Varadacharya’s Aesthetic Sense, Uprightness of Character (Part 2)

Varadacharya’s Proficiency in Art

When we were watching Varadacharya’s plays at the theatre near Kichchetty’s Choultry, I remember what Rangaswamy Iyengar would say about the nature of rāgas used in the plays. I also remember his explanation on the terminologies like vikambha, śuddha vikambha, and miśra vikambha used in drama for indicating certain aspects.[1]

By that time, Varadacharya’s acting prowess had spread to the Madras province and had taken root there. The Tamil people watched his plays and showered praises on him. The secret of this widespread popularity and respect was Varadacharya’s proficiency in art. Whatever role he played, one could see emotional completeness. That should manifest itself in an actor’s body movements (āṅgika) and speech (vācika). It should appear like Hiraṇyakaśipu[2] himself is present in flesh and blood. Varadacharya was blessed with the strength to create such an effect.

Notable among his unique strengths was his art of gamaka[3]. While reciting or singing the words of a poem, the method of pronunciation of each letter as well as his melodic composition for the lyric shown by Varadacharya was worth emulating. Every letter in it had value. There was a meaning when he uttered a word, a meaning when he paused. In this way, his poetic style was rich in emotion. I doubt if there’s anyone can render a kanda-padya[4] like Varadacharya used to. Perhaps that art is lost and gone! Emanating from the mouth of Varadacharya, kanda-padya felt like Kannada’s treasure of fortune. Every syllable was uttered with clarity, with the appropriate emphasis; the words from his mouth made the listeners’ chests swell and their eyes melt with tears. If ever one desires to listen to a kanda-padya, it should be from the mouth of Varadacharya. Kanda-padya is related to Sanskrit’s Āryā chandas[5]. It is popular in both Kannada and Telugu. I am not aware if there is an equivalent in Tamil and other languages. However, coming from a gamaki like Varadacharya, it would be imprinted in the heart as a lovely composition. The composer of such simple and elegant kandapadyas was S G Narasimhacharya.

S G Narasimhacharya’s Cooperation

I have heard that the person who composed the lyrics for Varadacharya and edited lyrics of the others was the great poet-scholar S G Narasimhacharya. Persuading such a scholar-connoisseur to help him with the lyrics of his plays shows Varadacharya’s ability to discern the calibre of others.

The songs in Manmathavijaya and Prahlādacaritre were suitable both in terms of linguistic purity as well as emotional richness.

balam chalam|
chalam balam|
nelam ido|
aluṅgade||

(Strength is determination / determination is strength / Will this floor / not shudder?)

This is the Hiraṇyākṣa-Hiraṇyakaśipu[6] dialogue.

ghana vasanta|
manakananta|
mudavanīvudo||

(Majestic spring / brings to the mind / infinite delight)

All these are the handiwork of S G Narasimhacharya.

For a complete expression of the emotions that arise in the hearts of a human being, a blend of three fine arts is necessary – 1. Kāvya(poetry), 2. Saṅgītā (music), and 3. Abhinaya (lit. acting; drama). Without music, there cannot be intensity in the feelings of the common folk. The power to create a suitable ambience for the emotional activities of the heart belongs to Saṅgītā. After it has completed its task, then Abhinaya—through its body movements—provides a form to the storyline. The emotion that was formless earlier manifests itself due to the impact of Abhinaya. It is then that the emotion of Kāvya takes its complete form. This being the case, the coming together of Varadacharya—matchless in singing and acting—and S G Narasimhacharya—the poet-scholar with deep insight into poetry—was a great fortune for the world of connoisseurs.

Varadacharya and Narasimhacharya lived in Chitradurga for a while. It was there that their friendship blossomed. Common interests and goals strengthened their friendship.

Varadacharya had other authors as well to assist him. I’ve heard that Srinivasa Iyengar was one among the poets who would write lyrics for him. Even so, it was S G Narasimhacharya who watched the play in its entirety and helped ready the final version.

Varadacharya’s Noble Bent of Mind

Varadacharya was generous, magnanimous. No seeker who went to him ever returned empty-handed. He provided food, clothes, and jobs to hundreds of destitute men and women. He used to treat all his colleagues with familial love and affection. For those who sought his help for marriage or upanayana, their luck determined their profit. Varadacharya would handover whatever he had in his hand, say, “Kṛṣṇārpaṇamastu” and fold his palms together in a namaskar.

I wish to illustrate how truthful Varadacharya was by narrating an incident as heard from a lawyer friend of mine. The friend who told me this incident is endowed with peerless integrity and belongs to a high rank in the legal profession.

Varadacharya had once borrowed money from a rich man. The principal together with interest amounted to around thirty thousand rupees. Saying that he was unable to wait any longer, the moneylender filed a court case. Everyone knew that a court order followed by confiscation of property was inevitable.

Then a friend of Varadacharya came to this lawyer-friend of mine and asked him, “Is there a way out?” The lawyer examined all the documents in the file and said, “The case of the prosecution is quite strong. But there’s one document that seems to be missing. The petitioner has no supporting evidence to prove the incident related to that document. If the judge or the petitioner’s lawyer questions him about it and Varadacharya says he doesn’t remember the incident, the case will not stand. Would your friend be ready to say this?”

The moment Varadacharya heard this suggestion, he guffawed with a “Huh,” accompanied by a boisterous laughter that was so natural to him and said, “Should this tongue utter a lie for a mere thirty thousand rupees? How many times the almighty has blessed these hands with such thirty thousands! Will he not bless me again? Let it be, what will the rich man do? He may take away my old screens and old costumes. Let him. Let’s borrow money elsewhere, buy new screens, stitch new costumes, and stage the plays. And then we can return both this loan and the new one. Telling a lie to wriggle out of a debt is not something I can do.”

This was Varadacharya’s sattva. This was the inner reality of that person’s greatness. He was righteous in all matters. His plays sparkled because of this righteousness, for he captured the reality of nature.

Concluded.

This is the second part of a two-part English translation of the nineteenth chapter of D V Gundappa’s Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 2 – Kalopasakaru. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh reviewing the translation. Thanks to Arjun Bharadwaj for his help with the footnotes. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.

 

Footnotes

[1] In a Sanskrit play, ‘vikambha’ refers to the interlude or sub-scene between two Acts of the play. Typically enacted by one or more of the minor characters, it connects the Act just concluded with the Act that is about to commence; things that were not covered in the previous Act is established in this portion by means of narration or dialogue. If the interlude is entirely in Sanskrit, it is called ‘śuddha vikambha’ and if there is also a mixture of Prakrit, then it is called ‘miśra vikambha.’

[2] Prahlāda’s father and the antagonist in the story; this was the character that Varadacharya would play in Prahlāda-caritre.

[3] Art of rendering poetry in a musical way.

[4] A poetic meter with four lines; the first and third lines are equal in length, the second and fourth lines are equal in length. Technically, it comes under the category of mātrā chandas, where the meter depends on the number of mātrās (shortest recognizable utterance) and gaṇas (group of mātrās). In a kanda-padya, the first and third lines have twelve mātras while the second and fourth lines have twenty.

[5] Āryā is a poetic meter that has twelve mātras in the first and the third lines, eighteen in the second, and fifteen in the fourth. Each gaṇa has four mātras.

[6] Hiraṇyākṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu were brothers; Hiraṇyakaśipu’s son Prahlāda is the protagonist of Prahlāda-caritre.

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.