Walajahpet Venkataramana Bhagavatar - Part I

Sangita Kala Acharya T. S. Parthasarathy

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[Editor's Note: Sangita Kala Acharya Sri. T. S. Parthasarathy, eminent musicologist, researcher and writer is one of the senior most scholars in the field of Music and related arts. He was also the Secretary of the Music Academy, Chennai for many years. He is a source of guidance to all musicians and a respected authority on music theory and history. Carnatica is deeply honored to have his permission to reproduce a selection of his scholarly articles on Music and Dance published over the years in various journals]

The music festival that is celebrated at Ayyampettai every year by members of the Saurashtra Community in commemoration of Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar(1781-1874) is a fitting tribute to one who was not only the foremost disciple of Tyagaraja but also a scholar and a music composer in his own right. Among the sishya paramparas of Tyagaraja, only the Walajapet school appears to have made an attempt to collect biographical details about the saint-composer and his horoscope and also to secure his valuable manuscripts which are housed in the premises of the Saurashtra Sabha, Madurai. Tyagaraja himself must have inherited these manuscripts from Vina Kalahasti Ayya, his maternal grandfather and others. Venkatramana Bhagavatar and his son Krishnaswami Bhagavatar wrote two separate biographies of Tyagaraja in Telugu which have near-contemporary value. The palm-leaf manuscript of Venkataramana Bhagavatar ends suddenly after the second marriage of Tyagaraja but the saint’s biography written on a paper note book by Krishnaswamy Bhagavatar is complete. Both these manuscripts have been translated by me into Tamil and published in my edition of Tyagaraja’s kritis.

Venkataramana Bhagavatar was born at Ayyampettai in 1781. He became highly proficient in Sanskrit, Telugu and Saurashtra languages at an early age. The songs which he composed in later life show his extraordinary command over prosody in these languages. His predilection was for music and he proceeded to nearby Tiruvaiyaru to become disciple of Tyagaraja. He soon became a favored pupil of the master and according to Walajapet tradition; he spent nearly thirty years with his guru. Although the Walajapet manuscripts make no mention of the incident ,biographies of tyagaraja invariably refer to the presentation by Venkataramana Bhagavatar  of a potrait of Kodanda Rama to Tyagaraja’s daughter at the time  of her marriage and Tyagaraja going into raptures on seeing it and composing the kriti “Nannu Palimpa”. The portrait is stated to have been painted by Pallavi Elliah, a disciple of Venkataramana Bhagavatar.

Venkataramana Bhagavathar was later patronized by the Zamindar of Karvetnagar and he used to visit his patron frequently from Ayyampettai. The Bhagavatar appears to have decided to settle down at Walajapet, migrated there in 1854 and came to be known as Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar. He passed away there at the ripe old age of 93.

Musical Tributes To Tyagaraja

A portion of the house in which the Bhagavatar was residing at Walajapet was set apart as a Bhajana Mandiram. He duly installed a potrait of Tyagaraja there and sang the Sisa Padya beginning with the words ‘E Kala Kalithundu’ in which he mentions that the saint has been enshrined in his house in the form of a portrait. He and his son Krishnasami Bhagavatar had boundless reverence for Tyagaraja and invariably refer to him as ‘Guruswamulavaru’ in their biographies. Venkataramana Bhagavatar  has also composed the ‘Sri Guru Stotrashtakam’ in different metres in Sanskrit, the ‘Sri Guru Pancharatnam‘ in Telugu and the ‘Sri Guru Mangalashtakam’ in Sanskrit commencing with the words ‘Srimad Karkala Vamsabdhi’ all in praise of Tyagaraja. His kritis include ‘Sri Ramabrahmamu’ in Begada in praise of Tyagaraja’s father and three kritis on Tyagaraja - ‘Guru Charanam’ in Sankarabharanam (Sanskrit), ‘Guruvara Mahimala’ (Telugu) in Anandabhairavi and ‘Vada rasene’ (Sanskrit) in Purvi Kalyani.

Prolific Compositions

Venkataramana Bhagavatar’s output of musical compositions is prolific and varied. His erudition in Sanskrit and Telugu and his close and long association with Tyagaraja during the peak period of the latter’s composing career made him an eminently competent composer. Although he is stated to have composed about 2500 kritis ,150 songs have been traced and of these 54 compositions were published with text and notation by the Venkataramana Bhagavatar Swamigal Jayanti Committee,Ayyampettai, in 1971.These include Tana Varnams,Pada Varnams, Svarajatis, Kirtanas and Tillanas  cast in different moulds.The Bhagavaratar was a staunch devotee of Lord Krishna and used the mudra “Sri Ramachandrapura Venkataramana” ,Ramachandrapura being the Sanskrit name for Ayyampettai. In one of his kritis on Tyagaraja he mentions that the saint appeared before him in a dream one night and commanded him to compose kritis in praise of Lord Vishnu.

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