Two Harikathākāras (Part 1)

Among the harikathākāras[1] of Mulbagal, the famous ones were: Śāmadāsa and Accappadāsa.

Śāmadāsa

Śāmadāsa was the son of Krishnappa, an Āgama vidvān. Āgamika Krishnappa was a good friend of the literary scholar Natti Venkatarama Shastri[2]. Śāmadāsa became a disciple of Venkatarama Shastri and learnt Telugu literature from him. As Venkatarama Shastri’s son Venkateshayya was learning the violin, it appears that Śāmadāsa learnt music along with him. Śāmadāsa typically conducted his harikathās[3] in Telugu. Venkatarama Shastri used to refine and edit the sāhitya[4] of the harikathās. Thus the rendition would be attractive.

Along with this beautiful sāhitya, there was also melodious music. Madhavayya and Ramachandracharya would both accompany on the violin. Sitaramayya would play the mṛdaṅga. At times, they were joined by Gattannagari Muniswamy on tabla. This ensemble made the concert successful. People would listen with great interest.

Apparently, Śāmadāsa once had a dream. In a place called Kadaripura, there was a Narasimhaswami vigraha that was deserted, without any daily rituals performed there; the person who would revive the rituals would gain puṇya – so said a Haridāsa in the dream. Śāmadāsa initiated the process the very next day.

There was some open space in front of Śāmadāsa’s house. At the southeast corner of the open space, the land was at a higher level. There was a rock in that location. The people of the town called it a ‘jāruva-baṇḍe.’[5] It appears that my father used to slide down on that rock, as if it were a play-slide. Śāmadāsa obtained this open space from the government, levelled it, and constructed a temple with three aṅkaṇas[6]. The deity was installed in the temple. The vigraha of Narasimhaswami was brought from Kadaripura and amidst great celebration it was installed in the temple. I distinctly recollect the event. After that, every evening bhajans would be sung and every Saturday there would be harikathās. I’m unsure what happened to that custom a few years later.

Acyuta-dāsa

Acyuta-dāsa was fondly called as Accappa by the townsfolk. He belonged to the Baḍaganāḍu bhāgavata sampradaya[7] but there was not the slightest hint of the madness that comes from excessive orthodoxy.

Their family occupation was that of śānubhogas (village accountants). He was the accountant of the Kannasandra village. I’m unaware of who he learnt music from. But that is nothing surprising. In those days, perhaps, there would be a great musician in every town. It was unlikely that there was a village that didn’t have two or three connoisseurs of music and literature. In this manner, Accappa must have picked up music from the environment around him.

His primary occupation was that of a ‘Singing Master’[8] at a girls’ high school. Although he taught music with great enthusiasm, every now and then, there a tiff would erupt between Accappa and the Headmaster of the school in matters of sticking to the time-table. Accappa often travelled out of town for his harikathā concerts. When he was out of town, how to manage the class?

Once, the headmaster informed the [school] inspector about this ongoing quarrel. The inspector summoned Accappa and said, “If you fail to adhere to the time-table, we will have to punish you.”

Accappa said, “Sir, if you suspend this poor Kadari-dāsa[9], which newspaper or gazette would publish it? At least if you dismiss senior officials, that will become news!”

The inspector replied, “What’s this? Your words suggest that you’re not interested in the work!”

“Sir, my life runs because of the sore-buruḍe.[10] Should I throw away my sore-buruḍe for the immense wealth you’re bestowing on me?”

By then, the headmaster himself regained composure and spoke a few consolatory words. That helped cool down the situation.

Accappa neither respected nor cared about authority and ostentation. He finally resigned the government job to take up harikathā rendition as a full-time profession.

Accappa’s conducted harikathā in Kannada. His mother tongue was Kannada. Along with that, he had studied the Harikathāmṛtasāra, Kumāra-vyāsa-bhārata, Jaimini-bhārata, from which he gathered several verses that he felt were good. He had compiled a great treasure-trove of the devaranāma compositions of various Haridāsas.

