Narayana Das A Versatile Genius

Vasanta Rao Brahmaji Rao, was an advocate at Vizianagaram; secretary of the “Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das’ Unprinted Works Publication Committee” and biographer of Narayana Das.

Narayana Das - A Versatile Genius

V. Brahmaji Rao

It is easy to write something about a person who has attained great proficiency in a particular subject. But when a man has attained extraordinary ability in various arts and when his genius is versatile it is not possible for a single individual to write a comprehensive biography of such a person.

Johnsons are rare but Boswells are rarer still. This applies to Narayana Das. He was like Johnson a versatile genius. In a sense Narayana Das was more versatile than Johnson. Johnson was a great scholar, writer, poet and critic. Besides these abilities Narayana Das was a great musician and dancer too. So to bring out a comprehensive biography of Narayana Das a greater man than Boswell is needed. When it is not possible to find such a biographer several persons have to collaborate each describing a particular aspect of Narayana Das.

In this short essay I will make a humble attempt to describe a few aspects of the great linguist, poet, dancer and philosopher Narayana Das.

Narayana Das a double personality:

To understand a person completely one should try to comprehend the physical person, his ways of life, his habits but also the inner man. Very often the objective person is not the same as the subjective person.

Narayana Das had a good personality. He was endowed with a sonorous voice. He had a marvellous gait. He had a ready wit. He acquired great knowledge in several languages. He could compose poetry of a high order. In Abhinaya, that is to say in the art of gestures and in dancing in harmony to ‘laya’ (keeping time) he was unique. At home he used to wear simple clothes unmindful of the visitors great and small that used to come to him. He was very out spoken in his conversation. He would not hesitate to criticise a person however great he may be.

Johnson criticised Milton’s Lycidas. He had the courage of conviction to say boldly that a person oppressed with grief could never compose flowery poetry. Similarily Narayana Das had the courage to criticise Kalidasa’s Sakuntalam. In his introduction to "Navarasatarangani" Narayana Das pointed out several defects in Sakuntalam, which deserve to be carefully considered.

Narayana Das was more fearless in his conversation. He would not hesitate to call a spade a spade. So in his conversation he used to go to the length of wounding the feelings of others. Thus his rough exterior with his simple clothes and his speech, which was sometimes not polite, created an unfavourable opinion of Narayana Das. This was the outward person. Deep below this rough exterior there lay a sympathetic kind and devoted heart like the kernel and water in a hard coconut. This was the real person. Narayana Das was at heart a great devotee. His mind was always in communion with God. He used to enjoy Brahmanandam in his mind. It is because of this rare quality that Narayana Das could produce many devotional “Yakshaganams” and philosophic works like “Tarakam” which was greatly praised by Professor Geldner.

Before closing this aspect of Narayana Das it is necessary to compare him with Omar Khaiyam. Like Narayana Das Omar Khaiyam had a double personality. His great work, Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam, is differently understood by different persons. Omar Khaiyam in his great work says that what all he desires is a flask of wine in the hand, damsel by his side and a book. So, to the superficial reader, Omar appears to be an Epicurean who wants to eat and drink and be merry. On the other hand a philosophic mind would understand the esoteric meaning of the Rubaiyat. The book represents knowledge. The flask of wine represents a state of “Samadhi” and the damsel by the side represents the union of the “Athman with Paramatma”.

It is because of the great similarity between himself and Omar Khaiyam that Narayana Das took great pains to study Persian, read Rubaiyat in the original, and translate into lucid Sanskrit and pure Telugu. Omar Khaiyam was really a Sufi though he appeared to be an Epicurean. Similarly Narayana Das was really a saint though he appeared to be a rude outspoken man.

Humour in Narayana Das:

Though Narayana Das appeared to be rude and over bearing he was not wanting in humour whenever the circumstances required it.

Narayana Das had great regard for Nyapati Subba Rao Pantulu of Rajahmundry. Whenever Narayana Das was requested to give a performance he would not start unless the stipulated amount was paid in advance. On one occasion Subba Rao Pantulu sent a telegram to Narayana Das requesting him to give a performance, at the house of his friend Krishna Rao of Rajahmundry on the next day. There was no time to correspond. On account of his regard for Subba Rao Pantulu, Narayana Das started even without receiving any money. At the railway station Narayana Das was given a warm welcome and was taken in a double horse coach to the house of Krishna Rao. As there was hardly any time to meet Krishna Rao, Narayana Das had to make himself ready and begin the performance. He was reciting that evening “Rukmini Kalyanam”. In the story Rukmini who sends and old Brahmin to Lord Krishna to save her, appeals to Krishna thus:

Ye Ritiga Dayachuchedavo Krishna” (“O, Krishna in what manner can I expect your kindness”.)

When Narayana Das came to this passage a bright idea occurred to him. He did not so far meet the host Krishna Rao. How he would honour him, was not known. So with a view to give a hint of his desire Narayana Das, while looking at the entire audience began to strike his middle finger with his thumb in the manner in which a tester of coins does. The audience could not attach any special significance to that gesture. Just at that time Subba Rao Pantulu happened to come there. He was a shrewd man. He could understand the meaning of that gesture. So he said in a loud voice “Narayana Das Garu I am here, do not worry”. Thus Narayana Das by resourcefulness and in a very humorous manner cleared his doubt regarding adequate payment.


Besides being a scholar, poet and dancer Narayana Das had a scientific mind. In his ‘Batasari (Traveller)’ he made a reference to the principle of Archimedes. He most poetically described the phenomenon of the great stars becoming invisible during daytime. He calls the Sun a magician who while making non-self luminous bodies visible makes the self-effulgent stars invisible.

Narayana Das once thought whether a man could acquire magnetic powers by quickly rotating, or being briskly rubbed with a woollen cloth. With this object in view Narayana Das spent several nights in quickly rotating himself with eyes completely bandaged. If he could by that quick rotation get himself magnetised on stopping the rotation he should like magnetic needle face the North Pole. If this is possible a man can even in dark night find out the direction. This experiment he called “Digdarsanam” that is to say discerning the directions. Thus Narayana Das had a versatile genius and he would, with indefatigable energy make several experiments physically, mentally and spiritually.

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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