MAHARAJA SWATHI THIRUNAL’S CONTRIBUTION
TO THE LITERATURE AND ART OF KERALA.
V. SANKARA IYER, M.A, L.T And V. VENKATARAMA SHARMA , VIDYABHUSANA
brief account of the most important works-
(f)Sangita Kirtana (in Sanskrit, Telugu and other languages).
(g)Utsav Prabhanda etc.
4.A cultural survey of the literary merits of items a, b and f and g.
5.Appreciation of items c, d and e as works of art.
6.The legacy of the great poet and composer.
The Royal Family of Travancore has always been famous for its accomplishments in the fields of literature and art. It may even be stated that the modern development in the various branches of art and literature, be it histrionics, music or poetry, bears the stamp of its royal progenitors and patrons. Among the galaxy of such stars, the personality of Svati Tirunal Maharaja is the most outstanding one, especially in the provinces of music and literature.
This talented Prince was born under peculiar circumstances. The land which was consolidated and set on a firm footing by the great Martanda Varma , and made more settled and peaceful by his illustrious successor Rama Varma Kizhavan Raja, was not blessed with continuous progress for a few years from 1798 to 1810. But luckily under the guiding hand of Colonel Munro, the reign of Queen Gauri Laksmi Bhai, brought in a new era of peace and prosperity. This period of happy augury was blessed by the birth of Svati Tirunal in 1813, and this happy event was duly celebrated throughout the state , with great pomp and splendour. No wonder that the title ‘Garbha-Sriman’ was conferred upon him.
Under the special care of Raja Raja Varma Valia Koil Tampuran, the education of the Prince was attended to with great zeal. Besides English which was entrusted to the famous Tanjore English Subba Rao, who was to become Dewan later, Sanskrit, Malayalam ,Telugu, Persian, Cananrese ,Marati and Hiudustani were taught and the precocious Prince attained a remarkable proficiency in all these languages, as is borne out by his monumental works in these tongues. Col. Welsh speaks in very high terms of the attainments of the Prince in English and other languages, even though at that time the Prince was only a boy of thirteen. Apart from the scholastic attainments, the talented Prince developed from his early age a keen sense of aesthetic appreciation, and this naturally resulted in manysided activities. All forms of musical compositions either indigenous or foreign, attracted His Highness’s attention. Literary works of various types emerged spontaneously from the mighty intellect of the Maharaja. In the fields of acrobatics, wrestling, magic, painting and carving, in short in all branches of art, His Highness showed great interest and thorough understanding; so much so, his court was always crowded with artists from far and wide, who vied with each other in gaining the approbation of their royal patron. As the literary and artistic greatness alone strictly falls within the scope of this paper, the other aspects of His Highness's talents can only be casually referred to.
Before directly entering into a consideration of the works of His Highness that have come down to us, we have to pause a bit and carefully note one important point. Even to a cursory reader of His Highness's literary and musical works, it will be easily clear that there is a steady, deep and surging current of religions devotion in all his woks, which is clearly indicative of His Highness's firm-rooted and ever-guiding faith in his family deity, Sri Padmanabha. It has been observed by Bhatta Bana the prince of prose-writers in Sanskrit-
This remark beautifully fits the circumstances in which His Highness found himself; but the wonder is that in spite of these, His Highness by the strength of his will-power, managed to acquire a religious turn of mind, worthy of the greatest Rajarsis of Puranic fame. It is conceded, that the tradition of the family and the fostering care of those responsible in moulding the mind of the prince, had much to do in giving it such a turn. All the same , the innate greatness of His Highness could never be thrown into the background. For, when we remember that unfortunately, His Highness was granted only a very short span of life i.e., 34 years , and when we also see that the onerous responsibilities of the State, fell upon his shoulders, even at the early age of sixteen, we cannot but attribute the stupendous work turned out, to His Highness’s in-born genius. Further from the records at our disposal, it is not clear whether His Highness had any special education in the field of music, in which His Highness has established an unchallenged supremacy.
