S Srikanta Sastri (Part 3)

Śrī-kṛṣṇa-vijayam; Compositions for Singing

In the branch of the Vèllāḻa family that had settled in Srirangapatna, one Candraśekhara-śāstrī was famous. Either it was he or his son Rāmacandra-śāstrī who composed the Vyāyoga titled ‘Śrī-kṛṣṇa-vijayam.’ It was composed during the early part of the nineteenth century or perhaps even earlier.

Among the compositions of Srikanta Sastri’s ancestors, not only poetry, plays, stotras, and songs but also occasion-driven compositions, samasyā-pūraṇas, cāṭu-ślokas, and so forth are plentiful.

One of the ancestors on Sastri’s maternal side wrote a scholarly and expansive commentary on the text Nīlakaṇṭha-vijaya-campū [of Nīlakaṇṭha-dīkṣita].

Among Sastri’s forefathers there are many poets with the name Mahādeva. One Magadi Mahādeva-śāstrī composed a song set to the Saurāṣṭra rāga – ‘Bāgilu tegeyuva hāḍu’ [‘The Song of Opening the Door’ – perhaps to the garbha-gṛha] for a certain Girijā-kalyāṇotsava.

One Bheripura (Bhairanahalli?) Mahādeva-śāstrī composed kīrtanas in rāgas like Māñjī in praise of Śiva and Devī.

Moṭagānahaḻḻi Mahādeva-śāstrī composed a beautiful kīrtana in Rāga Gaurī –

paripāhi gauri kumāri
kāmāri sundari
girirāja kaumāri

O Gaurī, protect us!
You are Śiva’s consort and
the daughter of Himavān, the King of Mountains.

It appears that such literary creations were carried out widely on the occasions of festivals, weddings, and friendly gatherings. Yet another Mahādeva-śāstrī who was famous among the Moṭagānahaḻḻi scholars—four or five generations before Srikanta Sastri—composed several kīrtanas, festival songs, and light-hearted songs that are sung as part of the wedding ceremony.[1] One Nañjuṇḍa-śāstrī also composed several songs like this.

In the period two hundred years ago, much of the travel from one town to another was by bullock cart or on foot. It appears that when Srikanta Sastri’s ancestors travelled from one town to another they spent their time creating poems, songs, and plays and savouring them along the way. Among brothers, each one would compose the prose and verse dialogues for a certain character and thus they would create a play. A work that was created on one such occasion is the 120-line khaṇḍa-kāvyaŚrī Candra-maulīśvarasya Ākheṭa-yātrā.’ It was composed by the triad of Mahādeva-śāstrī and his two sons, Śrīkaṇṭha-śāstrī and Nañjuṇḍa-śāstrī. It is a poem that describes an episode of Śiva getting bored, going for a hunt, and returning. Composed in seven or eight poetic metres, it has some delightful poems such as –

cūḍin tiṣṭha! harāmi te badhiratāṃ sampādya mando’si kiṃ?
bhṛṅgin bhaṅga-gato’si! nandita-bhavan-nandī kuto gacchati!

nidrā-mudrita-vīrabhadra-patanety-ākhyāya tīkṣṇāṃśuvān
muktvā vīra-bhaṭāḥ pracakrur-amitāṃ kṣveḻāmbhuja-sphoṭanam

Three Brothers

Srikanta Sastri’s maternal grandfather was Moṭagānahaḻḻi Mahādeva-śāstrī; his younger brothers were Śaṅkara-śāstrī and Rāmaśeṣa-śāstrī – all three were great scholars.

This Mahādeva-śāstrī has composed many kīrtanas and songs. He was also an expert in Āyurveda. But he did not take up medicine as a profession. In the assembly that had gathered in Bangalore to bid adieu to the Sringeri Jagadguru Śrī Saccidānanda-śivābhinava-nṛsiṃha-bhāratī Mahāsvāmī, Mahādeva-śāstrī offered a padya-mālikā that ran thus –

sammodārcita-candra-mauli-caraṇa-dvandaṃ samāsāditā-
nandaṃ nandita-bhakta-bṛnda-ninada-prodghoṣitāśāntaram

vandāru-prakarān-amanda-karuṇāpāṅgair-nayantaṃ mudā
śṛṅgerīndram-ahaṃ kadā punar-ahaṃ grakṣyāmi hṛṣyāmi ca

When would I have the joy of seeing the jagadguru of Sringeri again?
He rejoices in worshipping the lotus-feet of Śiva.
The exulted cry of his devotees fill the directions.
With his compassionate glance, he leads his devotees [towards peace.]

