Rāḻḻapalli Ananthakrishna Sarma (Part 8)

High-water Mark of Critical Examination

The forewords that Sarma wrote to some of the books in Telugu and Kannada have turned out to offer an excellent, holistic view of the entire subject rather than being mere introductory words of formality that appear at the beginning of the book. His forewords to books have been published as a separate volume.

It was characteristic of Sarma to make an in-depth examination of the smallest of the small subjects and to be clear in his opinions on the same. During an informal conversation, someone asked Sarma, “Haven’t we seen Śrīrāma being described as the ‘maryādā-puruṣottama’ – who coined this?”

Sarma replied, “We don’t know who coined this term and in which work. It appears to be in vogue more in North India than in the South. I am, however, certain that Vālmīki never used this term. He never employs these kinds of samāsas (as also Vyāsa and Kālidāsa). Time and again, my teachers cautioned me not to make a viśeṣaṇa-viśeṣya-samāsai.e., forming a compound word with one word being an adjective (viśeṣaṇa) that gives special identity to a proper noun (viśeṣya). These words might have been used separately but not as a single word or samāsa. We have heard of terms like ‘dhīrorāmaḥ’ or ‘śūrorāvaṇaḥ’ but we seldom find words like ‘dhīra-rāmaḥ’ or ‘śūra-rāvaṇaḥ,’ and so on.”

In a certain [music] conference, a musician said, “This is not impossible,” while supporting a certain vivādi-sañcāra[1] and then to demonstrate his point, he sang the phrase. Sarma laughed and said, “True, true. It is my humble opinion that the letters denoting the note may come out of the mouth easily but not the exact note itself!”

At the request of one of his friends, Sarma composed a set of verses thanking Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan for his work (perhaps for the farewell ceremony). The verses were beautiful and poignant. One of the scholars derisively remarked, “Why did you compose these verses in the banal anuṣṭup metre?”

Sarma simply said, “What Vālmīki and Vyāsa found sufficient is enough for me too!”

A clear conscience of this kind cannot be attained in a day or even in a year. One cannot find an unwanted sentence or ambiguousness in any of the speeches or writings of Sarma.


Assertive in Opinions yet Endearing to the World

He did not think twice before expressing his objection for anything illogical, but he expressed it by saying, “Our ancestors did not identify it this way!”

The following words by V Si. characterizing Sarma are quite accurate – “Whenever he speaks or writes anything pertaining to literature, whenever he sings or speaks about music or when he explains or elaborates a rāga or kṛti, his moral strength comes to light. It is a union of three elements – integrity, character, and vigour. A person who has met him even once would be able to identify these characteristics in him. While he is assertive of his point of view, some may agree, and some may disagree. These, however, do not evoke a compromising quality in him. He would be definite in expressing his point of view, irrespective of the likes and dislikes of the person, or in fear of acceptance or rejection of his opinion.”

The editing and publication of the Telugu work Raṅganātha Rāmāyaṇa was the brainchild of C R Reddy. Sarma did not approve of some of the observations and submissions made by Reddy in that work. He did not venture to make his reservations public. Within a few days, circumstances warranted Sarma to speak about that work. He expressed his difference of opinion without discounting his criticism on the work. He said, “I deem it unfortunate in not being able to respect the opinions [of Reddy] to the extent I fondly respect him for his intellect and ability. Most of his opinions [on the subject] are far-fetched, based on his whims and not on any precedents.”

Veturi Prabhakara Shastri had to write a Foreword to Raṅganātha Rāmāyaṇa but he could not. The work was published without any Foreword. Sarma wrote about the episode thus – “As his name was not published in the ‘Foreword’ section, he was saved from getting a bad name. I guess Shastri’s ill-health has permanently disabled him from writing the Foreword to such a work!” This kind of satire and courage could be seen only in Sarma.

Reddy was so furious with Sarma’s sharp criticism that he was fuming about it for over three days. Abburi Ramakrishna Rao, a common friend to both, told Reddy with a view to lightening the moment, “Shouldn’t you be proud, rather than being angry, that your student is courageous enough to criticize your theory?”

Reddy was thus consoled and after a few days, Sarma enquired about the well-being of Reddy when he met him at Maharaja’s College. By then, Reddy had forgotten about the episode and laughed it off saying, “You critics – would you ever let us live in peace!”

Later Reddy wrote a scholarly preface to Sarma’s 1931 book Śālivāhanana Gāthā-sapta-śati-sāra.[2]

I thought of recollecting the illustrious behaviour of these two great men as we find it rare nowadays to see two persons having differences in opinion but retain their friendship intact.

*  *  *

Sarma’s speeches and writings were filled with pleasantness and melody. But he swerved not an inch from the path of rigour. His conclusions and opinions were the result of deep analysis and thinking. Therefore, he would never compromise on those. It was common for him to say, “These opinions won’t differ even if you break my head into two halves!”

I am reminded of an instance to provide a sample of his resolute mind. A famous scholar had argued that the poet Līlāśuka who wrote the Śrī-kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛtam hailed from Andhra Pradesh. Alluding to that Sarma wrote, “All the reasons given by the author to advocate that Līlāśuka hails from Andhra Pradesh appear rather weak. What are we going to achieve by expending so much of energy on this matter? This is merely the result of blind enthusiasm and nothing more. In a land where Carnatic music has transcended all linguistic borders, it would be better if such blind devotion grows weaker.”

Bhagavatula Sadasiva Sankara Sastry, famously known by his nom-de-plume ‘Arudra,’ was reputed as a poet, dramatist, lyricist, novelist, and critic. He was deeply influenced by Marxism. His works such as Tvamevāham were considered one of the best works of the latter part of the twentieth century. Sarma had critically analysed his works without exhibiting any reticence. While writing the Foreword to the eighth volume of Samagra Āndhra Sāhitya edited by Arudra, Sarma says, “Arudra, who was freely walking in the municipal parks of ‘deśī’ literature, has suddenly dived into the deep jungle of classical literature—notwithstanding the strenuous path filled with stones and thorns—and commenced his research work. Without turning back, he has trodden this adventurous and long-winding path with his new creations appearing to be rest-houses for him. He appears to be working on his research journey without much ado, for several years. Else he could not have achieved these fruits of labour.”

In order to appreciate and enjoy the subtle wit and satirical words of Sarma, one has to read some of his own words. A couple of instances can be recollected here.

He would infuse aesthetic appeal even while writing or talking about dry subjects. In one of the works, while analysing Kṛṣṇadevarāya’s Haṃsa-tūlikā-talpa, he writes, “I do not know how many swans were killed in the process. I would, however, pray to make it clear that there is nothing much to discuss, good or bad, about the aesthetics of this work.”

In the Preface to Lectures on Vemana (1928), he writes, “I have endeavoured to ensure that there is no dearth of faith despite there being dearth of strength.”


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.



[1] A vivādi-svara can refer to ‘a note that is not a part of a certain rāga’ or, as in this case, ‘a note that is part of unique note combinations that have limited aesthetic appeal.’ A vivādi-sañcāra is a musical phrase that employs one or more vivādi-svaras.

[2] A translation of select verses from Gāhā-satta-saī, a Prakrit poem compiled by King Hālaśātavāhana.




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.



Kashyap N Naik is a practising advocate at Bangalore and a light classical singer. He has an abiding interest in Indian literature, history, law, culture, and philosophy. 

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