Sir Radhakrshan aptly remarks that 'discontent with the actual, is the necessary pre-condition of every moral change and spiritual rebirth'. A detailed study of the events early in the period of His Highness’s reign will disclose that everything was not a bed of roses. Yet by dint of magnanimity of character, courage, generosity and determination of will, His Highness was able to inaugurate many reforms of a progressive character. The establishments of Munsiffs’ Courts, the framing of Code of Regulations, the institutions of a revenue survey and settlement of lands, the carrying out of a census of the country, the opening of a Sirkar English School, Observatory and hospital and the starting of a Vaccine Department are only a few of the most important reforms, effected by His Highness. But amidst all this enthusiasm for bettering the condition of the people there was an undercurrent of slow but deterrent opposition. His Highness, with the keen insight that was characteristic of him, made his tutor Subba Rao his Dewan, and this experiment, bold as it was, was more than justified. But when General Cullen was appointed Resident in 1840, His Highness’s relations with the representative of the British power were unfortunately not cordial. This was rendered graver by the machinations of Krishna Rao, a dependent of the Resident. Every action of His Highness was misrepresented and the Resident took upon himself the task of opposing tooth and nail every measure of the Government of Travancore. All kinds of insubordination were secretly encouraged and every appointment was criticised and explanations called for, by the Resident. This worrying interference became intolerable, and when His Highness realized that in many instances, the British Government sided with unreasonable attitude of the Resident, he became so disgusted, that he even thought of abdicating rather than subject himself to such humiliation. This sorely affected the outlook of His Highness and made him extremely discontented with worldly affairs, and from 1843 onwards, His Highness became completely indifferent to the administration. But it is gratifying to think that the natural surging energy was not suffocated, and it shone forth in brilliant radiance in other fields. These were the necessary preconditions for a moral change and spiritual rebirth. His Highness from this time onwards devoted most of his time in religious observances, and in composing great works of art and literature.
The religious fervour thus roused and fostered expressed itself spontaneously in the following works. The most important works of His Highness that have come down to us are,
(6)Kucelopakhyana , and
A brief account of these may not be out of place.
Sri Padmanabha Sataka
As the name itself suggests, is a cluster of 100 verses in praise of Sri Padmanabha the tutelary deity of our Royal House, which has always been proud to wear the title of Sri Padmanabha Dasa. Every work of His Highness is pregnant with adoration for this manifestation of God. The style of writing, the thoughts and even the dictation, bear a close resemblance to the celebrated stotras attributed to Sri Sankara.
Is a campu in easy flowing dignified Sanskrit. It has 10 sub-divisions each called a Stabaka. The first Stabaka deals with the puja of a Divakara Yatisvara, a devotee, and describes in an extremely charming manner, the sports of God, who manifests himself to the Yogin in the form of an attractive boy. Towards the end of the chapter the ascetic becomes a little angry at the pranks of the child, at which the God suddenly disappears, asking His devotee to seek him at Ananta-vana. The 2nd Stabaka deals with the pathetic quest of the Yogin, which is finally crowned with success. The description of the Divine Presence is splendid. In the third Stabaka the Yatisvara prays that the divine appearance is too much for him to meditate upon; and accordingly the God assumes a smaller form. The kesadipada-stuti of the Yatisvara of God Padmanabha is invested with epic grandeur. The fourth and fifth stabaka deal with the Pratistha of God Padmanabha, and the description is in complete agreement with the details to be verified even today, at the Shrine of Sri Padmanabha. The 6th,7th and 8th Stabakas furnish a detailed account of the annual Utsavas in the temple. The description of the Arat procession in the 9th Stabaka is so graphic, that it brings to our mental vision the splendour and pomp of the occasion The last Stabaka is a very realistic narration of the grand Laksadipa festival.
The Utsava- prabandha.