On another occasion, Mahādeva-śāstrī composed a nava-ratna-mālikā in praise of the Mysore king, Sri. Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV.

The second brother, Śaṅkara-śāstrī, had attained proficiency in śāstras such as sāhitya, alaṅkāra, and Vedānta. For some time he worked as a teacher in the Rai Bahadur Arcot Narrainswamy Mudaliar’s school in the Cantonment area of Bangalore. In the fifth volume of his Jñāpaka-citra-śālè (‘Art Gallery of Memories’)—‘Vaidika-dharma Sampradāyastaru[3]—D V Gundappa has given several valuable details about Śaṅkara-śāstrī, such as the latter’s assistance in the preparation of the commentary ‘Vedānta Pañcadaśī.’

During the early years of the construction of the Śrī Rāmeśvara Temple in Chamarajpet, Bangalore (c. 1905–10), every evening there would be a discourse on the Bhāgavata-purāṇa. The youngest brother, Rāmaśeṣa-śāstrī would recite the verses in a melodic tune; Śaṅkara-śāstrī would explain them in detail and give the meaning in a clear manner. The scholarly prowess of Śaṅkara-śāstrī was admirably suited for such situations. And as for occasion-driven, spontaneous composition of metrical poetry, he did it effortlessly.

Now and then, the drama companies of those days sought refuge with Śaṅkara-śāstrī for [the composition of new] plays. He would ask, “On what topic do you want the play composed?” The company folk would reply with, “We want ‘Indra-sabhā’,” or “We want ‘Mandārojvalā Pariṇaya’,” or something like that.

Sastri would then say, “Alright, now write it down,” and would start dictating the play while one of them wrote it down. This is how several plays like Pāṇḍava-vijaya were composed. Gubbi Veeranna in his autobiography[4]  has indicated the extent of the popularity of Pāṇḍava-vijaya in the last decade of the nineteenth century.

The plays that Śaṅkara-śāstrī composed for the drama companies were filled with verses and songs, as was the custom of that time. One must say that there were hardly any prose segments. Even things like “Which town do you hail from?” or “Where are you going?” were composed in metrical verses set to Kanda or some other popular metre.

To be continued...

This is the third part of a five-part English adaptation of 'Nadoja' S R Ramaswamy’s article on Prof. S Srikanta Sastri and the Moṭagānahaḻḻi Scholarly Lineage (pp. 184–207) in his anthology Dīvaṭigègaḻu (Bangalore: Sahitya Sindhu Prakashana, 2012) with additional points taken from a paper titled ‘Professor S. Srikantha Sastri: A Brief Biographical Memoir’ that he presented at the two-day birth centenary seminar on Sastri organized by the Mythic Society, Bangalore, on 20th and 21st November 2004. Thanks to Dr. S R Ramaswamy, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh, Prof. L V Shanthakumari, and Arjun Bharadwaj for their thorough review and invaluable suggestions for improvement.


[1] The original has ‘Hasègè karèyuva hāḍu, uruṭaṇè hāḍu, suvvī hāḍu ityādi,’ all of which refer to songs sung as part of the elaborate wedding ceremony of the yesteryear. Hasègè karèyuva hāḍu is a song that is sung while inviting the bride to take the ritual seat (facing the agni-kuṇḍa) at the wedding. Uruṭaṇè hāḍu is typically a humorous song that includes in it a riddle, which has to be solved.

[2] The meaning of this verse is unclear; while handing down the verse over the generations, some errors might have crept it. The verse basically alludes to someone alerting Śiva’s attendants when the poison emerged during the churning of the ocean.

[3] Traditionalists adhering to the Vedic way of life.

[4] Kalèye Kāyaka (‘Art is Work’), p. 3.



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.



Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 25+ books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

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