Sri A. Narayana Das - A Sketch

M. Gourishankar a former Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Law, Government of India and retired Judicial Member, Customs, Excise and Gold Control Appellate Tribunal is a grand-nephew of Narayana Das. He inherited the unique style of rendering Narayana Das’ Kirtanas with a voice that resembles Narayana Das’ thunderous albeit melodious voice.

M. Gowri Shankar

The subject of this article needs no introduction to a great many readers to whom he is only too well known and who therefore can appreciate the immensity of my task in writing about him. One can easily do justice to any commonplace subject; but to expect the same with reference to Sri Narayana Das, in an all too brief article, is to expect, well nigh, the impossible, Sri Narayana Das was not a mere person; he was a phenomenon.

He was born in the year 1964 in Ajjada (a village now in the Vizianagaram District of Andhra Pradesh). His father Sri Venkatachayanulu was a great Sanskrit scholar and a poet credited with the authorship of some poetical works. His mother was a highly gifted lady, who though was not able to read much, was yet proficient in giving the ‘Pratipadardha’ of all the classics. As a child he (Narayana Das) was highly precocious winning the Bhagavata on a wager of reading it at the tender age of five. Music was his ‘wet-nurse’ and classical literature, his feed. Kalidasa’s words

“Prapedire Praktanajanma Vidyah”

came true in his case. His imaginative faculties became polished and refined by browsing in classics.

He had vastly more than his share of fortunes gifts that were lavished on him most liberally. He was charming in person, well proportioned in body, dignified in bearing, graceful in gait and merry in manner. So attractive and magnetic he was, that large crowds delighted in simply following him feasting their eyes on him and hanging on every word that dropped from his mouth.

His scholarship attained by self-effort was as varied as it was wide, deep as well as original. There was nothing that he did not know in Sanskrit and Telugu. He had perfect mastery of Persian, Urdu & English.

His poetical masterpiece in Sanskrit, ‘Tarakam’ an original poem composed with difficult grammatical ‘Prayogas’ won the unstinted admiration and unqualified encomiums from no less a person than Professor Geldner of the University of Marburg, Prussia.

1. Janate Yann Chandrarkou Janeete Yann Yoginah;
Janeete Yann Bhargopi Tajjanati Kavisvayam.

2. Vach Ssudhamayam Kavayam Peetvaham Truptamanasah;
Krutajnobhi Prasansami Bhavantam Kavisekharam

His other works in Sanskrit comprise three Yakshaganas, two Satakams, one prose work and sundry other pieces. He set to music (Swara and Tala), and translated the Ruks of Rig veda into Telugu verse, a stupendous task.

His ‘Batasari’ in Telugu is a highly original poetic allegory pregnant with profound philosophy and told in simple and mellifluous verse. “Omarkhaiyam” was translated into Sankrit & Desyandhram an “astounding feat” according to Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, which helped to prove how the much-misunderstood Omar was a great Bhakta.

His “Navarasa Tarangini” contains Telugu translations of the most beautiful passages from Shakespeare and Kalidas classified into the nine rasas and prefaced with a highly critical evaluation of the two great poets, a task rendered difficult because of the differences in their respective cultural backgrounds. “Sarangadhara” an original drama in five acts is remarkable for its plot, character delineation, its denouement, humour and music. Unlike other writers Mr. Das sympathises with and justifies the character of Chitrangi and finds sufficient reason why the otherwise beautiful and lovable creature became so hideous and so cruel. He also ends the drama with a happy note instead of in the traditional way. His Sarangadhara was saved from the gallows and ultimately renounces the world in search of spiritual happiness.

As a composer of Harikathas too numerous to give a detailed list, he was unique in the use of choice language for choice thoughts set to the music of an apt Raga and Tala. Everything was pat to the point; so that the sentiment of the song went straight to the heart. His ‘Yadhardha Ramayana’ is a jewel made to perfection. Beauty and truth have ever been the basic feature in his poetry. Ever daring, he was a realist to the core and was never afraid in showing up the fobs and fads of society. His style was straight and simple. His works are full of sober sentiments, profound philosophy and sprinkled with appropriate aphorisms. His characterisation was inimitable. He gave a new interpretation to the old classics. Originality was his forte.

His voice was simply wonderful as described by His Highness Syamaraja Wadayar, the late Maharaja of Mysore. Thunderous in volume, mellifluous and vibrant in timbre, ranging the whole gamut, expressive of all the emotions, jet motioned in flight and fluctuations, it was a rare treat for thousands at a single sitting. Listeners too, enraptured, were delightfully transported into the realms of ecstasy.

Born with Laya Jnana he was more than the “Laya Brahma” the title conferred upon him. He was very well known for his astounding feats in Laya. He was capable of singing a song with five different Talas at the same time, thus justifying the title of:

“Panchamukhi Parameswara”

He composed Kritis in all the Melakarta ragas, which is generally acknowledged to be a great achievement. His output of musical compositions is the largest. His idea of a complete musician is of a person well versed in all the three branches.

“Geetam Vadyam Cha Nrutyam Trayam Sangeetha Muchyate”

His dancing and abhinaya were exquisite and were the prominent features of his Harikatha performance. His play on Veena was as original and remarkable as his other traits.

He developed a style of music all his own combining the technical lore of the South with the ease and grace of the North.

Honoured by Princes and people alike, he was invited to be the Principal of the Viziarama Gana Pathasala founded by the late Viziarama Gajapathi Maharaj. He worked as Principal of that institution for over 17 years.

Devotional undercurrent is predominant in his thoughts and feeling. The ancient Hindu philosophy found new expression in his works. The futility of this life except as a means of realising God is stressed ever and anon. He always recommended non-attachment to things of this world as a sure path to attain celestial bliss. He himself was highly non-attached being a great Bhakta. Appearances can never be more deceptive in his case. It is said that the poet sees what is not visible to the Sun and the late Andhra poet Laureate Sri Challapilla Venkata Sastry saw and observed that Mr. Das was a great Bhakta to be classed with

“Prahlada, Narada, Parasara, Pundarika, Vyasambarisha, Suka, Shounaka, Bhishmadabhyam”

The physical body in which this great soul was encased had gone. But still it is there - his soul spelt out in legible characters in his works. There we can see and feel his greatness, in the beautiful language and the sublimity of his ideas, in the idyllic beauty of the cadences and the harmonious and melodious music of his songs. Every line of his works is pregnant with deep sense and every word charming. It is to his works that one must turn now in an effort to understand him. With the turning of each page of his works one is quite struck with his genius, versatility and uniqueness; one is tempted to exclaim with the poet, “Here was a Narayana Das, when comes such another?”

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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