S Srikanta Sastri (Part 4)

In a play, at minimum there would be a hundred to hundred and fifty songs and verses. Their tunes would be composed on the lines of ‘Kamalākṣi nāṃ dhanyanādè,’ or the cakli song, or ‘Nāri māyākarāḻè,’ or ‘Nāḻè baruva rītikeḻi.’[1] In between these, on and off, there would be a tukaḍa jāvaḍi[2] or a tune of ‘iṅgliṣ cāl’ [Western classical tune], and so forth.

Now let’s say that Indra has to enter the stage; there would be a prefatory verse, then a song, followed by a kanda-padya. The song would be set to a rāga like Hindustāni Kāpi and to Āṭṭa-tāla

baruvènido indra nānu bahaḻa tīvradiṃ
bahu premadi sabhèya noḍo adhikasukhadiṃ
devatādi lokadiṃda divya vibhavadiṃ
deva kanyakiyaru noḍi adhika mohadiṃ

I, Indra, appear in haste
to behold this gathering with love!
Even as the divine damsels look on amorously,
I descend from heaven with divine glory!

At the start and end of each play the ‘Mahārāja-maṅgala[3] would be sung, such as –

rājar maisūr rājar mahārāja bhūpare
sojigava paḍutta prajègaḻ nimma bhajiparerā...
bhojarājaraṃtè bhuviyòḻ tejagoḻvare
mūjagadi nimma sama śūrarillaverā...

O king of Mysore! O monarch!
Your subjects look up to you with awe and admiration.
You are as brilliant as Bhoja, the historical king.
None is your equal in the three worlds!

Both Śaṅkara-śāstrī and his younger brother Rāmaśeṣa-śāstrī were honoured for their scholarship with the title of ‘Āsthāna-vidvān’ by the erstwhile Mahārāja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV.

Moṭagānahaḻḻi Rāmaśeṣa-śāstrī was also a prolific writer and inter alia wrote a multi-volume, detailed commentary on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavata mahāpurāṇa in Kannada. Two of other treatisess are equally famous – i. Karṇāṭaka Mudrā-rākṣasa Nāṭaka [Kannada translation of Viśākhadatta’s Sanskrit play] and ii. Karṇāṭaka Mukundānanda-bhāṇa [Kannada translation of Kāśīpati’s Sanskrit play]. It is a curious co-incidence that Srikanta Sastri wrote an elaborate historical prolegomena to each of these works: a rare instance of a Foreword’s being written for the work of an elder by his grand-nephew.

In addition to the three aforementioned works, Rāmaśeṣa-śāstrī (d. 1934) brought out a Bālikā Gītāvalī (‘A Songbook for Young Girls’) in 1921. In this anthology, Rāmaśeṣa-śāstrī had collected several songs composed by his ancestors, along with his own compositions in Kannada. These include songs that accompany various activities of the household in line with local traditions – songs sung during nuptials, while powdering turmeric, during the engagement ceremony, inviting the bride to the seat of the wedding ritual, while applying oil to the head, while playing with a ball, and humorous riddle-songs.[4]

Rāmaśeṣa-śāstrī’s Karṇāṭaka Hitopadeśa [Kannada translation of Nārāyaṇa’s treatise] was published as early as 1895.

*  *  *

Moṭagānahaḻḻi Śaṅkara-śāstrī’s son was Āsthāna-vidvān Moṭagānahaḻḻi Subrahmanya Sastri, pedigree-wise an uncle to Srikanta Sastri, but also became his brother-in-law since he married Anasuyamma, Sastri’s younger sister. His literary works—particularly his translations of the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa and the Skānda-mahāpurāṇa—are familiar even to the present generation. Subrahmanya Sastri died when he was just fifty-six, on 30th July 1961.

*  *  *

The scholarly and artistic accomplishments of Srikanta Sastri’s ancestors have been discussed to some extent now. What he inherited from his ancestors, Sastri further illumined and added to their contributions in no small measure. Not many know that just as he was a famous historian, he was also a competent poet and littérateur. The poems that he composed were merely for self-enjoyment; much of it remains unpublished. His vṛtta-mālikāGaṇeśa-ṣaṭka’ [Six verses on Gaṇeśa] appeared in the Sādhvī newspaper as early as 1925 or 1926. One of the verses from that poem ran thus –

kavivaryaṃgè gajānanaṃgè garaḻa-grīvātmajaṃgabja-saṃ-
bhava-nākādhipa-pūjitaṃgè kamalā-vāṇī-girīṃdrātmajā-
stavanā-lolupa-mānasaṃgè bhujagālaṃkāragudyatkalā-
dhavagārtavraja-pārijātakè śivaṃ bhadraṃ śubhaṃ maṃgaḻaṃ

May eternal splendour and good fortune adorn Gaṇapati!
He is the deity of speech, the son of Śiva.
He unconditionally protects people in distress.
Brahmā, Indra, Lakṣmī, Sarasvatī, and Gaurī worship him.
The crescent moon and the lord of serpents bedeck him.

