An Integrator Of Fine Arts

Dr. K. Srinivasa Rao, a former professor of zoology at Andhra University, is a scholar in diverse areas of knowledge such as Sanskrit, Vedanta and alternative medicine. His theses about the spiritual basis in various branches of science including medicine and nuclear physics were published in Bhavan’s Journal.

Dr. K. Srinivasa Rao

Narayana Das, as he was known popularly, preferred to call himself Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das, though his original name was simply Adibhatla Suryanarayana. The prefix ‘Ajjada’ was meant to indicate the place of his origin, while the suffix Das was added to show that he was a servant of God, that is humanity at large. Later he came to be recognised as a ‘Haridas’ denoting the profession to which he was attached. ‘Harikatha’ has taken birth with him, and he gave the profession a shape and form. He made a significant contribution by linking the ancient ‘Haridasa’ movement with the then prevailing repertory of stagecraft and bequeathed a rich legacy to posterity.

The ‘Haridasa’ movement was based on mystical experience. The movement owes much to the ‘Vachanakaras’, ‘Alwars’ and ‘Nayanars’ of the Tamil land. The ‘Dasas’ sang the glory of the supreme reality and preached a life of faith, prayer and love. Music was an important vehicle for them. They sought to reflect the sublime beauty of the supreme reality in the harmony and melody of music. The greatest of Haridasas was Purandara Dasa, who was also the father of Carnatic music.

Narayana Das with the flood of divine light in him belonged to the class of celebrities among Haridasas. He sang the glory of God with all his musical, philosophical and devotional excellence. He was not satisfied with self-emancipation and signing the glory of the supreme reality in abstract terms. He interlaced the deeds of the Lord with abstract spiritualism - as found in Bhagavatam. He composed songs on several episodes (in the Lord’s incarnations) and called them Harikathas. Thus a technique of conveying spiritual values in attractive and effective ways has evolved. Narayana Das was the originator of the technique in Telugu land, to be recognised as the Harikatha Pitamaha.

The scope of Harikathas has been further winded by making it a form of entertainment for the masses, known as Harikathakalakshepam. The idea behind was not merely telling a story poem. The story poem was set to music, taking care that each bhavam was adorned with an appropriate rangam, for that is the forte of a musical composition. While composing the song and comporting music to it, he observed the tenets of Telugu poetry. His poetical genius was of such a high order, as to load simple words with heavy meaning. It is up to the discerning, to draw as much as they can. In that, he was comparable to Pothana. Thus he showed his mastery as a Vaggeyakara and a Kavi, in every sense of the words. By sublimating his talents for a higher purpose - telling stories of God in as fine a manner as possible, he proved himself a great Bhakta. He dedicated his talents unto Him, from who he got them.

The Harikathas written by Narayana Das further expanded on the stage to engulf other forms of expression like Nrityam and Abhinayam. The genius of Narayana Das was gifted with the ability of extending to the masses the pleasures of Purana Kalakshepam, music, dance, drama all in one piece, in the form of Harikatha, Personally, he was eager to find a mode of entertainment by which he can give full vent to all the artistic talents native to him par excellence. He found the possibility in Harikatha Kalashepam. He found happiness in displaying all his talents in an integrated form, for the benefit of the masses.

The test and purpose of an artist lies in the emotional transformation of his audience. In Harikatha Kalakshepam, the accent is on making the audience take part in the performance not as spectators from outside the ring, but experience the gamut of emotional union with God. His thunderous voice, which could produce the full range of musical notes reaching an unattainable crescendo on occasions, his dignified royal bearing in its natural state, which could be converted to that of a bashful maiden on the stage while depicting the required expression; his abhinaya which imparted femininity or masculinity in an exceedingly fine manner to all the movements of his mighty body; his synchronisation of every movement on the stage and the sounds produced and thereby with the raga and tala of the song accompanied by orchestral music; his skill in displacing a tense situation with compelling touches of wit humour, irony and literary charm so as to enrich the relief from tension, are so well combined to strike a harmonious blend and carry away even the least receptive into a trance. Such a transport of the audience is possible only for a versatile multifaceted artist as distinct from the efforts of a mere singer or actor or a dancer, however much gifted he may be. It is difficult to think of another equal to him.

Though he became famous as a Haridas, his achievements in the field of literature were also of a very high order. There he showed the least concern for the ordinary and the average. Gurajada Apparao with his Kanya Sulkam, Chilakamarti Laxminarasimham with his Gayopakhyanam, Tirupati Venkateswara Kavulu with their Pandava Udyoga Vijayamulu, Vedam Venkataraya Sastri with his Prataparudriyam and a score of others who were his contemporaries are all famous writers for the present generation, because of a few works which catered to the limited imagination and intelligence of the general public, though there are other works by the same authors known to the Pundits only. Narayana Das was an exponent of Atcha-Tenugu, which is altogether a different language from that of Telugu.

To cite a few examples, he used to call the torchlight a ‘pisukudu divve’, the violin a ‘pillipregula yantram’, the Simhachalam God as ‘Renta tragudu tindi mettanti velpu’. The classical Atcha-Tenugu is a hard nut to crack even for the pundits. He used to write a glossary of the terms used for each book. His ‘Batasari’ is a standing testimony to his literary genius, in which each stanza conveys the story part as well as a philosophical idea. His ‘Navarasatarangini’, ‘Rubaiyat of Omarkhayyam’ and ‘Tarakam’ are other evidences of his feats in literature. In these days of mediocrity, his works are not easily accessible and have become less known classics. Very rarely do we find them in public libraries and the libraries of educational institutions to say nothing about individual possessions of his works.

High tributes were paid to his literary achievements by his contemporaries in the field, the highest of which was that of Challapalli Venkatasastry, who said that “Narayana Das is the only man who deserves to be called as a ‘Kalaprapurna’ meaning thereby that he is a personification of all arts.” He helped to develop on integrated system of expressing all the fine arts in the form of Harikatha. Is it necessary, that another Narayana das should take birth to revive the Harikatha form of entertainment for the present generation to know what he was capable of doing?

Reproduced from the "Harikathapitamaha Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Dasa Satajayantutsava Sanchika" (1967), the souvenir published by the Samskruthi Samithi, Chirala to commemorate the great man's birth centenary.

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