pronounced.
If anyone asked him, “Who gave you the title ‘Jhañjhāmārutam’?,” he would say, “That is a title bestowed upon me by myself. Someone should be more well-read than me to assess me! Since there is no one qualified to do that, I had to myself give such a title.”
* * *
Sarma had once narrated how the mistakes crept into the manuscripts by inefficient amanuensis and what was thus copied would itself be declared as a precedent, classifying it as ‘renowned old usages’ of a language.
“These kinds of questions often cropped up when we were editing the work Andhra-bhārata. I was of the view that the correct usage of a certain word was ‘Dhanañjaya pravarakarambu’ (‘Best hand of Arjuna.’) But all the manuscripts we had mentioned the word as ‘Dhanañjaya pravarukarambu’ (‘Best Arjuna’s hand.’) There were several debates regarding my view. If we were to keep the word ‘pravaru,’ then the word ‘Dhanañjaya’ would become an adjective to the word ‘pravara’ and thus lose its very meaning.”
Another incident Sarma recollected was this – “Most scribes who copied the manuscripts were people who had no knowledge of the subject. With a view to keeping them busy, the king would often request them to copy a certain manuscript. Such people would copy that in their own fashion and often added mistakes afresh apart from those that existed previously. They would also add a disclaimer at the end of the work – ‘Karakṛtam aparādham kṣantum arhanti santaḥ’ or ‘Abaddham vā subaddham vā mama doṣo na vidyate!’
“An incident occurred during the days of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III. An eminent scholar had studied several manuscripts and on that basis, had edited the Anargha-rāghava of Murāri, with much difficulty. Even masters of Sanskrit find the work extremely difficult to understand. The scholar then thought of having the entire edited work written again [by a scribe]. Deeming his own handwriting to be illegible, he entrusted this work to an illustrator who worked in the royal court. The latter completed the work with great joy and submitted it. The scholar thanked him for all the help and presented him with a shawl and some money. While returning from the place, the illustrator said, ‘Revered sir, I found a few mistakes when I was copying the edited work. I have rectified those and written the accurate words.’ The scholar was taken aback. How could the scribe find mistakes in the work that was prepared by him with so much hard work and keen observation? He asked, ‘Which mistake? I had scrutinized the text with much care and caution!’ The illustrator said, ‘There was a word ‘kambhoḥ’ right in the first verse. Is it not appropriate to pray to Lord Śiva in the beginning of the work? That is why I changed that into the correct form ‘śambhoḥ.’
“What should the scholar do? He blurted out, ‘Oh man! Kindly take your copy of the manuscript along with this shawl and money. Please return my earlier manuscript to me!’”
These kinds of instances and reminiscences would transpire in every gathering when I went to meet him monthly or bi-monthly. Irrespective of the nature of the subject, there would be novelty and an extraordinary element in Sarma’s response. Even in case of recent political discussions, Sarma would relate it to an incident in Purāṇic or classical literature and explain it. As we dug deeper, the depth and glitter of his knowledge would manifest without any bounds.
He fetched the novels of James Hadley Chase and Erle Stanley Gardner from me and read them with relish.
Here is an instance that shows the varied interests of Sarma. About two years prior to his death, he was desirous of reading the Brahma-sūtra Śāṅkara-bhāṣya and requested me to get him the book. I was unable to find any fine publication of the work at that point of time. However, I had a personal copy of the book—an old print—that I had studied. I got an autograph of V Si. on that book and handed it over to Sarma. I noticed how deeply he had studied the work when he gave a rapier-sharp exposition on the bhāṣya when I met him in the following days.
A Sense of Aucitya
I have cherished listening to Sarma for over two to three hours in our gatherings where he would analyse the lyrical quality, the music, and emotions of a certain kṛti. That is a different world altogether. DVG described him as ‘aucitya-pūrṇa pratibhā-pāṇḍitya khani,’ meaning ‘the gold mine of talent and scholarship with a great sense of aucitya.’
We were once discussing the difference in the prominent musical style and the aucitya of a famous kṛti. As an illustration, Sarma started analysing the Tyāgarāja kṛti ‘Ninu vinā nāmadiyendu niluvade śrī hari hari’ (‘O Hari! Apart from you, my mind firmly settles nowhere!’) composed in the Nava-rasa-kannaḍa rāga. This is a classical song that has been popular for many decades. There is hardly any artist who has not sung or played it. However, musicians seldom elaborate it and end up using it as a ‘filler’ between two expansive kṛtis, in a bid to give a refreshing change to the audience; they employ a faster tempo and a clichéd manner of singing or playing the notes. In some sense, there is no doubt that it is entertaining. Without question, there is a benefit in using the same set of notes (svaras) that is already introduced and embedded in the minds of the audience. There is much importance attached to culturing the minds of the audience as opposed to introducing a rare piece of music to them. Sarma asked, “Would the cascading effect of svaras and a fast tempo suit this kṛti?” The devotee tells the Lord, ‘My eyes are filled with your beauty, my ears are filled with your stories, your name resides on my lips, and wherever I look, I see you, O Rāma, the gold-crested scion of the Sūrya-vaṃśa!’ and his intense feeling culminates with the words, ‘You are the result of all of my tapas!’
“Would the fast and furious cascading effect of svaras suit the devotee’s heart-warming and humble feeling in this kṛti?” Sarma argued that such a kṛti does not deserve an accelerated tempo but a moderate one and that it had to be sung in a manner that would elicit respect and humility within us. He then demonstrated to us by singing this kṛti for twenty to twenty-five minutes.
Such instances revealed Sarma’s rich experience, sense of aucitya, and rational thinking.
While illustrating the fate of music, dance, drama, etc. at the hands of ignorant artistes, he once exclaimed satirically, “It is sufficient if you make your shoulders jump up and down when you sing ‘Bhaktāpāya—bhujaṅga—gāruḍa—maṇi.’ This would become vācyābhinaya!”
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.
 ‘Avacchedakatva’ is one of the most frequently used technical terms in Indian Logic as it is fundamental to define any thought or concept under consideration.
 Literally means ‘tempest’ but refers to his erudition and fierce logical acumen.
 These verses are prayers offered to the Supreme to be kind and ignore the mistakes that might have inadvertently crept into the script.
 Nābhī-pallava-puṇḍarīka-mukulaḥ kamboḥ sapatnīkṛtaḥ (The white lotus that emerges from the navel of Viṣṇu resembles his conch, Pāñcajanya) are the words of the opening verse of Anargha-rāghava.
 ‘Nā tapamu yokka phalamu nīve!’
 This was a satirical remark that Sarma made, alluding to the common inability of musicians to understand the meaning of the lyrics. They incorrectly split compound words. In this case, the word should not be split at all; it is one single word: ‘Bhaktāpāyabhujaṅgagāruḍamaṇi.’ They inexperienced musician mistakes ‘bhujaṅga’ (‘serpent’) for ‘bhuja’ (‘shoulder’) and begins to shake his shoulders as he sings that word!