This is a description of the two annual festivals in the temple of Sri Padmanabha, written in the Manipravala style. It is a harmonious blending together of the charms of the Sanskrit Language, and the felicitous expressions of the Malayalam tongue. This work is peculiar in yet another aspect. Over and above the variety of the sweetly flowing metres, it is interspersed with gems of musical compositions , set to different tunes of talas.
Ajamilopakhyana and Kucelopakhyana
Are two works which were really innovations in the musical concerts of Kerala up to this period. Both of these are in the Hari-katha-kalaksepa style but purely in Sanskrit. His Highness always very shrewd to adopt new patterns of interest, modelled these on the Maharatta style and it may be remarked that an aesthetic sense of a high order is displayed at every stage in these works. Though the story element is drawn from the inexhaustible mine of the Bhagavata Purana, the magic touch of His Highness has made these two works produce the best histrionic effect and also has succeeded in infusing a deep and sincere sense of religious devotion, in the minds of the audience.
It is perhaps the most important of His Highness’s literary productions. It is a devotional work after the example of the ‘Narayaniya’ of Bhattatiri and in no way, less important. It is divided into ten Satakas each of which is written in amdifferent metre. The Royal Poet begins with a prayer to the Deity for the infusion of devotion of Bhakti, and in the first four Satakas, establishes, by tests of reason and pramanas and references to Puranik stories, the pre-eminence of the Bhaktimarga, for the attainment of the four-fold Purusarthas. After this the Bhaktimarga is classified into nine kinds as is seen in the verse:
Illustrated by the most touching stories from the Puranas, the first five forms of Bhakti are dealt with in the Satakas 5 to 9 and the remaining four kinds, in the last Sataka, and the book closes with a sincere prayer that such a Bhakti may be vouchsafed to him.
The Sangitha Krithis (or the Compositions in Music)
It is a voluminous work, even in the form that has come down to us. In beauty, sweetness, light and depth of feeling these are unparalleled. They comprise all variety of songs. Almost all the Ragas are illustrated. These compositions for the sake of convenience may be classified under the broad headings of Kirtanas, Varnas, Pada and Tillanas. The Kirtanas are all in praise of God, set in different Ragas both South Indian and current elsewhere, and adapted to different Talas. These can further be sub-divided into:
and Navaratnamala a garland of gems one to be sung on every
day of the Dusserah festival, and dealing with nine forms of Bhakti.
(2)Ghana-Kirtanas, each set in one of the eight Ghanaragas, and
(3)Madhyamakala-Kirtanams. A remarkable feature of some of these is, that they are in the form of ragamalas, where every carana is set in a different Raga.
are more elaborate compositions in which the musical notation is clearly
Some of these are mere elaboration of Ragas in musical notations, and in some others the
words are so arranged, as to fit in the different aspects of a Raga.
Padas are compositions to be sung to the accompaniment of dance. They are devotional in character, and are on the model of the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva.
The Tillanas are light pieces set to the sweetest of Ragas.
These songs are mostly in praise of the various deities of the Hindu Pantheon.
A few are
about secular subjects and some others are of deep philosophic significance. One can easily understand the magnitude of the work turned out by the Royal composer, when it is seen that, within a short period, His Highness was able to produce 312 songs, so far as we have been able to collect, in various languages, besides many others of a purely literary character. Besides these , some other works are also attributed to His Highness. From the edition of the two Upakhyanas published by the Curator for the publication of Oriental Manuscripts, Travancore, it is seen that a work of the Sangitanataka type called “Yayaticaritam” is said to be a production of His Highness. But as there are other manuscripts of the same work, with the title of “Devayaniparinayam” elsewhere, as there is no indication about the author in any of these, it cannot be decided whether this work is really a production of our Royal poet.
Another work in the form of Stotra Sloka entitled “Sangitakoti”, in which the names of many Ragas are ingeniously incorporated, is also attributed to this Royal composer. I have been able to get at a fragmentary portion of the same. For example,
In the absence of more convincing proof, the authorship of this also has
to be left open.