Sometime around 1924, Srikanta Sastri visited a few historical sites including Badami, Bijapur (now Vijayapura), and Hampi. Perhaps as a tribute to that memorable tour he composed the Pampāpati Pañcakam [‘Five Verses on the Deity of Pampā’]. One of its verses goes –

rāgadveṣanibaddhabuddhiyinahaṃkārāsavonmatta ci-
dyogādhyāsaneyiṃ vicitraviṣayavyāpāradiṃ matsaro-
dvegodrekadinātmahāniyè nijaṃ tvannāmame sarvahṛ-
drogakkauṣadhiyaltè śaṃkaraharā paṃpā virūpāṃbakā

O Śiva, the resident deity of Pampā, your name is the only medicine to the heart disease caused by attachment, enmity, conscience clouded by arrogance, indulgence in sensual pleasures, jealousy, and agitation.

Śrīkaṇṭheśvara-śataka

Among Jaina poets, several of them would compose two large treatises as a custom; one would be about worldly affairs while the other would be about the grand advent of Jina (Mahāvīra). Similarly, in the case of Srikanta Sastri, although he had toiled in the area of history and a hundred other subjects over the course of several years, he never ignored his inner saṃskāra  – this becomes evident when one looks at his poems. He captured the flood of deep contemplation and thoughts arising from his heart in the poetical work Śrīkaṇṭheśvara-śataka, which comprises a hundred verses in praise of Sastri’s iṣṭa-devatā, Śrī Śrīkaṇṭheśvara-svāmī of Nanjangud. This śataka, which illuminates the depths of his bhakti and the intensity of his emotions, was composed by him for his own joy and satisfaction. Two verses from the poem are reproduced below –

pārāvāra gabhīra, bhīrahita, bhīruvrātasaṃtrāta, hṛt-
sphārāṃbhoruhabhṛṃga, bhṛṃginaṭanālolātma, śailātmajā-
smārākāra, manovihāra, nijabhaktānalpa-kalpadrumā-
smerāsyāṃbuja śaṃkarā garapura śrī kṣveḻakaṇṭheśvarā

O Śiva, the resident deity of Nañjanagūḍu,
you are as profound as the ocean!
You are fearless. Protecting the timid,
you reside in my heart like a bee within a lotus.
You enjoy Bhṛṅgī’s dance. Pārvatī dotes on you.
To your devotees, you are the wish-fulfilling tree.
Your smiling face resembles a lotus in bloom.

bèḻèdudu bhaktikalpalatè manmanamèṃba gṛhāṃgaṇāṃgadoḻ
mòḻèdudu nityamuṃ tavakṛpārasa jīvanadiṃ prapoṣitaṃ
taḻèdudu divyaśānti sumamaṃ gaḍa saṃskṛta cakramukti sa-
tphalavane tāḻvavol pòrè harā garakaṃdhara caṃdraśekharā

O Śiva, the resident deity of Nañjanagūḍu,
a creeper of devotion has grown in my mind’s yard.
The water of your compassion nourishes it every day.
It has borne the flower of divine peace.
Shortly, it will bear the fruit of liberation from the cycle of rebirth!

To be concluded...

This is the fourth 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.

Footnotes

[1] Instead of giving the name of the rāgas for these songs, the author has preferred to recall well-known melodies in the same rāga so that people can easily relate to it.

[2] Basically a reference to a short song with colloquial lyrics; tukaḍa refers to a short song and jāvaḍi (or jāvaḻi) is a musical form that evolved from the songs of everyday life; typically it had colloquial language with lyrics that one would consider risqué.

[3] Benedictory verses in praise of the Mysore Mahārāja.

[4] The original has ‘Sòṃḍigè prastadalli heḻuva hāḍu, godivè kalliḍuva hāḍu, arisina kuṭṭuva hāḍu, niścitārthada hāḍu, hasègè karèyuva hāḍu, èṇṇèyòttuva hāḍu, cèṃḍāḍuva hāḍu, uruṭaṇè hāḍu, mòdalādavu.’ These are typically sung at various stages of a wedding ceremony.

Author(s)

About:

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.

Translator(s)

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written more than fifteen books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He works in an advisory capacity with Abhinava Dance Company, Lakshminarayana Global Centre for Excellence, Pramiti, and Samvit Research Foundation.

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