S G Bindu Rao (Part 3)

One of the stories of Sri Ramakrishna

Whenever I remember Bindu Rao, a story that Bhagavān Ramakrishna Paramahamsa often narrated comes to my mind. 

A scholar approached a king with request to help. The king asked him, “What is your area of scholarship?”

The scholar replied, “I expound the Śrīmad-Bhāgavata.”

“Is that so? That is good to know! I’m curious to listen to the Bhāgavata-purāṇa. But I’m not at leisure today. If you’re here next Saturday, I will be able to sit and listen.”

The scholar was happy. He went back to the palace the following Saturday. When he went there, the king’s attendants said, “Sir! The king won’t be able to see you today because he is tired. Please come next Saturday.”

The following Saturday and also the one after that went by the same way. The king was unable to meet the scholar for one reason or the other. On the sixth Saturday, the king made time for himself and sat prepared to listen to the purāṇa. But the scholar didn’t show up! The king was confounded by this. He sent his attendants to know what the cause was. They brought back an answer that the scholar wasn’t interested in coming. The king thought of enquiring about this by meeting him in person and went to see him at his home. The scholar was engrossed in studying the text. The king said, “O great scholar! I’ve come here today, eager to listen to your purāṇa. Please visit my home!”

The scholar said, “My lord! I’m no longer interested in seeking your help.”

“Why is that so?”

“You told me the first day that you were interested in the Bhāgavata. As a result, I read through it a few more times with special interest, wondering about the questions that you might possibly ask! I felt a need to have satisfactory answers. So I prepared for it and patiently read through the text time and again. While doing so, I discovered new insights from the text. I’m now convinced that there’s no other fortune better than the rasāyana[1] of Bhāgavata. Therefore, there aren’t any expectations now. I’m immensely benefited because of the delay. I’m blessed!”

This happened to Bindu Rao too.

Generosity of our people 

I have to talk about an embarrassing fact pertaining to the generosity of our honourable citizens. People from hundreds of towns and villages appreciated Bindu Rao and welcomed him. People from cities like Hubli, Dharwad, Gadag, Belgaum, Bangalore, Mysore, Bombay, and many other places invited him over for his Bhārata-vācana. He happily agreed and spent a few weeks conducting his Bhārata-vācana in those places. What might be the accolades he was presented with? A few might have paid for his travel expenses. Others may have offered him groceries for his swayam-pāka. A cup of milk here and there. They might have showered enough praises for his ears to be filled to the brim. Our people have forgotten the fact that praises don’t substitute food (sustenance). Like musicians and dancers, why shouldn’t a gamaki be rewarded with cash?

In this, there’s also a component of Bindu Rao’s fault. He was born a downright worldly man who saw ascendancy through government employment. He wasn’t the type who would pass the hat around[2] expecting generosity and donations. Thus his earning towards the end was almost zero. Yet this wasn’t known to any outsider. 

ವಿನಾ ದೈನ್ಯೇನ ಜೀವನಂ

His vowed to live without dependence and he never strayed from it

It doesn’t seem like the government is well-informed about him even after the formation of unified Karnataka state. It looks like he was presented something called the Rajyotsava Award near the fag end of his life. I heard that he came to Bangalore to receive the award. I hope the government has taken care of his travel expenses. I’m not aware of anything else that was conferred upon him by the government. I also don’t know if the award contained any monetary component.

Government’s Patronage of Art

I feel I’ve to bring another fact to the notice of the general public. One of the ministers from the government that was formed after India’s independence had come to Bangalore. He also dropped by my humble home.  I had then appealed to him: “Sir, the nation is now free. Karnataka will possibly be unified. I’m now considering putting forth a request before you regarding an essential work that must be undertaken for the development of our state’s culture. You must give it a thought. Two venerable individuals, each an embodiment of Kannada culture, have grown old. Vidvān [Mysore] K Vasudevacharya is ninety years old. S G Bindu Rao is now eighty. Both their voices have now waned. 

“Be it music or kāvya-vācana – they’re alluring because of the richness in their voice. To this day, despite the waning voices, the elegance in singing and kāvya-vācana of these two stalwarts hasn’t lost its aura. It might not remain the same for long. Therefore, if we can document the singing methods and styles of Vasudevacharya even to a small extent, it may remain a benchmark to the future practitioners. The same goes with Bindu Rao’s kāvya-vācana. If we can record at least a few poems that he sings, it’ll remain a benchmark for kāvya-vācakas henceforth. In order for this to happen, if the government can grant a tape recorder machine to each of them, it’ll be convenient for them to record their voices into the instrument. 

“Be it musicians or kāvya-vācakas – they cannot invoke their best disposition at will. Their voices aren’t rendered impeccable whenever they want it to. Therefore, if they have a tape-recorder handy, it’ll be possible for them to record their singing when they reach a conducive state of mind, i.e. whenever the fervour of a rāga attains the right temperament and at a time when their voice is rendered pure.

“Many a time when a musician sits alone in isolation, he’s engulfed with emotional intensity (ಭಾವಾವೇಶ). At ten in the night or at three in the morning, intensity of the rāga pervades them subconsciously. I have known such things happening to superlative vidvāns. Speeches occur to people like us—in politics—whenever we wish and as lengthy as we like. But that isn’t the case in matters of art. A paradigm of art must propitiate on its own. A person who cognizes it as it happens, is fortunate one. 

“From what I’ve heard, a tape recorder is available for two-and-a-half to three thousand rupees. Expenses for two of those might add up to six thousand. Even if we assume miscellaneous expenses to be at four thousand; if the government can grant about ten thousand rupees, we’ll be able to eternally preserve the vocal beauty of Vasudevacharya and the charm of kāvya-vācana by Bindu Rao to the benefit of our people.” 

The distinguished minister listened to this request and assured on giving it a thought. 

A few days after this, he wrote a letter to me from Delhi saying that he has informed the chief minister of Mysore about my suggestion and also authorized the Chief Minister of Mysore to take this matter forward.

My request never saw fruition. The government is a colossal business. Ministers might be facing a lot of hardships, hurdles, entanglements and hindrances. Since I’m not the one to have seen governance first-hand, I shouldn’t pass strictures without knowing its difficulties. 

My regret is that an unparalleled and talented artist like Bindu Rao had to depart without leaving behind even the slightest imprint of his artistic ability. The government may now grant money, honourable citizens may now raise funds. Can Bindu Rao be brought back? Can that abundantly radiant voice and grandeur of gamaka be revived? Let’s introspect.

Concluded.

This is the third part of a three-part English translation of the twentieth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 2) – Kalopasakaru. Reviewed by Paresh Nadig and edited by G S Raghavendra.

Footnotes

[1] Rasāyana = rasa + ayana (the path of aesthetic experience). In this context, it refers to the process of reading a great work and savouring it.

[2] The original has: “ಮಂಗಳಾರತಿ ತಟ್ಟೆಯನ್ನು ಓಡಾಡಿಸುವರಲ್ಲ”

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

Kiran Prasad
About:

Kiran is a mechanical engineer by qualification who's habituated to the routine of learning and unlearning. He has an abiding interest in Indian culture, art, and literature.