Now let us turn to a consideration of the works of His Highness from a cultural point of view. The Padmanaha Sataka, Syanandurapura-varnana and Bhaktimanjari are purely literary productions of a very high order. They are ‘remarkable for the expressiveness and sweetness of language generally used, the flowing style employed, and the ease and naturalness of the figures of speech found throughout, which are quite in keeping with the sense of devotion with which the works are replete’. A celebrated poet has summed up the excellences in poetry thus-
Even though he says that it is almost impossible to have all these good things together, yet we see that the greatness of a poet will surely depend upon his success in approximating to this ideal. It is really a matter for self-pride that our poet, by his genius, has appropriated for himself a very high rank, among the great poets.
It will be seen that the diction of our Royal poet is very simple, sweet, easily understandable and at the same time, very dignified. The common defects of provincialisms, vulgarisms or amangala can never be pointed out in these works. Kalidasa’s greatness lies in the felicitous employment of simple words to produce the maximum effect. The words employed by our poet too, are very simple and even an ordinary student of Sanskrit can easily grasp the sense. Let us look at this verse in the Syanandurapura-varnana.
An easy flowing style characterises every one of these works. The poet is a perfect master of the art of writing poetry. A wonderful capacity for adapting the style to the occasion is clearly exhibited. According to the nature of the sentiment, the mode of compositions also varies. For example the description of the manifestation of Sri Padmanabha as an attractive boy is really very charming.
Again the crowd of females waiting to see the Arat procession is described in the following manner-
The Stotras of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna are really very grand.
Figure of Speech
In the compositions in the Sanskrit language, figures of speech or Alankaras play a very important part. No writer of any eminence can afford to neglect this. On the other hand the greatness of a poet is said to consist in his judicious use of the aptest alankaras. These not only serve the purpose of beautifying the style, but also, go a good deal towards impressing even the most abstruse of ideas, by homely comparisons. Our Royal poet exhibits marvelous skill in the employment of Alankaras of all varieties, both in Sabdalankaras and Arthalankars. A few illustrations may be cited-
Sentiment or Rasa
Rasa is considered to be the most vital element in all poetry and all the great scholars in Sanskrit, especially in the field of poetry are agreed that the proper development of sentiment in a literary work, is the only factor that makes it of any value. Alankarikas have discussed in great detail the ordinary rasas and have laid down their conditions. It is also stipulated that over and above affording pleasure (Ahladakatva)every kavya worth the name must be conducive to attaining the Purusarthas-dharma,artha,kama and moksa. The eight Rasas- Srngara, hasya etc;, are at best capable of accomplishing the first three purusarthas and the last, but the most important one namely moksa, is not easy to attain . Hence Abhinavagupta the great commentator on Anandavardhanan’s Dhvanyaloka justly maintains, with great erudition, meeting all the arguments of his opposers, that santarasa the ninth one, dependent on tatvajnana is necessary for the accomplishment of this fourth purusartha. He further holds that works in which this rasa, a highly refined one holds sway, though very rare and difficult to produce, must surely get at least the dignity and respect, which any other kavya commands. He even goes to the extent of saying that it is on the foundation of this santarasa that the superstructure of the other rasas is built and that the latter are only temporary and transient manifestations of this Rasa.
Applying this dictum of Abhinavaguptacarya, the prince of law-givers in the field of Sanskrit poetics, to the works of His Highness, we see that he has achieved a marvelous success in producing kavyas, which have been pronounced to be very rare and most difficult to produce. Every utterance of His Highness is full of the transient nature of worldly pleasures and material prosperity; and breathes the perfume of complete renunciation, strengthening our faith, in the Grace of the Almighty. Though this is the most important rasa developed in his works, His Highness, master-artist as he was, brought in every other rasa, as an auxiliary to the predominant sentiment santa. Thus in the description of the charms of women assembled on festive occasions, we have a subtle blending of the most refined sringara. In narrating the various amusements provided during Utsavas and in the boyish pranks of the manifestation of God as a boy and in the Avataras of Visnu as Vamana and Krishna , we have a respectable admixture of the hasya-rasa. In the touching incident of Draupadi's appeal to Krsna, in the Gopikavilapa and in the quest of the heart broken yatisvara we have the most pathetic form karuna. In this manner it is easy to prove that the Royal poet was very gifted in the delineation of all the rasas. His Highness's works are also important from the standpoint of ethics. The highest moral maxims like &&&&&&&&& etc., are beautifully illustrated, amplified and inculcated in the homeliest manner. The elevated thoughts compressed in the works are so powerful that any sincere reader is sure to be struck with their grandeur. In short these works once read and understood can never be forgotten. They are literary gems of the highest polish. What greater merit is required of them?
