Compilation – Pradakshina
Pumbhava Saraswati, Harikatha Pithamaha, Ashtavadhani, poet, scholar, musician, one of the rarest versatile geniuses, Sri Ajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das (31 August 1864 – 2 January 1945) was a jewel among scholars that 19thcentury Bharat produced. He was born in Ajjada village, near Bobbili, presently in Balijipeta Mandal of Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh. He was honored with various titles- `Laya Brahma’, `Panchamukhi Parameswara’, `Pumbhava Saraswathi’,`Harikatha Pitamaha’, `Sangitha Sahitya Saarvabhouma’.
It is difficult to even fully understand Adibhatla Narayana Das’s multi-faceted brilliance and outstanding achievements. He was a poet, musician, dancer, linguist, philosopher, playwright, actor and the creator of the unique art form, Harikatha. He was a linguist with mastery over several Indian and classical languages like Telugu, Sanskrit, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, English, Arabic and Persian, and who translated texts from Persian and English into Sanskrit and Telugu; the only litterateur who wrote a comparative treatise on the works of Kalidas and Shakespeare; the only writer-composer who translated into Telugu and set to music Rig-Vedic hymns and the only writer-composer who composed a Geeta-malika comprising 90 Carnatic ragas. As a writer-composer who composed music in all the 72 Carnatic ragas he was next only to Saint Tyagaraja Swami. He was also a great exponent of the unique Ashtavadhanam, a special literary brilliance of Telugu Literature.
Sri Adibhatla Narayana Das’s literary output was extensive. He wrote original Kavyas and Prabandhas that reflect a rare creative genius, erudition and great felicity of expression. He wrote over hundred books in Telugu, Sanskrit and Atcha-Telugu (Desyandhramu or Telugu unmixed of Sanskrit). A rarest feat is the Atcha- Telugu translation and rendition Sri Lalitha Sahasranamam. He wrote more than twenty Harikathas, innumerable other prose works, musical works, dramas, translations, treatises in philosophy and Vedic studies and children’s literature.
He set to musical notation 300-odd select ruks from the Rigveda in a work entitled Ruk-sangraham and taught playing them on the Veena to students, and also translated them as poems in Telugu. His Sanskrit works include Harikathamrutam a compilation of three Harikathas, Tarakam -an original allegorical poem and two Shatakas Ramachandra Shatakam and Kashi Satakam. A Satakam consists of 100 verses written in the same prosody.
His magnum opus was a two volume philosophical work entitled Jagadjyoti, in which he recorded his musings on various Indian philosophies, even accommodating atheist viewpoints.
Not many are aware that Swami Vivekananda met Sri Adibhatla in his country-wide travels in July 1890, and Swami Vivekananda learnt the Mahabhashya of Panini’s Sutras- Ashtadhyaayi from him.
Sri Adibhatla composed a lyric, Dasha Vidha Raga Navati Kusuma Manjari employing 90 ragas in the Manjari metre. Such a composition has never been attempted and is a testimony to his rare mastery over poetry and music. His musical accomplishments left him peerless in his time. Maestros of the musical world honoured him with titles like Laya Brahma and Panchamukhi Parameshwara for his ability to sing to five different Talas, beat with the two arms, two feet and the head. Five different musicians used to keep time with him when he performed Panchamukhi.
He felt that Edward Fitzgerald’s English translations did not do justice to the Persian poet Omar Khayyam’s poetry. To demonstrate his viewpoint he translated both the original quatrains of Omar Khaiyam and Edward Fitzgerald’s English translation into two languages – Sanskrit and Atcha Telugu in different metres. The work titled The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1932) was acclaimed as a rare literary feat by the literati of his time. In a rare tribute, a leading newspaper reviewed the book as an editorial entitled A Monument of Scholarship.
In another voluminous display of scholarship he compared the works of the Sanskrit dramatist Kalidasa with those of Shakespeare. Called Navarasa Tarangini (1922) the book annotates passages consisting of the nine rasas or moods from the dramas of both the dramatists by translating them into Telugu.
Appreciations and felicitations poured in from all corners of the country. All prominent news media of those days highlighted the literary and musical genius of Sri Adibhatla. Enraptured by his rendering of the Hindusthani Bhairavi raga, Rabindranath Tagore sought to introduce the curriculum followed by Sri Adibhatla Narayana Das in his music college at Viswa-bharati University. Tagore said no one can sing as well as Sri Adibhatla in the ragas of Behag, Bhairavi and Kalyani. Smt Sarojini Naidu witnessed his Harikatha during the All India Congress Mahasabha held in Kakinada in 1923 and was full of appreciation for the master of rhythm and his art comprising of nritya, geetha, vadya sankeerthanam. Sri Adibhatla had the rare and unique honor of Gajaraohana procession felicitation several times.
Sri Adibhatla was known as `Laya Brahma’ for his Veena playing. When he played in the court of Mysore Mahraja, he stole the heart and minds of the king as well as the scholars. The Maharaja presented him with a Veena and was pleased not only with his music, but also his flawless diction and English translation of the story description. The Maharaja recorded Sri Adibhatla’s voice through phonogram and used to listen to it frequently. Later, Vizianagaram Maharaja appointed him as his Asthana Vidwan. HH Vijayarama Gajapati opened the first of it’s kind Music College `Sri Vijayarama Gana Pathasala’ in Vizianagaram and appointed Sri Adibhatla as the Principal. In all humility, Sri Adibhatla Narayana Das agreed to head the institution only with the proviso that it be treated as the temple of Bhagwan Rama and he His servant. Under his guidance legendary musicians were produced by the college. Notable disciples of Sri Adibhatla include Vajapeyula Subbaiah Dasu, Neti Lakshminarayana Bhagavatulu, Nemani Varahala Dasu, Vedanabhatla Venkata Ramanayya, Vadlamani Narasimha Dasu etc.
The veteran poet, Satavadhani and poet-laureate of Andhra Pradesh Sri Challapilla Venkata Sastry paid rich tributes to Sri Adibhatla and said `he is the only man who deserves to be called as ‘Kalaprapurna’. Sri Kattamanchi Ramalinga Reddy, eminent litterateur, educationist and founder Vice- Chancellor of Andhra University described Srimadajjada Adibhatla Narayana Das as a ‘university’.