Scholarly Connoisseurs of Elduru

Yeldur (Elduru) is an ordinary small town. But it was neat and pretty. The arterial road ran from east to west. On the western end was the Kodandaramaswamy Temple, facing north. The Shiva Temple was opposite to that. The pūjā was performed punctually and regularly in both temples.

Among the town’s brāhmaṇa community, Venkatesha Shastri was a prominent figure. He was a Vedic scholar and disciplined in his rituals. He was tall, but very lean. All the townsfolk respected and loved him. His son was Venkatasubba Shastri, who at that time was learning prayoga[1]mantras at Kolar from Manikundala Subbaraya Shastri, a relative from his maternal uncle’s side. When he returned to Yeldur, I was living at their home. My studies had stopped. Since I had nothing else to do, Venkatasubba Shastri took me with him. We both used to go to the Kodandaramaswamy Temple every morning and learn mantras. Now I feel that that was also my good fortune.

Raghavendra Rao

At that time, Raghavendra Rao was the amaldar[2] of Srinivasapura taluk. His sons were Dr R Subbarao and R Rangarao; in due course, the former became the Health Officer of Bangalore while the latter became the Chief Secretary to the Government. Raghavendra Rao used to visit Yeldur on government duty. He used to camp at the Shiva temple. Facing the garbha-gṛha (sanctum sanctorum)—in the nava-raṅga[3]—was the amaldar’s office. Raghavendra Rao used to sit on a chair with his back to the temple. He was a heavy cigar smoker. His intent was to make sure that he does not puff out in the direction of the temple’s vigraha. But for this habit of smoking cigars, he had no blemish.

I am reminded of an incident.

After Raghavendra Rao retired from government service and settled down in Bangalore, around 1912–13, he had once come to Dr. Gundanna’s Reliance Pharmacy [Reliance Clinic] in Mamulpet. It was around ten in the morning. I had reached there along with the revered Sri. N Narasimha Murthy around the same time. While still outside, on the road, Murthy seeing Raghavendra Rao there, instructed me to remain outside. He met Rao as soon as he went in. Earlier, Rao was the amaldar at Srirangapatna. Murthy’s father and Rao were friends since then. So Murthy and Rao were already acquainted with each other. Continuing our story, soon after Murthy greeted Rao, the latter said, “Hey Murthy – what happened to my request of finding a pundit?”

Murthy said, “Oh yes, I remember. I have found someone. Along with Sanskrit knowledge, he is also familiar with Western philosophy. Your desire is to study the śāstras, right?”

“Yes, that’s right. I am aged now. I feel like reading the Gītā and such works.”

Murthy said, “He is fit for your purpose, but…”

“But what?” asked Rao.

With fingers pressing his lips Murthy said, “He is alright, but – he is a smārta!”

“Oh my! Can’t you find a mādhva?”

By then, Murthy called me inside. I entered.

Murthy said, “This is the fellow I was talking about!”

Rao said, “Ah, Murthy! What objection can I have to this type of person? Very good man – almost like a mādhva!”

The conversation concluded with laughter.

Regret”

I have heard another story related to Raghavendra Rao. The government had sought details from him in some administrative matters. Rao made his reply known through the Deputy Commissioner. Rao received a reply from the government through the Deputy Commissioner that his explanation was not satisfactory. The government’s letter said, “Government regrets that…” Seeing this, Raghavendra Rao requested for a week’s leave. After the leave was sanctioned, he came to Bangalore, went to Diwan Krishnamurti’s house and asked for his time. As soon as he was called, Raghavendra Rao stood in front of the Diwan with a fallen face, crying and wiping his eyes with his aṅga-vastram[4]. The Diwan asked, “Raghavendra Rao! What happened? Why this sadness?”

Rao said, “Alas! I have sinned! I brought regret to our government! I have brought four handkerchiefs for the khāvanda (Diwan) to wipe his tears. If permitted, I will present them.”