Let us now turn our attention to His Highness’s productions as works of art. Here the Sangita krtis, the Upakhyanas and Utsavprabandha arrest our attention. All the literary merits that have been pointed out in the previous section, are possessed by these works also. But they occupy here only a subordinate importance. Here the main attention is devoted to the musical element. As many treatises and appreciations on the artistic technique and greatness of these compositions, have already appeared, it will suffice, if the most important features alone are touched upon.
(1)At the outset the songs of the talented Maharaja, it has to be noted, are not composed in a flippant manner to be caught without any effort and badly imitated like the Cinema songs of today. They are all, inspired outpourings of a heart steeped in reverent devotion to God, and charged with the most brilliant flashes of artistic genius. They are intended for real lovers of good soul-elevating music; and as good things are nowhere cheap, these songs also require careful study and long and uninterrupted practice to be reproduced. “Some of the longer pieces” says Mr.T.Lakshmanan Pillai B.A., the talented musician of our day “are highly complex and would put to the test, the vocal powers of even an advanced musician”.
(2)The Ragas employed in these songs are so varied that for ordinary musicians it will be almost impossible to illustrate them, without a course of proper training. Without meaning any disrespect to the musicians of today, I make bold to say, that many of them are not familiar with a great number of the Ragas applied by His Highness. For example &&&&&&&&&&&& are Ragas whose names perhaps we hear only in His Highness’s composition in the music of South India.
(3)All varieties of Talas find a place in these songs.
(4)A peculiar feature in many of His Highness’s Kirtanas is that Svaraksara or the symbols denoting the pitches of musical notation sa ri ga ma pa dha ni are placed in the literary part exactly in the places where, while they are sung, they would naturally occur. No remark is needed, that this is a very wonderful achievement.
(5)Most of the songs are composed in praise of God and are highly devotional in character. Even among these a great many are in praise of Sri Padmanabha and contain the word ‘Padmanabha’ as a Mudra-pada. In this connection it is worth while to mention that in many of His Highness’s compostions there is the delineation of what is technically known as madhura bhakti. Here there is an allegorical representation of the Jivatman or the Individual soul striving to realize its one-ness with the Paramatma or the universal Soul on the model of Radha’s love for Krsna in the Gita-govinda. This is the explanation of the erotic element conspicuously seen in His Highness padas. Here the addresses of the devotee are in the form of a sweet-heart wooing her beloved. This form of madhura-bhakti seems to have been adopted by such saintly souls as Caitanya, Sri Ramakrishna, Kabirdas and Ramadas.
(6)A peculiar feature of these songs as differing from the songs with which we are familiar now-a-days is, that they are so designed as to give a grand impression when sung by a number of experts in music, together. This chorus effect is unfortunately lost to us in modern days; for we are now used to individual performers, who elaborate the tunes even at the very common risk of mercilessly breaking up the words, so as to make them mean nothing. The possibility of this sacrilege, is minimized in the songs of His Highness.
(7)The style of music in these compositions is a happy mixture of the Sopana-marga and desiya-marga of those days, and this resulted in what is technically called the pure Karnataka Marga. Fortunately the true Karnataka style is still preserved for us through only in these songs. The songs that are now performed from outside, have more and more deviated from the Karnataka style, and they can at best be designated as South Indian songs. The present tendency is so fast changing and succumbing to ever so many extraneous influences ,that it is feared that this art and perhaps the most appealing and characteristic art will lose in the near future, its individuality ,and become over ridden by the North Indian flourishes which are merely dependent more upon a fine voice, than upon any indigenous scientific basis.
