‘I love the frolicking Krishna’

Very early my mind got fixed on the Krishna of Brindavan, and the receiver of Rukmini’s letter

Updated - August 30, 2018 04:27 pm IST

Published - August 30, 2018 03:12 pm IST



Malladi Ramakrishna Sastri’s love lyrics to Krishna came into my life much later, through the gossamer soft ditty by Kolanka Rani, ‘Pilachina palike daananoi, Talachina valache jaananoi, O Pillanagrovi Patakada, a song that can prove that film song (Chinna Kodalu, 1952, tuned by Aswathama) can be literature.

My earliest exposures were through 78rpm records and through the dance of Gaddibhuktha Seetaram.

Let me elaborate. I was around three when I developed a fascination for the records my mother would play on her wind-up gramophone. Before knowing their meaning, I was drawn to ‘Madhuranagarilo,’ ‘Manchi dinamu nede,’ ‘Ichhina manchide,’ ‘Magadochhi pilachedu.’ At four, did I know that all of them were about Krishna! May be I had a faint idea if the name Krishna was in the lyric.

A reinforcing agent was Seetaram. She served our family deity, Venugopala, as a dancer in the temple built by my forefathers, Rao Ramakrishna and Janardana Krishna Ranga Rao of the Bobbili Estate. She was also made the court dancer of Bobbili Durbar by my father’s elder brother, the Rajah of Bobbili, who was once the premier of the Madras Presidency.

Parijatha garland

Every day after finishing her chores at the temple, Seetaram would come to the chambers of the Rani (my mother’s eldest sister Lakshmisubhadra), make garlands out of the parijatham flowers from the zenana garden, and on the Rani’s order, put them coquettishly around the necks of the three clay idols of Krishna. Then she would sit us children and sing, recite songs, verses on Krishna.

On our annual sojourns to Madras for the summer, I’d see Kamala on stage and screen, doing not only ‘Madhuranagarilo’ but also ‘Thaye yasoda.’

A little later, when I could read, I chanced upon the treasury in my mother’s puja room, ‘Gita Govindam’ and ‘Srikrishna Leela Tarangini.’ These were translated into Telugu by Meka Venkatadryapparao, Zamindar of Vuyyuru. Those volumes had the original on the left side and translations following the same prosody on the right. These fixed my mind on the Krishna of Brindavan, and the receiver of Rukmini’s letter. Even today when I think about him, write songs in his praise, dance to them, it is never the go-between, never ever the one who hardened the heart of Arjuna with transcendent logic into killing his kinsmen.

Yes, sages and scholars have tried to impress on my mind the greatness of the one who delivered the Gita but in vain. I don’t want his philosophy. I want to revel in his frolic, exult in his succour to Kubja and Kuchela.

When he sends Uddhav to the gopis with the lofty message that they shouldn’t hanker after the body but the spirit, through Bhramar Geet, I take the side of the gopis, who tell Uddhav in no uncertain terms: “O great Uddhava! Krishna has sent this pious sermon through you, did he? Well, we know better. He has eight wives doesn’t he? Preach it to them. And to those 16,000 princesses he let out from Narakasura’s seraglio. And why not, to his parents and grandparents too. We know what the Ultimate Bliss is and how to go about it. Now off with you Uddhava!”

I imagine Uddhava’s plight with relish. Purveyors of sanctified piety should be told off like that. I have seen movies about Krishna in many languages over the decades and rejoiced in some of their songs. I have a partiality towards those in Hindi (Gopalkrishna, 38, Radhika, 41, Murliwala, 51, Nandkishore, 51, Neelmani, 57, Gokul ka Chor, 59), for the dandelion lightness of touch. My childhood favourite song was ‘Kahana kala, Bansuriwala’ from “Bhaktha Raj” (1943). Its music was by C. Ramchandra but I did not know it then. Subsequently how many eternals he composed on this theme! ‘Bholibhali radhika, Natkhat kanhaiya’, ‘Bansuri bajaye’, ‘Kanha bajaye bansuri’ and a dozen others. I told him that he stole these tunes from Meera. He replied seriously, ‘No, from the Varkari tradition of Pandharpur.’

Over the last six hundred years at least a hundred known composers in Telugu, would have sung of him, Annamayya to the present writer. But the magnificence of Tallapaka Annamacharya is yet to be matched. Correctly, he perceives Krishna and Venkateswara to be one. And what songs,’Muddugare,’ ‘Paladonga vadda,’ ‘Kolanidopariki gobbillo,’ ‘Itti mudduladu,’ ‘Mottakure ammalala...’ one better than the other in the incomparable depiction of the nine rasas.

How lucky we are that we can go mad along with Meera, meditating upon this wondrous phenomenon. As Narada admitted, ‘Yatha vraja gopikanam,’ in the way of the gopis. On his birthday, may he bless humanity with peace and prosperity.

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