Diwan Krishnamurti was startled. He did not understand what the matter was. Then Rao placed in front of the Diwan the government letter with the words “Government regrets” underlined in red. The Diwan burst into laughter.

“Such a fracas for this! Dear Rao, this is a letter written in the usual style by some clerk. Should you take this so seriously? It is meaningless!”

Rao replied, “Can a person in my position say that the government’s word is meaningless? We are the people who are supposed to obey and execute every word the government says.”

Airavatam Rangappa

There were two people by the name Rangappa who were well known in Yeldur. One of them was Airavatam Rangappa. He was a vaiṣṇava brāhmaṇa; the same community as Masti Venkatesha Iyengar. His appearance was akin to that of any villager. He was given to the habit of chewing betel leaf, betel nut, and kaḍḍi-puḍi (tobacco). But once he started his discourse on Airāvata-purāṇa, listeners would forget themselves.

Airāvata is a story from the Purāṇas. Kuntī’s desire to have the presence of the divine elephant Airāvata from the abode of Lord Indra for a vrata (vow) she was performing and Bhīmasena’s fetching of the Airāvata – this is the storyline. Rangappa’s achievement was his ability to sing this story in a poetic format in various rāgas. To listen to this, people would come from several villages around. Nearly thousand to two thousand people would gather. Rangappa was sincere, a person of good conduct, and a man of virtues. Thanks to people like him, our village life was peaceful, joyous and meaningful.

Kodadavadi Rangappa

The other Rangappa was Kodadavadi Rangappa. He was probably a baṇajiga[5]. He was reasonably well-to-do. He was proficient in music and literature. Among his compositions, two remain in my memory. One is set to Mohana rāga.

ವರಲಕ್ಷ್ಮೀ ಬ್ರೋವವೇ
ಪಲುಮಾರು ವೇಡಿನ
ಪರಿಪೂರ್ಣಮುಗಾ ನೀದು
ಚರಣಮು ಜೂಪಿ...
[O Varalakṣmī! help me or rescue me when I request you repeatedly, show your feet in all their grandeur and…]

I forget the rāga of the second composition. Perhaps that was also set to Mohana.

ಭವತಿ ಭಿಕ್ಷಾಂ ದೇಹಿ ಮಹಾಲಕ್ಷ್ಮೀ ವೇಗಮೇ
[Please give me alms swiftly, O Mahālakṣmī!]

Kodadavadi Rangappa led a simple life. He was pious. He was kind. He was also highly respected by people.

This is a translation of the seventh essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 8) – Sankirna Smrti samputa. Edited by Raghavendra G S and Hari Ravikumar. We (author and the editors) thank Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh for his help in translating the content in Telugu. The title of the essay has ‘ವಿದ್ವದ್ರಸಿಕರು’, which refers to those who have deep knowledge and are fine connoisseurs as well.

Footnotes

[1] Consists of both Pūrva-prayoga and Apara-prayogaPūrva includes the mantras concerning auspicious rituals such as weddings as well as the daily pūjā of the deities and Apara is meant for death related rituals. In this case, it was probably the Pūrva-prayoga.

[2] Typically a revenue-collector of a province.

[3] Part of the temple right in front of the garbha-gṛha, generally found in Hoysala style temples, containing nine portions divided by the pillars in the middle.

[4] An upper garment like a stole worn by men as part of the traditional attire.

[5] A sub-sect of the liṅgāyata community.

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)

About:

Prof. Vedavyas M G is a visiting professor of Strategy and International Business at PES University, Bangalore. He is on the Advisory Board of Atria Institute of Technology. Before moving to academics, Prof. Vedavyas was Senior Vice-President at Mahindra Satyam, responsible for its global telecom business. Earlier he was the Regional Manager for Tata Consultancy Services at Birmingham. Prof. Vedavyas is a graduate of IISc., Bangalore (BE in E&C) and IIM, Bangalore (MBA). He has an abiding interest in everything Kannada.

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