I am fully aware, that my account of the musical compositions of His Highness will not be adequate without practical demonstrations. But considerations of time and convenience, I regret to say, prevent me from practical illustration. But it is a source of great satisfaction to see that the Entertainments Committees, have arranged for some of these songs to be sung during this Conference.
For a detailed study of this topic, the edition of the Sangitakrtis by Mr.Chidambara Wadhyar B.A., and the lectures of Mr.T.Lekshmanan Pillai B.A., will I hope be very helpful.&&&&&&&& Besides being a great poet and composer, His Highness was a great patron of arts and letters. His court was always the meeting place of distinguished musicians and artists. His Highness’s regard for learned people is amply illustrated by the munificent rewards showered upon these time and again. Vidavan Koil Tampuran and Eravi Varman Tampi, both great scholars and poets, were two of the brightest gems that adorned His Highness’s Court. Rev. Poet of Mavelikara, who wrote a Grammar of the Malayalam language, was granted a donation of Rs. 1000.
A European artist from Bombay and a Naidu engraver of Tanjore were greatly honoured with valuable presents . A cerrtain Sastrin who presented a manuscript of ‘Vasistham’ was granted Rs.200 and a golden bangle. Malayalam poets, were duly rewarded according to their merits. Tanjore Ramiengar, an expert in Hindustani music, Cintamani, a good palyer on the Saranga, Raghunatha Rau, a celebrated Vina player, Kannayya Bhagavatar, a direct disciple of Tyagayya the great, were all given liberal monthly allowances and maintained as court musicians. Kokilakantha Meruswami was given a pay of Rs. 100 per mensem. Sulaiman Sahib and Halawati, both skilled in North Indian Music were maintained at great expense. The celebrated Vadivelu and his party from Tanjore, were brought down and given princely treatment,and with their help the art of dancing entered into a new era of activity. His Highness had in his court distinguished acrobats,magicians,athletes and a set of Hyderabad Pailwans, well skilled in wonderful feats. There were in his court two Chinese jugglers,and representatives of many nationalities, such as Arabs, Negroes, Turks, Malayas, Japanese and Neapalese. It is even said, that His Highness knew mesmerism and that he was an occultist. He was known as ‘Saktan Raja’, . Thus we see that His Highness was a versatile genius, and that he appreciated talent in all spheres of activity, and that he strove by patronage and example, to instill into the minds of the people, a spirit of high literary culture and artistic perception.
Such a valuable inheritance is what has come down to us. It behoves us to see that the culture and art that have been so graciously bestowed upon us, is rightly imbibed, fostered and developed. True, that the service of His Highness are so stupendous as to defy our expressions of gratitude. But at the same time, we shall be wanting in our duty if we do not follow the line chalked out by him. The best way of doing this, in my humble opinion, is to give more publicity to his literary works by atleast making a study of these, either directly or through good translations, compulsory to the students of Travancore and by insisting that His Highness’s songs be taught and sung in all schools, where there is provision for the teaching of music. I say this , because I feel that the race of musicians who could faithfully reproduce the songs of His Highness, is fast dwindling and may perhaps, be soon extinct.
Lastly, it is with feelings of great joy and thankfulness that all lovers of art and literature pray for the welfare of His Highness Sri Chitra Tirual, who within such a short period of ascending the musnud has shown in an unmistakable manner, that the prosperity of His Highness's subjects in all aspects including the cultural and the artistic,is always uppermost in his Highness' heart. Almighty grant him long life, un-impaired health and ever increasing prosperity, to add more lustre to the Throne of Travancore already made glorious, by His Highness's ancestor, poet and composer Maharaja Swati Tirunal.
Copy Right 2003 , All Rights Reserved, Designed and Maintained by C-DIT , www.cdit.org