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Varnams: How they help with Manodharma or Improvization

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This article was written by my guru, the legendry veena maestro Dr. Chittibabu and was originally published in the Hindu on September 27, 1970. Everyone who loves the veena music knew him as a great veena artist but only a few know what a great scholar and articulate person he was and very proficient in the English language he was. The name that comes to everyone’s mind when the word ‘PADAM’ is spoken is Kshetrayya. This article is not only a tribute to the other great composer of PADAMS, Sri Sarangapani but also a tribute to my late guru.

June Article:


Veena Vidwan Chitti Babu

Along with musical forms like Varnam, Keertana, Javali, etc., Padams have a place of their own on account of their dhatu (music) and maathu (sahitya or lyric content). In the keertana, the emphasis is more on the musical content and in Javali, the sahitya is given more importance, whereas in the padams both sahityam and sangeetham get equal importance.

As a pada karta, Sarangapani deserves praise and recognition like Kshetrayya, whose name has come to be synonymous with padams. Sarngapani belonged to the 17th century and lived in Karvetinagaram in Chittoor district. He was the Vidyadhikari (Minister of Education), in the court of Makaraju Venkata Perumal Raju, who ruled Karvetinagaram.

Sarangapani was proficient in Sanskrit as well as Telugu. He had the authority to issue Raja Sasanams (Royal orders). He was a poet and an expert in music and Natya Sastra (incidentally, this reveals the qualifications then expected for a Minister of Education).

He was held in high esteem not only by the ruler and the ruled, but also by contemporary musicians like Govindaswami, the composer of the famous Pada Varna “Inta Aluka” in Natakuranji who also adorned the same court at the time. Like Kshetrayya, Sarangapani was also an ardent devotee of Sri Venugopala, the only difference being, if that can be called a difference, the former worshipped Him at Moova, the latter at Karvetinagaram.

Venugopala Mudra

All his compositions bear the Venugopala Mudra, his “Ishta Daivam” of Karvetinagaram, though some have come to be attributed by Kshetrayya inadvertently by substitution of the term “Moova Gopala” for “Venugopala”. He has dedicated some of the padams to Sri Kalyana Venkateswarulu, Chiruthani Chengalvarayudu, Prasanna Venkata Souri and his ruler Makaraju Venkata Perumal Raja.

Nearly 200 padams of this composer- of which `mogudochi’ (Sahana- Chapu) is the best known-are available in ancient fibrous paper. A study of these reveals that these padams can be divided into 4 categories: 1) Sringara padams 2) Desiya padams 3) Janapada padams, and 4) Vairagya padams.

While enjoying Royal patronage, true to the saying “Raga Bhava Parijnanam, Desa Sthiteshu Chaturi Asesha Bhasa Vijnanam, Kalaa Sastreshu Kouslayam”, Sringara Rasa is predominant in his works of that period. To quote a few:
In Raga Jhanjhuti- Triputa:
Alukajesi Palukademu, Ye Cheli, Valapumandu Balimo Veladi
Vinave Sri Karvethinagara Nilayudaina Venugoplaudu”

(O woman, hear me, Venugopala who lives in Karvetinagara is angry and not speaking to me. I wonder which girls’ love- portion’s power it is!). In Ananda Bhairavi- Adi:
“Rammane E Menu, Vani Sommane,
Kougita Cherchu Kommane Movitenelimmane”

(O dear ask Him to come. Tell Him that this body is His, embrace, and give me honey from His lips).
In Bhairavi- Triputa:
“Nee pondu Seyaka Vidichena? -Vere
Nelata Koppuna Virulu Mudichena? Are
Bapure! Ne Cheyu Pratnia Challakapothe
Na Peru Ika Venugopaludanavalena
Pata Padi Meppinchana- Neepai
Padamu Cheppi Valapinchana
Butakalumani- Nee Punyamukoddee
Motubarukoni- Mogamu- Chitlinchene”

(Will I leave Thee without making love to you? Will I decorate another girl’s plait with flowers, my?
O, my! If my challenge is futile,
Why should I be called Venugopala?
Shall I sing to please you?
Shall I compose a padam on you to love me?
The more I crave for you
You are making faces at me
And telling lies, however- will I?)

But his inherent Venugopala Bhakthi, getting the better of him, we see him drifting into the next phase of life and then composing the Desiya padams. For instance, in his lovely piece in Mohanam-Chapu,
“Enta Pedavade Venugoplau Denta Pedavade
Anta Pedavadu Gagunte- Alanadu Kucheluni
Atukulaku Chesachuna- O- Chelulara.
Panda Manchamunte- Bhavajajanakudu
Pamupai Nidurinchuna- O- Chelulara…”

(O dear ones, how poor Venugopala is!
If He is not that poor,
Will He beg for Kuchela’s rice flakes?
Will He sleep on a snake- If He has a cot to sleep on O dear?)
Or in this piece in which he cautions humanity:
“Karra Ponnukoni Tirugaka Munupe
Kantha Dhwani Taggi Povaka Munupe
Arru Mundariki Vangaka Munupe
Angamu, Tala, Vanukaka Munupe
Hari Nama Samarana Seyakavunte
Avatala Gati Yemi?”
(Before you have to depend on a stick to walk
Before your vocal chords fail
Before you are half bent
Before your limbs and head shake
If you don’t chant Hari namam
Where is your salvation?)