Accappa’s style of narration could capture the hearts of the listeners. The expressions on his face and the movement of his eyes were appropriate to the situation of the story that he narrated. His mellifluous voice had created a niche for itself. Because he was serene to look at and he appeared to be of a benign nature, people from far off places were attracted to the harikathā venue.

His renditions included hundreds of devaranāmas composed by Purandara-dāsa, Jagannātha-dāsa, Kanaka-dāsa, and Śrīpādarāja – he would sing these beautifully. Every now and then, in the middle of the rendition, he would include a few lines of prose or couplets.

ಅತಿ  ಸಂಭ್ರಮದಲಿ ಸುಂದರೀ—

ಭರ್ಜರೀ ||

(With great excitement, the beautiful damsel—grand)

The above lines were modulated as per the situation like depicting the depature of Subhadrā or the anger of Satyabhāmā or the rage of Draupadī. His tonal variations while singing “bharjari” (grand) to indicate the different situations was ably supported by the loud strokes on the mṛdaṅga; this would amaze everyone.

In his last days, Accappa settled in Bengaluru and earned fame by his harikathā renditions. He led a satisfied life. It was one of purity. He was one who had experienced the joy of devotion to the Supreme.

The sub-stories that Accappa narrated were exquisite. He would enact the roles of the various characters that appeared in the story; by means of facial expressions, eye movements, and voice modulation, he would appropriately imitate the characters. For instance, during the svayaṃvara of Draupadī, mighty kings have failed to hit the target of the matsya-yantra and are sitting with their heads down in shame, or they have fled from the spot. After the turn of the kṣatriyas, among the members of brāhmaṇa community who were present, one of them got up. That was Arjuna disguised as a brāhmaṇa. The other brāhmaṇas who don’t know his true identity, stop Arjuna from participating by saying these words:

ಎದ್ದದ್ದೇನುಪಾಧ್ಯರೇ ||

ತದ್ದಿನದೂಟವೇ ಮೇಲಕ್ಕೆದ್ದಿರಿ |

ಎದ್ದದ್ದೇನುಪಾಧ್ಯರೇ ||

ಸಜ್ಜಿಗೆಯಲ್ಲ ಹೋಳಿಗೆಯಲ್ಲ|

ಉದ್ದಿನ ವಡೆ ಕಜ್ಜಾಯಗಳಲ್ಲ ||

ಮಜ್ಜಿಗೆಪಳಿದ್ಯವು ಮೊದಲೇ ಅಲ್ಲ |

ಗೊಜ್ಜು  ಬಜ್ಜಿಯು ಕೂಡ ಇಲ್ಲ ||

ಎದ್ದದ್ದೇನುಪಾಧ್ಯರೇ ನೀ—||

 

O brāhmaṇa, why did you get up –

is it for the day’s meal?

O brāhmaṇa, why did you get up?

There are no sweets (sajjige, hoḻige)

nor fried dishes (uddina vaḍe, kājjaya);

And as for curd-curry, it’s not there at all!

No sauce (gojju) nor snacks (bajji)

O brāhmaṇa, why did you get up,

O why did you get up?

 

This is the first part of the two-part English translation of Sixth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 2) – Kalopasakaru. Edited by G S Raghavendra and Hari Ravikumar.

Footnotes 

[1] harikathākāras exponent of the art of harikathā (see footnote 3)

[2] Volume 1 13th essay

[3] harikathā lit. Story of the Lord (Hari), an art form of storytelling with a combination of poetry, music, dance.

[4] Poetry/lyrical component of the harikathā.

[5] a rock on which one can slide down; children play.

[6] The (small or large) space either between any two posts or pillars in a wall that support the roof, or between any two beams. Hence it is dependent on how close/far the pillars/walls are placed and so has no definitive measurement.

[7] One of the Vaiṣṇava sects.

[8] In other words, a music teacher.

[9] Lit. the servant of lord of kadari, devotee of Narasimha.

[10] ektara [resonator made from the calabash tree], [i.e. the Harikatha profession]

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:

Ullas is a data engineer by profession. He is a student of classical arts, music and literature. His interests include learning new languages. He is also a teacher, a film critique, an actor and a dubbing artist by passion.