A small episode will help us gauge the greatness of Sarma’s scholarly lineage that resulted in the culturing of his mind. In some context, Śrī Kṛṣṇabrahmatantra Parakāla-maṭha Yatīndra required a certain sentence from Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇa for the sake of illustrating a point. He requested his disciple to search for it. Sarma was reading a few random verses in the process of finding that sentence. The required sentence was subsequently found after a few passages. When Sarma turned a few pages and tried to go ahead, his teacher said, “Do not stop. Continue reading the same part.”
The passage was related to Sumitrā consoling a sobbing Kausalyā when Śrīrāma was exiled to the forest. It was perhaps the verse starting with the words ‘Vilapantīṃ tathā tāṃ tu kausalyāṃ pramadottamām.’ Sarma read a few verses quite slowly. After reading some portions, he turned towards his teacher. Swamiji’s eyes were moist with tears overcome with emotion.
This happened often. He used to say, “What is the urgency for our writing? Let it happen tomorrow or a day later. How else could we get this enjoyment of reading the text? I am now in no mood to write anything further. Read a few more parts. Let’s enjoy by listening to it.” Swamiji was a great human being who truly felt that enjoying the soul of literature was akin only to the experience of the brahman. Sarma’s mind and heart were also filled with such rich aesthetic experiences.
The number of books that Sarma wrote, when seen in the backdrop of his scholarly mind, was minimal. He was capable of effortlessly writing ten times more than what he has published. He did not wish to compromise on practising music or experiencing the enjoyment of classical literature like Rāmāyaṇa by seriously pursuing his hobby of writing books.
Sarma’s teacher Rāma-śāstrī of Chamarajanagar wrote only a few works. One of his close friends had asked him, “Why would you not compose poetry when you possess such great talent?” To this, he replied, “What more and better can I create than the likes of Kālidāsa or Bhavabhūti?”
Sarma belonged to the same school of thought. We are fortunate that he was able to find time to write at least some of his works that are available to us.
Philosophy of Life
The following verses penned by Sarma reflect his philosophy of life –
Kindly bless us, so that we have –
no remorse about things we couldn’t achieve,
no haughtiness about what we have achieved, and
no lethargy with regard to things we ought to do now.”
paśyatāṃ naḥ sadā cittaṃ
O Lord! Enjoying liberty under your will
and liberation with your control,
let our minds realize the path of peace!
These are extracts from Nyāsa-kalānidhi-stavaḥ, a collection of verses written by Sarma.
I wish to add here that when Sarma faced challenges in his life, his creativity worked in the form of literature. Each of his writings was unique. There was a stamp of Sarma in each of his works – be it his poems, his lecture on some work of literature, or his keen analysis of music.
Vision of Public Welfare
All of Sarma’s work was aimed at the welfare of the society. He did not narrow down the scope of his work to that of art alone. Treading the age-old path of poetic works might interest only a few. Sarma’s concern was to produce literature that could make the society more dynamic and vigorous. This was the reason for Sarma to write Pènukoṇḍapāṭa, which was based on the vīra-rasa.
The poem created by Sarma in which the courageous Tārā-devī was the central character rendered it unique in those days (1911). It is difficult to believe that such an extraordinary poetic work was written by a young boy of eighteen.
During a time when Purāṇic subjects were popular among the general public (c. 1900), Sarma pioneered the composition of khaṇḍa-kāvyas in Telugu by writing one on Mīrābāi and another that was based on the bravery of a woman from Rajasthan (Tārā-devī).
The story of the life of Mīrābāi is quite popular. The prevalent story is that the Lord saved her when she tried to commit suicide by jumping into the Yamunā when she was dejected unable to bear the torment of a perverted king. Sarma has changed the storyline by depicting Mīrābāi as a tragic heroine, as we notice in several Western plays, in which she is shown to have jumped into the river due to the agony faced by her at the hands of her husband. It is quite common to describe the external beauty of the nāyikā in such works. However, in Sarma’s work, importance is given to the description of the nāyikā’s sense of divinity and her soulful rendition of the songs. Instances when the spirituality of a person gets obscured as the ritualistic rigidity takes dominance has been used by Sarma to create humour in the flow of the story. Sarma’s khaṇḍa-kāvya ‘Mīrādevī’ was thus considered to be novel on several counts and was critically acclaimed by scholars.
Apart from these two works, Sarma had, by then, translated into Telugu a hundred verses of Veṅkaṭādhvarī’s Viśvaguṇādarśa-campū.
As early as in 1912, Sarma had translated Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṃśa and was later overjoyed when he learnt that Cattimanchi Ramalinga Reddy would sponsor the publication of the translated work. However, Sarma refused to give the work for publishing as he was unsatisfied with the quality of his translation.
Sarma’s quality of translation was better than any other translation. Some sixty years later (c. 1972), when he recited a few translated verses recollecting from his memory, we felt that it was unfortunate that such a fine translation of the work did not come to light. But Sarma was such a perfectionist that he could not accept even the slightest of shortcomings. He has documented his feelings in the following verse in this manner –
padapuṣṭiṃ barikiṃci śabdavidhulaṃ bāṭiṃci yarthaṃbulan
gòdukul puṭṭaka tiddi bhāvamula nikkul jūci padyaṃbulan।
bòdigiṃpaṃgalamiṃtè kāni yadiyemo takkuvai tocu nā
kòduvaṃ dīrcu kavitvabījamadi mākuṃ jikkuno cikkado!॥
Despite using the most appropriate words,
despite weaving the most grammatically correct usages,
despite tallying the exact meaning from the original text
and creating a verse with all my efforts,
there would be something still lacking.
Will I ever beget the poetry-seed that is required
to grow this kind of literary work!
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.