In the one below, we note the similarity of thought between Sarasangapani and Thyagaraja (1767-1847): Sarangapani sings:
“Bhaktileni Vratamulenni Chesina Phalamuledusummi
Kavi Vastramulu Gattinanemi
Kandlu Moosugoni Goniginanemi
Lavuga Tirumani Mettinanemi- Laksha Tulasi Narchinchinanemi”.
(Devoid of Bhakti, any number of “Vratas” performed will be fruitless. What if
If you wear saffron clothes; shutting
Your eyes chant mantras, having a
Big “Tirumani” on your forehead;
Or do a
“Laksha Tulasi Archana”- Devoid…)
Thyagaraja sings (Dhenuka):
“Teliyaleru Rama Bhakti Maargamunu
Vegalechi Neeta Munigi Bhuti Boosi
Vella Nenchi Veliki- Slagha Neeyuli”

(Rama the Bhakti Marga is in comprehensible. They wake up early- have a dip in holy waters- do Japa and Tapa and earn worldly appreciation; - but)
Later, when he lost the royal patronage and had to mix with common folk and suffered from poverty, he wrote third group of padams in Janapada bhasha, like:
“Aggi Tirunallanta – Ajjuni Kantthalanta
Aoura. Enta Soddame – Bharata Kata – Aoura Ennennivintale”

(Lo “Tirunal” – Hear stories of Arjuna, behold!
How many surprises and hurrah! How many wonders are there in Mahabharata story).

Wide Scholarship

Finally like all sages, becoming completely philosophical, he composed in Nadanamakriya raga:
“Manusha Nammaboke - E – Dehamu Kalebaramu
Tommidi Sorangala Trole Naramasiga
Bemma Gayinchindi Beshtakari Katte”

(O mind: don’t – believe this body.
It is just a hide, with ‘Navarandhras’.
This skin that Brahma made after all is a perishable thing.)

Incidentally, the very words of this pada brings to my mind’s eye the sweet rippling waters of the River Godavari lashing against the tiny boat in which I used to sail to go to my maternal uncle’s house with my parents in my childhood, for invariably an old Vaishnavaite used to sing very sweetly this padam and also Rama Dasa’s:
“ Nanu Brovamani Cheppave Seethammatalli

He has also depicted in his padam, “Kula Kantalu Veedhi Badi”, the trends of society and the influence Western civilisation had on Indian womanhood of these days. In the fourth group of padams, in Senjuriti – Adi,
“Bhaktito Pilachi Pettina Annamu – Pattedaina Chalu Chevulaku
Raktiga Hitavaina Pata Pallavi Vinna Chalu, Krishna
Duritamuludigetanduku Damodara Bhajana Chalu, Meedata Para Tatvamu Teluputaku O Venugopalude Chalu, Krishna”

(If given with Bhakthi, a mouthful of rice will do.
If it pleases the ear, the pallavi of a song will do.
To compensate our misdeeds. Lord’s Bhajan will do, Krishna.
To teach us Paratatva, Venugopala will do, Krishna.)

Sarangapani shows his knowledge of Ayurveda Sastra in this padam (Goulipantu – Jhampa):
“Varakanya Tilakame Vanita Peru Deeni
Parikinchi Venugopala Naa Saami
Polathi Nemmomu ‘Sampurna Chandrodayam’
Aakali Ruchi ‘Vinodanjanambu’
Dani Mridu Madhurokti
“Draksha Rasa” Mencha”

(This woman’s face is worth the full moon.
Her playful locks are a feast to the eye.
Ah, her sweet voice is like nectar.
Queen of Maidens her name may be called.
Please, oh Lord Gopala, feast your eyes.)

Some of the words have double meanings, the names of herbs being one set of them.
Also his padams containing the names of ornaments, towns, trees, etc., prove his versatile knowledge and genius.
Sarangapani has also written some humorous padams, which contain popular sayings. His “Ee Seemale Harinakshi” (Kalyani – Adi) contains the names of some ragas. “Avulugantimatala” (Saveri – Triputa) contains the names of herbs; “Kankanamu Gattinadu” (Gaulipantu – Adi) contains the names of jewels.
Sarangapani has composed not only in popular ragas like Ananda Bhairavi, Kedaragoula, Sankarabharanam, but also in such rare ragas like Saranga Thodi, Karnata Saranga. He has also composed padams to suit Natya, according to Bharata Sastra Lakshana, like Kshetrayya. He imparted instruction in Natya and abhinaya to others like Govindaswami and trained them as performers. It is learnt that he himself used to participate and enact the role of a lady to such perfection that on one occasion the maharaja and the audiences and his closest friends could not recognize his feminine role.
Sarangapani’s Padams are not as erotic as many of Kshetrayya’s and are not at the most confined to Gaurava Sringara. In Andhra, even today, we can hear the songs given sung on auspicious occasions.
A lullaby in Raga Navroj: “Lalanuchu Vucheru Lalana Limpumanu
Srila Chennularu Uyyala Panpunannu”

And a Mangalam in Bhairavi:
Indira Ramanaku, Ibharaja Varadanuku
Mandaroddharunaku Madhavunaku
Nandanandanudaina Navaneetha Chorunaku
Kandarpa Sathakoti Sundarunaku
Jaya Mangalam, Nitya Subha Mangalam
Jaya Mangalam, Nitya Subha Mangalam”

Reprint from: THE HINDU
Dated 27.9.1970